Alison Davis

Get to know some of our College of Media faculty. Alison Davis is a lecturer in journalism and a seven-time regional Emmy Award winner.

Why did you become a lecturer in the College of Media?
When I was working for the Big Ten Network, there were times that different professors would go on sabbatical, and I would fill in, teaching their classes, particularly the television production class. I loved it! I realized how fun it was teaching and working with students, seeing them learn new things, and watching their eyes light up when they understood something. Then, I saw a position opening and thought, “Well, maybe I would like to do this full-time; maybe I should consider teaching.” I ended up applying, and this is my fourth year of teaching in the Department of Journalism.

What courses do you currently teach?
I teach JOUR 215: Multimedia Reporting; JOUR 240: Introduction to Documentary Storytelling & Production; JOUR 340: Video Reporting & Storytelling; and JOUR 440: Advanced Documentary Storytelling & Production. For the first time this semester, Professor Stretch Ledford and I are teaching a globally focused documentary class, where we’re taking six students to Sierra Leone over spring break 2024 to produce documentaries about the issue of period poverty in Western Africa.

What did your career look like before returning to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign?
After I received my undergraduate and master’s degrees here, I worked for many years at the local PBS station, making shows and national documentaries. I worked for the Big 10 Network, creating documentaries about the University of Illinois—some sports stories and also stories that told the richness of the University, ranging from a biography on the man who invented the LED to our first African American captain of the basketball team; kind of the full gamut. My background is in filmmaking, and it’s great to teach that to students here.

For the past two decades, you’ve been producing national documentaries, receiving numerous regional Emmy Awards and over 20 Emmy nominations. What sparked your interest in doing such a thing?
I remember when I was an undergraduate, we were divided into tracks, and at that point, I was a broadcast journalism major. I loved doing videos and being able to tell stories—being a storyteller is something I have always loved doing since I was little. When I was in the news, I always felt there was more of a story, and I felt limited by doing a 30-second/minute-and-a-half package. I studied abroad in London, where I worked at a film company, and it was a blast, so when I came back, I did more work in video. After I was a freshly graduated person in my 20s, I had a chance to have my own television show and work in all of these different roles, learning what to do within those roles. It was an experience.

How did it feel to know your work was being noticed in a significant way that was shaping people’s opinions?
That was an incredible thing. We would enter the regional Emmys and feel like we didn’t have a shot at winning, but whenever I would, I just felt this unbelievable moment of shock and gratefulness. I remember the first time I won in Chicago. It was for a documentary I did about an architect who graduated from the University of Illinois and had built the capital of Australia, Canberra, but had died in obscurity. I recall sitting at this table—and they put you at a table with nominees in your category—and I was young, in my 30s, against older men. I talked to them about what projects they did, and they all sounded incredible compared to mine; then it was announced that I won. I took my mom and sister to that, and they couldn’t believe it; we were ecstatic.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for your students and others?
Don’t give up. If you’re making a video or any media project, you’re going to get frustrated. It could be technical problems when you’re trying to film. It could be your editing, and you’re sick of looking at this stuff that you don’t think you want to look at again. But don’t give up. Think about the goal of what you’re trying to create and keep working hard. Students, in general, should attend the whole University. Make use of the resources and all the great things here.

—Interview by Chloe Barbarise, New Voices Intern

Alison Davis