If you dream of working in a fast-paced news environment and absolutely crushing your job, this alumni profile is for you.
Siena alum Christopher Donato ‘14 majored in American Studies, minored in Creative Arts and studied broadcast journalism. Fast forward to now and the Westchester County, NY native is a campaign producer and reporter for ABC News, and has some incredible insights to share. Have a read!
What made you choose Siena?
Initially, I wanted a large school in the middle of a city. I began to realize at the larger schools, the class sizes were really large. I liked that Siena had small class sizes and you were really able to get to know your professors. A lot of times, your professors would know if you were having a bad day before you or your family at home knew. When I was looking at colleges, I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to do when I graduated; I was between wanting to become a pediatrician and a high school history teacher. Siena’s liberal arts core really allowed the flexibility for me to take classes in either field.
When I ended up switching my career choice completely to become a journalist in my sophomore year, it was great to hear that because of my liberal arts core, I wouldn’t be starting over and I’d still graduate on time.
Do you have a favorite course or Siena experience that really impacted you, personally or professionally?
There were a few: studying at the University of Cape Town for a semester, a class focusing just on Revolutionary War era America, and of course the Journalism Reporting class.
I did so many things in South Africa I never imagined doing—like hiking a mountain, volunteering in an after school center for kids and taking different classes and learning so many different cultures.
The Revolutionary War era course was so interesting because it focused on the time period surrounding the founding of our country, which was fascinating.
The Journalism Reporting course has impacted me so much professionally. Dr. Rebecca Taylor ran her classroom like a newsroom and she told us it was because she wanted to make sure we all had jobs after graduation. I learned so much in that course—from learning how to use a camera, writing for TV, radio, and newspaper, and how to edit pieces together. The class was small so it was great getting to know Dr. Taylor and her background, especially since she has experience in everything she taught. She was a newspaper, radio and TV reporter and has become a great mentor, someone I still seek input and advice from today.
Throughout my first two years at Siena, I worked at the Siena Research Institute as a poll interviewer, calling people throughout the day to answer questions for the latest poll. This insight in polling helped me understand polls when I was covering the 2016 election.
Tell us about your career path. It looks like you landed your first role with ABC News even before you graduated Siena?
I began in the summer of 2013 as Ginger Zee’s intern on the weekends at “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight with David Muir.” That fall I continued an internship at “World News Tonight” Weekend. Class finished at 11:30 a.m. and I’d be on the 12:15 p.m. train to Manhattan on Fridays. Sunday, I’d be on the 9:00 p.m. train back up to Albany. That winter when Ginger moved to weekday, she asked if I could graduate early to join her team. I was really excited for the classes I had signed up for that semester so I ended up staying at Siena and filling in as her freelance anchor producer and continued to work at “World News Tonight” on the weekends.
Two weeks after graduation, I started full time on the assignment desk as a digital news associate. The following spring, I was asked if I could help cover the 2016 election as an assignment editor on the 2016 politics desk. During the transition time (the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day), I was often the pool producer in the Trump Tower lobby reporting on the comings and goings of people meeting with the President-elect and being brought in to cover some of his meetings. (The networks often pool resources for big events—one camera person and one reporter instead of each network sending their own team).
Some mornings I would do a brief interview with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on behalf of the pool and that video would get sent to all the networks, their affiliates and clients around the world. Other comings and goings included members of the Trump family, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the CEO of Boeing, and Kanye West. After the inauguration, I became a breaking news field producer during the week and worked the assignment desk on the weekends. And now, I’m on the campaign trail full time.
Tell us a little about your current role. Did you ever think you'd be where you are today?
I never thought I’d be on the frontlines covering a presidential election. Currently I’m a campaign producer/reporter covering the 2020 election. Initially, I was part of the team embedded on former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign—traveling everywhere he goes to campaign, attending his events, filming and reporting on his campaign stops for the network and being an expert on his campaign and his political history. Now I’m ABC’s New Hampshire reporter, covering all the candidates as they come through the state. In New Hampshire alone, I’ve traveled nearly 7,000 miles since the end of October covering different events.
What values and skills did you learn from Siena that you apply to your job and life now?
Two of the big lessons I learned from Siena were to work hard and make sacrifices. I worked hard to get an internship after my sophomore year at another news network (during orientation they told us we had a better chance of getting into Harvard than getting the internship) and had to make sacrifices along the way. I gave up that summer for an unpaid internship, but it was totally worth it! Then, during my senior year, I gave up most weekends to commute to Manhattan for an internship—again, totally worth it.
Advice for prospective students considering Siena College?
It’s OK not to know what you want to do. I thought I knew what I wanted and ended up changing my mind a few times—so be open. Visit the campus a few times and you’ll notice everyone always seems to be happy—even during finals week! Sit in on a class and see what it’s like; it’ll give you a chance to see if you like small classes or large lecture halls.
So, glad you chose Siena?! Miss anything specifically from your time here?
I’m so glad I chose Siena. If I didn’t, I’m not sure that I’d be where I am today! I miss the community and people. On nice days, we would grab lunch to go and sit in the quad—or “Siena beach.” I talk with a group of Saints almost daily, and we try to see each other every couple months.