A fluent Irish speaker is ecstatic to be the first Galway native hired as a local news reporter in Tennessee.
After applying to over 180 TV stations in 18 States across America, James Mahon, 22, landed a job with WDEF News 12 in Chattanooga, Tennessee in December.
When Mahon answers his phone on a Thursday afternoon the 22-year-old promising journalist is working on a news story in south Georgia.
“I am sitting in a pharmacy, putting together a TV package,” he explained to IrishCentral, pausing to have a brief conversation before he goes live on air.
Mahon is like the thousands of eager Irish graduates who have come to the U.S on the J1 year-long visa that allows them to work in a job related to their field of study.
An NUI Galway graduate, he went onto study broadcast journalism in Sheffield University in the UK before he set his sights on breaking into the American news market. He sought advice from Emmy award winning CNN anchor Jim Clancy, who told him he would have to be willing to relocate anywhere and work long hours.
“Mr Clancy told me my accent could be both an asset and a handicap, “Mahon explained.
Determined to succeed, Mahon took Clancy’s advice and began applying to TV stations across the US.
“I did a number of interviews where I reached the final two candidates but the risk for most HR teams and news directors was too high with an unknown rookie from the west of Ireland.”
“I was told no 60 to 70 times,” the Galway man told IrishCentral.
One interview at NBC went exceedingly well before red tape interfered. After impressing the news director, he was offered a job, but HR called back to inform him they would not accept his visa.
Despite several setbacks, the fluent Irish speaker’s tenacity did not waver. In mid-December he finally got his big break when he met an Irish American news director.
“One man from Alabama, Dutch Terry, who is now my current boss and whose family are Terry’s from Cork, gave me a chance and I am very grateful for the risk he took.”
Now the 22-year-old is settling into his job with the CBS assimilate TB station where he brings the latest in local news every weekday evening.
Adjusting to life in the South, his accent has some local viewers perplexed.
“One person asked me if was from Germany,” Mahon laughed.
“One day I walked into a man’s garage when I was covering the floods and the first thing he said to me was ‘You not from around here boy’!”
“I don’t think I will ever get used to the signs ‘Please leave your weapon’s outside,’” he admitted.
But the Galway man explains he’s enjoying his job as it allows him to generate news content across multiple platforms.
“I shoot off my smart phone constantly,” Mahon said.
“I think there is a stronger connection through visual means,” Mahon told IrishCentral.
“I can tell people’s stories and give them a voice on TV.”
For now, the young Irish emigrant is content chasing news stories in the Bible Belt.
“If you can hold your own in American TV, you can hold it anywhere,” Mahon reflects.
Concluding: “I am going to keep going for as long I can.”
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