For some people, waking up at 2:30 a.m. sounds like an absolute nightmare. For Nick Ciletti, it’s a small price to pay for working his dream job: broadcast news anchor.
While Ciletti, who works at KNXV, the ABC affiliate news station in Phoenix, Arizona, loves his current position and is confident he is on the right career path (early morning hours and all), he still decided to go back to school. Currently, he is enrolled in the online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program at the USC Gould School of Law.
So why pursue a master’s degree that is — at first glance — unrelated to a career in breaking news?
For Ciletti, who majored in broadcast journalism and Spanish at the University of Miami in Florida, one significant reason to join the online MSL program was a genuine love of learning.
“Education has always been really important to my family. My dad has a master’s degree, and he was the first person in his family to graduate from college,” Ciletti told USC Online.
Choosing to go to graduate school, however, was not as easy as narrowing down a concentration, especially because he had already embarked on a journalism path he revered, working at news stations in Fort Myers, Florida, and Yuma, Arizona, before ending up in Phoenix.
“My issue was that I have so many interests. It’s like my brain goes in a million different directions. So what I had a hard time with was really deciding, ‘What do I want to study?’ … I would spend a lot of my free time just looking at online programs,” Ciletti explained.
What ultimately led Ciletti to USC’s online MSL was realizing it could enhance his abilities as a journalist.
“I really was interested in law, and I think it goes without saying there’s a lot of intersection between journalism and law. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read through court cases and have thought, ‘Oh, I wish I knew how to understand this better’ … I sort of felt like as a journalist, I couldn’t just talk the talk — I had to walk the walk, too,” he said.
Balancing School with Breaking News
Ciletti started USC Gould’s online MSL program in 2019 and will graduate in May 2022. He takes one class a semester, sometimes two. And while no one would say balancing school with work is a simple feat, Ciletti swears it is doable — even if he didn’t quite believe that himself at first.
“I was nervous about taking on the program. I wasn’t sure how demanding it was going to be. It’s law. So there were times where before the program started, I really did kind of question like, ‘Am I smart enough for this?’ … I had heard horror stories of people in law school, you know, just getting so overwhelmed,” he told USC Online.
After beginning the program, however, Ciletti was able to get into the groove of switching from tests and homework to TV screens and anchor banter. He now starts his day in the early morning hours at KNXV, relaying the news to the citizens of Phoenix, and then focuses on school in the afternoon (post-nap, of course).
Although Ciletti didn’t downplay the amount of effort it takes to stay focused, he pointed out that it’s been refreshing to switch between the two skill sets. This was no more apparent than during the 2020 election, when “all eyes” were on Arizona.
“It was an interesting semester, I will say, probably more than the others,” Ciletti said. “[O]ne night I had a political interview … with Dr. Jill Biden, and then I knew I had class right after. So it’s funny to have these two different worlds that are equally important to me, but to just be like, all right, this is my journalism hat. I’m doing this political interview with the future first lady, and then, boom, I have to kind of like take that hat off — now I’m a student and I’m learning.”
And even with a global pandemic and an out-of-state home base, Ciletti emphasized he has found a community within USC: “[Al]though I’m 350 miles away from campus here in Phoenix, I still feel very much a part of the Trojan Family,” he said.
Real-Time Legal Insights
Despite being only about halfway through the program, Ciletti can already see the benefits his studies have had on his career, making it evident to him that an online MSL was the right move.
“There is so much intersection between the law and journalism — I would wager to say that you could easily find elements of the law in almost every single story we put on air. In the past 12 months, we’ve covered an impeachment, discrimination and racial bias, protests, an election, allegations of voter fraud. All of these, at their core, involve elements of the law, and having a better understanding of it has really helped me in my job and I think has made me a stronger journalist,” he explained.
In fact, one specific incident made him particularly grateful for his ongoing law studies.
Ciletti and his co-anchor were leading with a breaking news story about a shooting involving a police officer, and they were waiting for the prosecutor to announce whether charges would be filed.
When the decision was announced, Ciletti had to summarize — without a script — what had occurred and provide background information about the case.
“The prosecutor had actually touched on some key points I remembered from one of my earlier classes when we discussed what goes into charging an individual with a crime, the burden of proof, weighing whether a jury would convict. From there, I was able to offer more context to our viewers and help them understand what goes into an often-controversial decision like this,” Ciletti said.
“[School] is breathing new life into me.”
When asked what he would tell other people who are considering a master’s degree, especially one that doesn’t exactly match up with their natural career trajectory, Ciletti was firm in his response: If you’re passionate, do it.
“I would say go for it. My advice would be to do it while you’re motivated to do it because you never know what life has in store for you … Look at 2020. We don’t know what life has in store for any of us,” he said.
After all, it’s been a pivotal experience for the broadcast news anchor, who called himself a lifelong student and said he wouldn’t rule out getting another degree in the future.
“I feel like I’m growing as a person, and I’m such a firm believer in education,” he added. “[W]e all reach times in our lives where maybe we feel a little stuck or kind of stale, and we need to shake things up a little bit … I feel [that school] is breathing new life into me, and it’s giving me a whole different area of expertise I can rely on now.”
Learn more about USC Gould’s online Master of Studies in Law program today.