When Nicole Livas, BA Communication ’90, returned home to Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 2001 to work as an on-air journalist for WAVY-TV 10, she had rather large footsteps to follow, namely those of her mother, Becky.
Becky Livas was the region’s first female African American newscaster, whose face and voice filled homes throughout the Norfolk area in the 1970s and 1980s. But with Becky no longer in the business, daughter Nicole now wears the family mantle of hometown girl turned television newshound.
“It was awesome to come home,” says Nicole. “My grandmother was 90 at the time and [my return gave me] four good years with her. It’s great to work in a town where your roots run deep. I still hear from and run into old classmates, teachers, and people who know my family. It’s like having an automatic fan base!”
But getting home involved a very serpentine route with stops at smaller markets throughout the country. That on-air journey started in Northern Virginia at Mason’s Department of Communication because the university “was close to a major TV market,” she says.
After graduating, Nicole returned to Hampton Roads briefly, where she waited tables before being hired as a production assistant in her hometown.
From there, she set out across the eastern half of the country, working as a reporter and/or anchor in Steubenville, Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio; and Providence, Rhode Island, before returning to Hampton Roads, where she now anchors the station’s 5 and 5:30 p.m. broadcasts, as well as the 10 p.m. broadcast for sister-station Fox43.
Over Nicole’s career, she has worked on some of the nation’s biggest stories. Among them are the one-year anniversaries of both the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech; the 1999 plane crash that claimed the life of John F. Kennedy Jr.; and the Egypt Air airplane crash off of Nantucket, Massachusetts, that same year. She has also covered the lighter side of the news, such as American Idol auditions in New York City and Hollywood.
Still, the stories that linger with her the longest—and deepest—are the tragic ones that all too often lead off the nightly news. And since Nicole is a long-time fixture in southeastern Virginia, she sometimes finds herself emotionally connected to what she is covering.
“It’s really tough to report on stories such as shootings, accidents, or fires where you personally know the people involved,” she says. “It’s happened a lot during my career.”
When not at the anchor desk or out in the field, Nicole can be found helping in the community. She has volunteered with Mentors for Tomorrow, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the American Heart Association, the Special Olympics, and the Boys Choir of Hampton Roads. In March, she traveled to Haiti to take part in a medical and faith mission.
In addition, Nicole likes to lend a helping hand to future journalists. Over the years, she has returned to Mason to mentor students as they move from academics to professional reporting. She even serves on the advisory board for Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
So what does she impart to aspiring journalists? “Learn multimedia skills and you’ll be more marketable,” she tells them. “Never think you’re too big to do a job in this business. Learn every aspect of the business that you can—you’ll have a better understanding of the work everyone does to make the product shine. Develop relationships with mentors and stay in touch with them. They can help you find and keep jobs.”
As for her own future, Nicole is not resting on her laurels. Like the students she mentors, she continues to hone her skills to keep up with an evolving industry.
“I’m lucky to have a career doing something I love,” she says. “I will keep learning new things to keep up with the ever-changing multimedia world.” Besides, adds she jokingly, “maybe the Today Show will come calling.”