One day he’s sitting in Haines Hall, taking notes in lecture. The next he’s on the red carpet interviewing Halle Berry.
Such is the life of 23-year-old political science student Errol Barnett, correspondent for the show “Dailies” on the Reelz Channel, a fairly new network focusing on movie news and eschewing the tabloid fodder of other stations.
But before Barnett transferred to UCLA this fall, he worked for five years as a reporter for Channel One News, a news station beamed out to 12,000 high schools and middle schools across the nation.
At Channel One, Barnett covered a wide range of stories, from natural disasters to the State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C.
“They would send us wherever the news was happening. Before (Hurricane) Katrina, when all the hurricanes were gaining momentum in the Gulf (of Mexico), I flew through a hurricane with the hurricane hunters in a military plane,” Barnett said. “I was in the plane for 11 hours, but I loved it.”
Barnett also wrote and produced a two-part series about increased heroin usage in the suburbs.
“I interviewed a heroin user, this 18-year-old, who was going through rehab. And I was there in rehab with him. He’s twitching and he has the track marks. I thought it was a really compelling story,” Barnett said.
During his time at Channel One, Barnett was also enrolled at Santa Monica College and had to juggle school responsibilities with travel, which he found could be a tenuous proposition.
“That was strange because I would be at SMC one day and then at Channel One the other day and professors would wonder why I had an absence,” Barnett said. “I couldn’t exactly tell them I had to be in (Washington) D.C. interviewing a congressman. They’d be like, “˜Yeah sure, you and everyone else.'”
Born and raised in Milton Keynes, England, Barnett moved to Phoenix, Ariz., just before he turned 10. The new, warmer locale taught Barnett some valuable lessons in communication.
“I was the funny English kid in all my classes and I’m really shy,” he said. “It forced me to learn how to speak for myself and interact with people even though all I wanted to do was sit back.”
Barnett’s experience with TV began more as a hobby than a lofty occupational aspiration.
“In high school, I was able to produce my own TV show on campus. It was just for fun,” Barnett said. “I never thought I’d have a career or work in TV.”
During his junior year in high school, Channel One, which Barnett describes as “MTV meets CNN,” had a “Student-Produced Week” competition.
Students sent in demo tapes for the opportunity to come to Los Angeles to write and produce segments for the show. Barnett applied but was rejected.
“That made me really want it,” he said.
Doubly inspired, he improved his tape, resubmitted it, and was accepted the next year.
Barnett flew to Los Angeles to take part in Channel One’s “Student-Produced Week” with other teens from all over the country.
Once he graduated from high school, Channel One offered Barnett a three-year contract to work for the network, which meant delaying his original plans to attend Arizona State University.
With three years of “traveling the country interviewing newsmakers and doing really compelling stories” behind him, Barnett now sees an opportunity to finish his education uninterrupted.
“After I was accepted to UCLA, I felt like all the signs were in place,” he said.
Barnett viewed UCLA as a timely opportunity to expand his knowledge of the world by majoring in political science instead of honing his broadcast techniques in college.
“Channel One had already taught me the ins and outs of broadcast journalism, and in my opinion you can’t teach someone to be a journalist. You’re either naturally inquisitive and you put together the facts, or you don’t,” he said.
“I felt like it was more important for me to study something like political science that makes you more knowledgeable about the world, which, in essence, makes you a better journalist. For me, the decision was easy,” he added.
For now, Barnett is looking forward to finishing his degree and enjoying his time as a student. He is a member of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi and the Black Journalists Association of Southern California.
Still, assimilating isn’t always easy. Barnett says he gets recognized on campus about once a month and has both a Wikipedia entry and a bevy of Facebook groups dedicated to his work (for example: “I’m Errol Barnett, hand me your Emmys”).
“It’s so strange when you see people that you watched for years in person and the most alarming thing is you realize they’re just a regular person,” Barnett said of the cult of celebrities that he himself now has a part in. “If you didn’t know it was them, you might just look over them. They’re just human beings; they’re just people.”