Isaiah Showell of Atlantic County has hosted and produced more than 100 videos spotlighting the people, places and programs of South Jersey communities for the series “What’s Good,” which he founded in 2017. Isaiah, who graduated with a Journalism degree from the Ric Edelman College of Communication and Creative Arts, shares his own South Jersey story with us here, along with what he calls “suggestions,” not advice, for future students.
Why did Rowan stand out to you in your college search?
Shout out to my good friend, Charis Marguerite Wilson — she was my friend in high school, and it carried over to college. I took her to my senior prom. She was going to Rowan University. I wasn’t even thinking about college, by the way. But my good friend, she said, “I don’t really take anybody seriously if they’re not educated.” And I was like, “Say no more. I’m gonna go to college.” She was the catalyst, she kind of jump started this engine for higher education, higher learning. But once I got here, it was time for me to really find my own legs and find out what I was interested in.
I was actually a Theatre major first. And then I switched because I figured if I wanted to be an actor, that … I just needed the right someone to see me. So I was like, “Ok, what can I do to apply my personality and then also learn something that might intrigue me?” I have always been a big fan of 6ABC Action News. And then … I saw a video for RTN [Rowan Television Network]. I was like, that’s what I want to do. So if I ever have the opportunity to get there, I’m going there. And that’s what I ended up doing: becoming a broadcast journalism major.
What skills or knowledge did you learn at Rowan that you’ve taken into your career?
I have to shout out Miss Candace Kelley, who was and is a wealth of information … very professional and very gracious.
I’ll share this story. It was my turn to produce a show for class. And I was totally underprepared. I did not know what I was doing. So therefore, none of my classmates knew what they were doing. So she had to hurry up and get something together. And I just remember, after that class was over feeling so defeated. And I picked my legs up, went over to [Prof. Kelley’s] office, and I said, “If you would give me another chance, I promise I won’t let you down.” And she didn’t have to give me another chance. But she did, she took a chance on me. And, the second time I got a chance to be a producer. Everyone knew what they were doing. I was prepared that day. And, I’ve had a chance to interview her. She’s actually been on my show. So it was really cool to just get my sensei on camera. Let her know that I’m doing ok, that she sent me off pretty good. Just being in her class, she was really my source of just journalism and knowing that, it’s possible, just being a Black man and seeing her and what she’s done.
Describe your journey between graduation and “What’s Good.“
That was a rough one because it was looking very ambiguous for me. I know that Rowan University has really good ties with Fox 29. For some reason, we just, we know a lot of people over there. So I remember going to the interview for an internship there and not getting it. And I was name dropping left and right.
So “What’s Good” came about because of a previous job that I had. I was a mentor at First Star Academy. They help foster youth get to college, and they provide them with mentors, resources to give them life skills and help them see their way through with a little bit of a guide in mentorship. So the people that ran this wonderful program came to Rowan University, and I was one of the mentors while I was a student. I was just rubbing elbows with people and talking to people, and they found out what I wanted to do. And they found out that, oh, I have a passion for being in front of the camera, and they told me about a place called SNJ Today. Little did I know that people were doing broadcast news right in my own backyard in South Jersey. I interned for them, and they kept me along for the ride. I was a production assistant there for about maybe three to four years.
That’s where “What’s Good” was born, because I told the people there that I have talents and a passion for being in front of the camera tell[ing] stories, but I just didn’t have any type of avenues. And then one day, one of the guys who ran my internship told me, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for short form content on our local channel. So if you have any ideas, this is the time to tell me.” And I was like, Do I have any ideas? Of course I do.
Through the years, it’s evolved. It went from not having a theme song to having a theme song. It went from begging people to let me cover their events to now people asked me to cover their events and going to things like covering the [NJ] State of the Union, with Governor Murphy addressing Rowan University, when he came that one time, me going to get a statement from him, and really taking this thing seriously, and being taken seriously. Now it’s no longer SNJ Today, it’s Follow South Jersey, and we’re a source for people out here to look to see if they want to know what’s going on in their own backyards in these different counties of ours.
How do you source your stories?
Just keep my ear to the ground, honestly. And a lot of times, they come from sources that I’ve done previously. A lot of times someone will tell me, “Well, I was doing this, but my real good friend is doing this.” Or I’ll get a press release from someone.
I’ve been doing “What’s Good” since 2017. So it’s been getting out there now. And a lot of people that know about it, and not everyone knows, but for the ones that do, they circulate. I just try to put my best foot forward and do my best work. And get those good shots and ask the right questions, to the people that are either in the driver’s seat, or the government officials, or even to the person that has no title, but it just really showed a heart and the good things that they’re trying to do. And let people know that South Jersey isn’t boring. Let people know that people in South Jersey are really involved in their communities one, and then also, they care about the kids that are in their communities.
Since working this job and being in this position, I’ve seen so much community love and support. I didn’t know that people cared so much about their own backyards, their children and their futures. Doing this job has opened my eyes to that a lot.
Do you have a couple of favorite stories, ones that were particularly impactful for you?
Yes, I have one that stands out. There’s one word called, we call it “How to Feed a Human.” And it came by way of me covering the Cape May Parade. I was actually wrapping up my equipment and there was this one lady who saw what I was doing and she said, “I have a friend who has a book out and it’s about teaching people how to eat healthy. And I don’t know if you’re interested, but I can get you in touch with her. They’re in Delaware.” So they ended up coming down. My headquarters is in Bridgeton and they came down. We set it up, and they sent me a book in the mail. I skimmed through it, and it was really good because I care about that, too. I care about what I’m putting inside my temple, right? I care about how my systems are running. And they’re giving you tips and they’re ex-bodybuilders, this husband and wife. One was the ex-bodybuilder (the husband was), and the wife was an ex-volleyball player. And they competed on a very, very high level. The nicest people, they made me one of their best dishes that they talked about in the book.
And then an additional one, just an honorable mention. Over the pandemic, I got a chance to interview one of the cast members from “13 Reasons Why,” a brand new cast member who was from New Jersey. It felt different getting an email from Netflix, when they said, yes, you can have our trailer for the new last season and “13 Reasons Why” and you can help us promote this. Keep in mind this is during a pandemic, everything is shut down. And yet, Netflix is reaching out to Isaiah Showell. That was a great moment. I still hold it in high regard for sure.
Tell us about the team behind “What’s Good.“
So “What’s Good” runs like this. Someone will give me an idea, someone will give me a suggestion, or a lot of the things that I put out is something that I’m thinking of doing. And I’m like, Yeah, this deserves some, this is newsworthy, or this deserves some attention. But I do have a team. We all work really closely together. Because here at Follow South Jersey, it’s a part of Hope Loft. And so many different organizations are underneath Hope Loft, because it’s just a hub for people reaching out.
What is Hope Loft?
Hope Loft is like a network: CASA comes out of Hope Loft, Family Strengthening Network comes out of Hope Loft. First Star Academy, which I still serve for, comes out of Hope Loft. And it’s just a network of people who are trying to make families out here in Bridgeton and just in South Jersey, better and stronger. They have ESL classes, making sure that people know how to [read and] speak. And there are a lot of parents who didn’t graduate high school, we have programs that help them do that. And then also we try to take care of these children.
This youth out here in Cumberland County … one of the reasons that SNJ Today exists is because Cumberland County was leading in drug use and homelessness, and it was just really, really not a good reputation. People and families were moving out. So they wanted to make it [imaginable] that no, you can actually stay here, you can actually build your families here. And SNJ’s MO and their mission statement was to talk about the positivity opposed to all the negativity that’s going on there. Let’s focus on the good things.
So some people may critique and say that, well, that’s not really news, you got to talk about everything. And to be fair, I’ve seen us report not only good things, but the things that are actually going on as well.
How would you describe “What’s Good?“
“What’s Good” is different. It can be a place of newsworthiness, but it can also be a place of entertainment, edutainment. It can be me being Barbara Walters, I can have a sit-down interview with you, I can go come to you, like, I had a chance to do Riccardo Dale, he’s a councilman of his own city now, the city that he’s been born and raised. That was an instance where we went to him, we set up in his own backyard. We cranked out a really good “What’s Good,” it was a great conversation.
I want it to serve, I want it to be almost like water. So it could fill any type of void, or it could fill any type of form, just limitless and, just, I just want to be as creative as I can be. And I’m looking, I’m always looking for help, because I produce them all. So I’m getting the shots, I’m getting the interviews, and then I’m editing it as well. So I’m always looking for someone that could be over the camera for me, so that I don’t have to really worry about it and I could just run free.
What are the unique joys and challenges of your position?
The joys are to put someone in the spotlight that probably wouldn’t be in the spotlight, to talk about someone’s program that nobody knows what’s going on. That’s the joy of it. Now, the downside, or the difficult part of it is? Well, of course missing the people. Sometimes I don’t get everybody, right? But then the difficult part of it is also, like I said before, I have a team. So we got to be all be on one accord when you’re playing for a team. So that means that my say, is not the final say all the time. For the most part, things go my way. But there are some instances where it’s like, maybe not.
One of the difficult parts is to make sure that the team meets and everyone that is involved are on the same page. And for the most part we are, but [one time] I remember, I was like, “Guys, we gotta punch this, we got to push this out.” But then for the most part, for the majority, I say, 99% of the time, we are all in one accord, and we are all on the same page.
What advice would you share with future storytellers?
I don’t have any advice. I’d like to say, I’ll give them suggestions, because I’m not gonna sit up here and act like I’ve mastered anything. I’m continuously learning in this field. My suggestion would be don’t give up. My suggestion would be to know your why. My suggestion is to know why you’re doing it. My suggestion is do it even if nobody cares.
On our Facebook page, somebody commented on one of the stories I did and said, “Isaiah, don’t stand so close to the street,” because I did my stand up really, really close. And this car passed me, I felt all the wind behind me. That let me know that people are watching.
Just two weeks ago, I was in Acme in Mays Landing and we’re in Bridgeton. So I wouldn’t expect someone from Bridgeton to kind of say, “Hey, Isaiah, I recognize you.” But these two gentlemen were looking at me as I was on my way to the register. And I’m going to give my impression of this gentleman. He goes, “‘What’s Good’ South Jersey.” I gave him a good handshake. He gave me a hug. Yeah, it was cool. It reaffirmed to me just like yeah, if people are watching people or people are paying attention, and just be open to things changing. You never know what’s coming. Just be ready. Be prepared. Again, regardless of who’s paying attention to you, never know who’s watching. So just always be at your best.
Get as much experience as you can under your belt because even though I was a student at Rowan, and was in the program, I did not know and get a lot of experience behind the camera until I was in an internship. So I would suggest, even if you’re annoying to your professors, get your hands on the camera or get your hands on the equipment and touch that reel up, make sure your reel looks good. Take it seriously and please don’t burn any bridges. Please be on your best behavior, even if you don’t feel good at that specific moment.
These relationships are the best thing that college has done for me — it’s like an extension cord, so that you’re plugged into so many different avenues. So while you’re there, take advantage of that. That was the best benefit I think that it has done for me. It just plugged me in. I made relationships that will last me forever. So be kind. Be kind. It goes a long way.
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Header photo: Isaiah interviews subjects outside of the ISI building (Iron Sharpens Iron) in Millville on their plans to rebuild after a fire for a “What’s Good” segment.
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