When Jasmine Garcia graduated from Augusta University with a communication degree in 2018, she was looking for a job as a playwright in theatrical productions or as an editor for television.
But in 2019, Garcia’s career path shifted when she accepted a position as a photojournalist and producer for WRDW-TV News 12. This unexpected change was a recipe for success for Garcia.
Less than two years later, Garcia has received a 2021 Southeast Regional Emmy for an investigative piece she produced with Senior I-Team Reporter Liz Owens and Vice President of News Estelle Parsley called “Conduct Unbecoming.”
“The story, ‘Conduct Unbecoming,’ uncovered a system that allowed a law enforcement officer to conceal a troubling history and continue to find employment at agency after agency,” Garcia said, adding she and Owens focused on revealing how this particular officer bounced from one law enforcement agency to another without any consequences. “I remember the documents and body cam for this story were pretty shocking.
“Liz Owens, the investigative reporter I work with, always devotes a great amount of effort toward research for every story, so I try to match those efforts.”
While the team at WRDW worked hard on the investigative story, Garcia said she was still surprised to learn she had won an Emmy this year.
“I know there are so many important stories that don’t receive any recognition, so I don’t see the award as absolute affirmation necessarily, but recognition does, of course, feel truly reassuring and encouraging nonetheless,” Garcia said. “And my colleagues were joyful. It is the station’s first Emmy, so it’s very cool and I’m glad to be associated with a first at the station.”
“Jasmine was an outstanding student in communication who graduated a few years ago,” Bulla said. “She has done excellent work at WRDW. Vice President for News Estelle Parsley has praised her over and over again. Her winning an Emmy is not a surprise to her communication professors. She is a very artistic video editor.”
Matthew Buzzell, associate professor of film in the Department of Art and Design at Augusta University, agreed with Bulla, saying that Garcia’s tremendous talent was obvious when she was a student in his class.
“I am not surprised to hear that Jasmine’s work is being recognized for such significant honors,” Buzzell said. “While at Augusta University and in my classroom, Jasmine’s work was often bold and always principled. I am so pleased for her.”
Garcia said she believes the story, “Conduct Unbecoming,” had such an impact on viewers because it was a thoroughly researched piece that had shocking revelations.
“Any story that provides revelation and context to misdeeds that are fairly common, but routinely hidden, I think garner interest in the least and inspire activity at best,” she said. “This story seemed to be of that type, and so that could be why it prompted impact.”
However, Garcia acknowledged that it’s tiresome to hear how often this type of kind of corruption occurs within certain public entities.
“It is almost grating how often we hear of it,” she said. “And it’s disconcerting and exhausting to witness the confidence behind these behaviors, behaviors with clear documentation of questionable or downright immoral actions that go unnoticed by the public with no real, satisfying repercussions. It makes me tired.”
But those are the kinds of investigative stories that local journalists need to bring to light for the communities they serve, she said.
“Local journalism, I think, is essential to the health of the community,” she said. “It seems to me that public and private transgressions or misconduct in smaller communities are not subject to as strict of oversight.”
After all, unethical actions must be a concern for communities of all sizes, Garcia said.
“Relying on local journalists to hold authorities accountable the best they can, or in the very least pose a legitimate question on suspicious activities, is good practice as a responsible member of the community,” she said. “Of course, I don’t trust implicitly, but good journalists are held to a high standard and are motivated by a duty to their community.”
The 2021 Emmy wasn’t the only recognition Garcia has been awarded this year. She also received two 2021 Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for overall excellence in electronic journalism.
Garcia, along with Owens and producer Lynnsey Gardner, won the awards for a series of investigative pieces that uncovered a severe shortage of EMTs and paramedics in Aiken County. The shortage led to EMS stations being shut down and people waiting hours for help after calling 911, Garcia said.
“This story was a tougher one,” Garcia said. “The research was very involved and the shooting and editing was a lengthy process. Basically, the multipart investigation followed the dire repercussions of status zero, or when there are no available ambulances to respond to a call, and exposed inappropriate behavior at a 911 dispatch center that dramatically worsened a patient’s prognosis.
“The story was seen by lawmakers, then presented and considered when initiating changes in EMS policies.”
Parsley said the team’s work on the investigative piece was outstanding and the stories had an impact on the community.
“Our investigation revealed county leaders knew about the shortage for years but failed to take action. This significantly impacts the people in the community we serve,” Parsley said in the station’s announcement after receiving the award in May. “Without investigative reporting, these stories would never see the light of day.”
WRDW General Manager Mike Oates said he was tremendously proud of the team at News 12.
“We place a great deal of talent and resources into our investigative journalism because we have seen it resonate with our viewers,” Oates said in the station’s announcement.
Garcia’s path to success in journalism has been an interesting journey that she never expected, she said.
“I actually was not under the journalism track at Augusta University, because it was not my intention to work in this field,” she said. “But there were aspects of my education there that have helped me in unique ways as a photojournalist. I did of course learn a lot of technical know-how at AU, by working regularly with cameras, lighting and editing software, which made me more comfortable starting in a very fast-paced field.
“And studying film and television theory did fortify the impulse to produce any and everything with the resolve to elicit a marked reaction.”
Garcia said she strives to always communicate a story as earnestly as possible to the audience.
“At AU, I learned to consider the audience experience and work with an intention to synthesize a lot of data and then relay it with both emotion and reason,” Garcia said. “I’d hope, working in news in particular, that that method would help an audience feel most confident in the information.”
When asked about her advice to communication students and future journalists at Augusta University, Garcia couldn’t help but find humor in the question.
“Keep in mind that I’ve just started out myself,” said Garcia. “But I’d say, most practically, you have to be fast. It does make it hard sometimes to be creative and experiment, which is where I know many of us feel more fulfilled. So, to be helpful, I’d say come in with your own method already. And once you’re already comfortable with the gear and the software, then figure out what approach suits you and how to execute it as swiftly as you can.”
After all, Garcia pointed out that breaking news waits for no one.
“You won’t have the luxury of sitting and ruminating like you may in other film and television fields,” she said, laughing. “But working off the cuff is interesting in other ways.
“You might find being forced to break habits produces work that may come off more sincere since you aren’t afforded the time to over-intellectualize. Or sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a crapshoot. Be adaptable.”