Katie Ryan: On the Set of the 'Today Show'

By Hannah Barker, Class of '14

It's 4:00 a.m., and Katie Ryan, coffee mug in hand, is already at her station in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home to NBC Studios, combing through the news from the past seven hours. Ryan, a 2011 electronic media graduate, is preparing for the 7:00 a.m. segment of the "Today Show."

After concluding there is no breaking news, Ryan reviews graphics for this morning's show one last time with co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. By 6:45 a.m., Ryan is in the control room, headset on, eyes glued to the wall covered with bright TV screens. It's now 7:00 a.m., "And we're live."

Ryan is the graphic coordinating producer for the show, meaning she controls all graphic elements that appear on the screen for the broadcast.

"If you watch the show, anything with text or photo, not live TV, is me,” she says. “I pick the photos to use and make the banners. And when breaking news happens, I get what anchors need to tell the story."

Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., Ryan always dreamed of working in journalism. She had never really thought about live TV until she came to Xavier and majored in Electronic Media. The hands-on program, now re-named Digital Innovation, Film and Television, focuses on using electronic media for storytelling and community engagement.

 Xavier students come and are so loud and happy. I'm so proud that kids from my college are here where I work. This year, Matt Lauer put Xavier glasses on and threw up a big X. I loved that.

Ryan says the projects she worked on at Xavier gave her great preparation for her work on the set of the "Today Show."

"Every Friday, we'd put on a newscast, where we learned how to produce a mini-live show," she remembers. "More of the coursework was editing and scriptwriting, but the Xavier Television show really helped a lot, especially with the little things like knowing what tape is versus live, how to tell a story and edit something correctly."

Assistant Professor Blis DeVault

She also learned a lot working closely with her professor and mentor, Blis DeVault, to produce a documentary on the Cincinnati Roller Girls. In DeVault's class, they shot, produced, scripted and edited an entire 90-minute documentary that appeared on Cincinnati Educational Television.

"This was the first time seeing something I've done airing," Ryan says. "I learned so much from it."

Ryan shifted her focus to live TV during her time at Xavier and interned with NBC News, Sharp Entertainment and at Cincinnati's local Channel 5, where she worked for a year and a half after graduating, before moving to MSNBC and then the "Today Show."

Back in the live control room, Ryan watches closely as Seth Rogen and James Franco talk about their new movie. She waits for her cues to insert graphics. Out of nowhere, Rogen begins talking, unplanned, about his wife Lauren Miller and their foundation, Hilarity for Charity. Ryan ferociously searches Associated Press wires and Getty images to find a photo of him and his wife—anything to graphically display what he's saying, so it's relevant for viewers. She's relieved when she finally gets an image on the screen.

Watching and reacting to celebrities from the control room has become second nature to Ryan. So much so that she no longer gets as star struck. Recently, she rode in an elevator, alone, with actor and producer Michael Douglas. And she's met, and of course gotten a selfie, with countless celebrities like Puff Daddy, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Hudson. Though meeting famous people isn't the main part of her job, it's definitely a perk. 

Katie Ryan with Jennifer Hudson on the 'Today' set.

Another perk is the recognition for her work. In July 2014, Ryan, with her team of producers, won an Emmy for their breaking news story on the loss of Malaysia Flight 17. But the recognition was bittersweet.

"I'm thrilled to have an Emmy, but it happened out of something that's so sad," she says. "It can be depressing around here. But the award is nice. It's displayed in my living room right next to my Xavier diploma."

Ryan is very proud of her Emmy, but she's even more proud of her Xavier degree. She's known around her office as the "Xavier girl" because she's always the first to brag about Xavier in any way she can. Her favorite day of the year is when Xavier students visit the "Today Show" for March Madness.

Ryan's first Emmy

"Xavier students come and are so loud and happy. I'm so proud that kids from my college are here where I work," she says. "This year, Matt Lauer put Xavier glasses on and threw up a big X. I loved that."

Ryan highly recommends Xavier's program and attributes it to helping her land her "Today Show" job. But she warns you have to love live TV if you want to get into this business. And you have to be tough.

"It’s super stressful," she says. "Stuff happens, and it freaks you out. But I love it, and I kind of thrive off the stress."

The show finally wraps up at 9:00 a.m., but Ryan's day is not over. She pans over the news again, preparing for the West Coast airing at 10:00 a.m. At 11:00 a.m., she's ready to start planning production for tomorrow's show. It's a full day, but she loves it and is thankful that her college experience turned into such an exciting career.

"If I could go to Xavier all over again, I’d do it," she says. "It's the best place on earth, and if I didn't go there, I wouldn't be here."

Read more: Xavier student Libby Acker's "Today Show" makeover during March Madness.

Ryan, Xavier students and host Matt Lauer showing their X pride in March.