A good morning for Laura Laughead starts with writing. An even better morning starts in New York City, bumping into Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts in the elevator on the way to her journalism internship. Laughead spent many mornings like this while interning at “Good Morning America” (“GMA”) last fall as part of The University of Texas at Austin experiential learning program UTNY.
So how does one land a coveted internship at one of the most respected national morning shows? “My parents always taught me to be politely aggressive,” Laughead says. “If you don’t ask for something, you’ll never get it. You have to be respectful while also advocating for yourself.”
After an intensive interview process and a gutsy follow-up email, Laughead secured her dream internship writing uplifting, human interest stories for the web and conducting red carpet interviews shared with “GMA’s” 1.9 million Instagram followers. Determined to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Laughead aimed to have 75 bylines by the end of her internship – encouraging her to push past her comfort zone and show up every day with plenty of pitches. “For some reason, I have to set a goal for myself. Otherwise I’ll get nothing done. I’ll procrastinate until the last day.” Her last day at “GMA” was filled with heartfelt goodbyes and the satisfaction of reaching her goal.
Laughead came back to UT with a list of surreal, résumé-building experiences, but what she says she valued most was the people she met along the way. “The lesson in being a journalist is to be kind to everyone. Whether it’s a source for a story, a security guard, a janitor or the vice president of a company, you want to be nice to everyone. Your character is just as important as your technical skills in this business,” she says.
Laughead is one of our outstanding graduates from the 2020 class. Most of her classmates would describe her as a natural born newscaster — with an undeniable charm and recognizable inflection in her voice on and off the air. Her confidence, professionalism and quirkiness have made her relatable in a field dedicated to understanding and sharing other people’s stories. But Laughead wasn’t always the first one to step out in front of the camera. She worked hard to break out of her shell and into the spotlight.
“I’m not naturally assertive, contrary to popular belief,” she says. “I was so timid when I started at UT because I came from such a small school with fewer than 95 graduates.” Her shy demeanor began to shift while taking her first lecture-style course, Fundamental Issues in Journalism, with Emmy-winning Professor Tracy Dahlby. Every day, a student was asked to share three news stories with the class. “I came into class every day so prepared, but then one day I didn’t prepare. I raised my hand because I thought he was never going to call on me with all of these students, but then he did,” she says. At that moment, Laughead discovered that standing out in a crowd was possible, and she wasn’t going to dim her light anymore.
She soon found a place where she could truly shine after joining UT’s student-run television station TSTV as a member of its longest-running entertainment show, “Sneak Peak.” From volunteering as an eager freshman to becoming a producer her sophomore year and an executive producer during her junior and senior years, Laughead grew — a lot.
“I learned how to be a better writer, reporter, producer and manager of people,” she says. “It taught me how to be a leader and inspire people to do something, especially when everyone’s so busy.”
Busy. Laughead knows that word well. Between tackling her internships, growing a writing career and juggling a full course load, she has kept busy. So much so that the director of the School of Journalism, Kathleen McElroy, urged her to let go of the workhorse mentality she had adopted.
“I ran into Dr. McElroy in line at Cappy’s (the coffee shop inside the Moody College of Communication), and she told me something no one had ever told me before. After chatting about my reel and discussing my internships, she told me, ‘You need to take a break. Don’t get burned out before you even enter the workforce.’ And that was such a profound statement to me.”
These simple but impactful words of advice altered Laughead’s perspective. She says she realized that advocating for herself didn’t just pertain to work but also to her personal life. “If people could learn one thing from me, I’d say work hard, but don’t forget to play. It truly is a balance,” she says.
Finding balance amid the COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for Laughead. Spending time with her family in Houston has helped her adjust, but she says she misses her second family — the cast and crew at “Sneak Peak.” With an abrupt shift to online learning during her final semester, Laughead wasn’t prepared to say goodbye to the cornerstone of her UT experience just yet.
“March 12 was our last show,” she says. “We realized halfway through the show that it was probably going to be the last one we ever did together. I had a wonderful run, but it’s bittersweet that no one got to say goodbye the way that we had hoped.”
So, what’s next for this high-aiming journalist on the go? Laughead has accepted a position as a multimedia journalist, reporter and anchor for the KLBK/KAMC news station in Lubbock, where she hopes to continue impacting lives through storytelling.
“I think we should all aim to affect others positively,” she says. “That’s the goal of a storyteller. You don’t tell a story for you. You tell it to enrich someone else’s experience. You tell it so someone else might feel better about something or gain joy that they didn’t have before.”
With reporting by Jade Fabello