Senior Reporter Chelsea Barton is leaving WVUA 23 News

After more than 10 years of covering stories that ran the gamut from big to small, from life-changing to inconsequential but intriguing, from community-devastating to inspirational and bright, WVUA 23 News Senior Reporter Chelsea Barton is hanging up her hard news hat.

While she’s saying goodbye to WVUA 23, she’s not going far and the skills she’s learned at the station are still being put to good use: She’s taking a job with Visit Tuscaloosa as its new marketing content manager.

“No one has ever had this job before,” Barton said. “They created it and are giving me an opportunity to fill it and make it my own.”

Visit Tuscaloosa didn’t have anyone specific in mind for the position, nor were they tied to a set skillset when searching for their new employee. So as Barton takes this new job, she’s excited about bringing along her strengths.

“My skills are storytelling, video storytelling, being on camera, social media, all those types of things,” she said. “I know it’ll be like (news) and that no two days will look the same, but I’m excited to broaden my horizons and jump into some new responsibilities.”

Being on TV was a thought-to-be longshot while she was studying English and journalism at Judson College, but an adviser with connections to a Birmingham TV station helped her score that first taste of a broadcast newsroom. Soon enough, she knew she was hooked.

After graduating from Judson College, Barton went for a graduate degree at the University of Alabama and began working as an intern at WVUA 23 in early 2011.

Back then, the station still shot, edited and aired video on tape. And a few months after starting, Tuscaloosa would experience one of its worst-ever days as a devastating EF4 tornado barreled through the heart of the city.

Former WVUA 23 News Director Lynn Brooks knew Barton would be something special even before she was a bright-eyed beginner walking into the newsroom sequestered at the time in the basement of Reese Phifer Hall.

“I met Chelsea at a career fair,” Brooks said. “She literally walked up to the table and said ‘what do I have to do to do what you do?’ “

The answer, Brooks told her, is a whole, whole lot.

“It’s not all appearances,” Brooks said. “Being on the air is 2% of your day. You’ll spend the day digging for stories and calling people and trying to get information and being told no. It’s not as glamorous as what it appears, but she came in as one of the most eager students that I’ve ever encountered.”

That eagerness has served her well in her career with WVUA 23, and it’ll do the same into the future. Telling stories will always be part of her life, Barton said, and she’s looking forward to highlighting what Tuscaloosa has to offer with the same dedication.

WVUA 23 News Director Kay Norred said Barton has served as an example for others during her tenure.

“If you watch Chelsea’s stories, especially those with children, then you know where her heart is. She has a special way of putting kids at ease,” said Norred. “Chelsea has an instant connection with children. It’s really something special to see.”

Some of her best stories, Barton said, are those that bring help or awareness where it’s needed most.

“Any story where there’s a need that I can bring awareness to, I think those are the stories I’m proudest of,” Barton said. “Any time we can be that link between a need and a fulfillment or an issue and awareness that otherwise people wouldn’t have gotten.”

Finding those stories is never simple, but West Alabama is host to a whole lot of them no matter the situation. And sometimes the story you think you have isn’t the one that’s most worthwhile to tell.

That’s something she hopes the students learning at WVUA 23 News just like she did will take to heart.

“Don’t ever go into a story thinking you know the story,” Barton said. “So many times I’ve gone on a story and it changes once you’re with the people.”

Another thing she’s hoping from those who come after her? Commitment to covering quality stories in areas where they don’t often happen.

“When I was growing up the news only came to town when something bad happened,” Barton said. “I remember watching TV and wondering why they chose that person to represent our community. Or why did they only show up when something negative happens.”

Barton’s biweekly special Bright Spots was tailor-made for that purpose: Showcasing positive stories from around West Alabama.

And she has a whole lot of people she can call on if she’s ever in a bind; the everyday movers and shakers like city leaders, emergency management agency directors and nonprofit leaders are some of the most important people she’s had the pleasure of getting to know over the years, she said.

“Your public officials, community leaders, those are the real celebrities of this area,” Barton said. “Those are the glue, the people who make this such a nice place to call home.”

Brooks has a saying: News is people. And Barton exemplifies that in her reporting, she said.

“You have to care about the people to be a good reporter, and Chelsea cares about the people,” Brooks said. “She pours herself into her stories, and the biggest difference between the beginning versus now is that she’s so connected to the community. That makes for better stories.”

All her friends and WVUA 23 coworkers can do as she embarks on this new adventure is pray she never stops telling those stories.

Categories: Local News