Dana Williams (‘19) sat on the floor of the ABC7 San Francisco newsroom. As a high school student, a counselor invited her to attend a tour of the station. Students, like Williams, watched as the broadcast was produced live. There was a breaking news moment and a scramble during a break to adjust the rundown. But once it all settled, the journalists did their job with poise and confidence: They reported the news. 

The name Cheryl Jennings would be printed into Williams’ mind as a key motivator for the rest of her high school (and college experience).

“We got to sit there on the floor and watch them navigate that breaking news,” Williams said. “The anchors had like 30 seconds to consume it. 

“Then the lights went on and they were right back on air with this poise that just blew my mind. After the broadcast was over, I went up to the anchor, her name was Cheryl Jennings and I was like, ‘how can I get involved in this? What’s the earliest opportunity to be here? I will get your coffee. I just want to be involved and I want to learn from you.’”

Often, the moment of clarity when someone realizes their future aspirations arrives at the least expected time. For Dana Williams, it was just that. Originally thinking she would follow in her father’s law enforcement footsteps to become an FBI agent, Williams’ abrupt realization that she didn’t want to go down that career path led her to find a new one: journalism. 

But the tenacity to make it happen is something she’s had since the beginning. A trait that seems generational in the Williams family. 

“My mom is one of my role models,” Williams said. “She is an executive at a company in Silicon Valley, [and] I grew up watching her work her butt off. She is the definition of a woman leader and I really really look up to her in terms of her grit and ability to balance work and life.”

“Similarly, my dad also worked full time in law enforcement. Watching both of them work toward their goals together and as individuals was really inspirational because growing up I didn’t know anybody who worked in journalism.”

“Watching both of them work toward their goals together and as individuals was really inspirational because growing up I didn’t know anybody who worked in journalism.”

However, after that one newsroom tour, she now knew one person and was set on making ABC7 remember her too. 

“I was determined then to do everything I could between that visit and the first opportunity I had to apply to make myself as attractive as a candidate as possible,” Williams said. “I did every opportunity with journalism on campus.”

When it was time to decide where she would go to college, Williams continued with that clear vision for the future. But she had two dreams in mind for college: getting an education that would allow her to return to the ABC7 San Francisco station and playing volleyball for the school.

“[Point Loma Nazarene University] really was the best of both worlds between both journalism and my sport that I loved,” Williams said. “Thank god that’s how I looked at it because I ended up having to stop playing volleyball. I landed in such a great safety net because I was able to dive right into journalism.”

During her first year on campus, an injury benched her indefinitely. That’s when she realized she would really need to lean into that future goal for journalism and make it happen because this part of her college experience that she envisioned was closing. She had to rally to overcome this loss and make that other dream come true.

“Being an athlete is all about grit,” Williams said. “You have to have grit if you want to succeed. You have to have grit if you want playing time. You have to have a positive attitude if you’re going to be a good member on a team. I always tell people: playing a team sport is exactly the same as being an employee on a team.”

Her sophomore year she became more involved in the scholastic side of PLNU by joining the school newspaper. She became the news editor and eventually the editor in chief her junior year. Alongside the newspaper, she also got involved in Point TV and Point Radio because that goal for ABC7 San Francisco remained locked in and focused. Williams explained she feels all the gratitude for journalism professors Dean Nelson, PhD., and Stephen Goforth because of their investment in her as a student.

“A lot of schools teach from books but I feel like in our program, a lot of it was learning by experience.”

“A lot of schools teach from books but I feel like in our program, a lot of it was learning by experience,” Williams said. “Write an article. Go do an interview. Look at this story. Tell me what you think of the ethics and legality of it. I sincerely think I owe a lot to Dean Nelson and Stephen Goforth. They really helped shape me into who I am as a journalist. I consider them as close mentors.”

During her time at Point TV, she worked as the assistant producer/floor director and eventually worked her way to being an anchor and then sports reporter. 

“Being part of the assembly line was critical,” Williams said. “It was such a great opportunity that Point Loma has that for students because I was able to learn and understand some of the minutiae of it while I was a student.”

Junior year came and this was the first opportunity she could finally apply for ABC7. The moments leading up to this one were brimming with opportunities on campus and the grit to follow through with them. Would it be enough?

In the interview, she shared a photo she took with Cheryl Jennings back in high school. 

“On that first opportunity, they gave me the position,” Williams said. “It was incredible. They said it was, in large part, because I kept checking in. I would send them a note periodically with some of my work. I endlessly pursued it, and it was a full circle moment.”

From there, one could say nothing could really stop Williams.

In between her junior and senior years, she was hired at NBC7 in San Diego. Balancing the editor in chief role, classes and her job at NBC7, she had to find the rhythms of a new balancing act. 

“My secret is that I just loved all of it. I just felt so in the zone that it was rewarding,” Williams said. “It was a lot to do; it was a jam packed schedule. But I felt like I was contributing. I was really proud of having all those different roles and being trusted with that opportunity. I loved it.”

“I felt like I was contributing. I was really proud of having all those different roles and being trusted with that opportunity. I loved it.”

Moreover, she also realized she no longer wanted to go back to the Bay Area. An even greater love for San Diego (and her now fiancé) kept her rooted at NBC7.

She started out as a story producer, then worked her way to the assignment desk. She later became a digital multimedia journalist and now she’s in her current position as a full time reporter. 

“It’s a pro and a con of working in the industry that what you do everyday is very intertwined with your life experience and the human experience as a whole,” Williams said. “That’s a pro because what you’re doing, it feels very relevant.”

“It feels very motivating to be in the know about what people are actually talking about day to day.”

Along the way, she also became the internship coordinator, being the person who could find and select the current students who, like herself, exhibited the drive and grit to make it in the newsroom. 

“One of my favorite things about being a journalist is being able to share it with other people,” Williams said. “It’s never been more important to be a journalist and so part of being in the internship program and helping to be the internship coordinator for these four years was so much of my passion for sharing the industry and how to do it correctly with the next generation.”

She was also an adjunct professor during the fall 2023 semester at PLNU; a dream she said she had since her time as a student. 

“I was so eager to return to contribute back to the same exact program that I owe so much of my career to,” Williams said. “The internship at ABC7 felt like a full circle. This is a bigger, bolder, better full circle than I ever could have anticipated.”

Through her reporting at NBC7, she’s won a variety of accolades, including an Emmy for her reporting on the Black Lives Matter protest that happened in 2020 in La Mesa. She said holding the weight of celebrating her coverage of what was a life changing day for many is a constant reminder of the impact and seriousness of journalistic work. 

“Oftentimes, our work shines the most and is needed the most in times of tragedy.”

“The difficult thing about being a reporter and working in news is that sometimes your most celebrated day as a journalist is somebody else’s worst day of their life,” Williams said. “It is a very delicate balance between those two things because while you may get to go live on national or get to win an Emmy, someone else has been hurt.” 

“Somebody else’s world came crashing down. Somebody else lost a loved one. That’s not always the case when we’re celebrated, but, oftentimes, our work shines the most and is needed the most in times of tragedy.”

And the weight of these stories, at times, catches up to her. 

“The con of it is sometimes it feels like it’s always there. It’s difficult to escape it per say,” Williams said. “I think a big part of it is drawing that balance. On my weekends, I try my best to be disconnected but still keeping up to date on push notifications or anything big that happens. I do keep my work phone with me, but I try really hard when I’m home, when I get home, to make that mental transition as quickly as I can.”

What she holds onto and is reminded of in the hard times and the moments of triumph is simple:

“You don’t get rewards for things that are easy,” Williams said. “It is extra satisfying that you were able to take a difficult, less than favorable scenario and you could be rewarded for that. That is the journalism that people really turn to.”

As for the future of the journalism industry that is increasingly becoming centered on streaming and social media, Williams has hope and is undaunted. 

“I think that the core of what it means to do great journalism will always stay the same whether it’s for radio or TV or computer or a cellphone,” Williams said. “Great journalism is great journalism. It’s balanced. It’s visual. It catches your eye.

“It keeps you entertained but informed. If we could just translate that great journalism to something you’re just going to scroll through where you already are there instead of having to seek it, that would be so exciting to see that come to fruition.”

Lainie Alfaro is a student at PLNU studying multimedia journalism. She's currently the marketing and research assistant at Viewpoint, and she was previously the editor in chief of The Point student newspaper.