A tree fell on top of a powerline and sparked a wildfire just 50 feet from a man’s house. His small rake stood no chance against the giant flame that erupted. 

The Breitung Township Fire Department came to the rescue, extinguishing the fire in mere minutes. One of those firefighters, Clint McLeod, woke up the next day and spent the morning finding a news story to report for WLUC-TV about the local Iron Mountain, Michigan community.

Full-time bureau television reporter and volunteer firefighter — This is the life of McLeod, a 2021 Virginia Tech alumnus. 

McLeod graduated from the School of Communication, majoring in sports media and analytics. While he was a student, he worked for Hokie Vision as a production assistant editor and broadcaster for 3304 Sports, the multimedia online platform for student sports journalism at Virginia Tech.

However, the pandemic wiped out two internships that he had planned in video production with NBA 2K and broadcasting with the Hudson Valley Renegades of Minor League Baseball. McLeod began looking for positions during his senior year as a Hokie, outside of sports. Before he knew it, McLeod had an interview with WLUC-TV (TV6) in Marquette, Michigan.

“I looked at Marquette, Michigan thinking, ‘Why the heck did I apply to a job in Marquette, Michigan?’ thinking that’s where the Marquette Golden Eagles play,” McLeod said. “That’s the wrong Marquette.”

Still, McLeod had noticed the strong pipeline of recent School of Communication graduates thriving at small market TV stations across the country. He was offered the job as news reporter, took a chance, and moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to begin a new chapter in his life.

“It was one of those things where I really took a chance on myself,” McLeod said. “It fell into place. I stepped out of my comfort zone in sports media and tried some news. I don’t regret it one bit.”

It was tough sledding for McLeod to get acclimated to life in Michigan at first. His position as a bureau reporter requires him to become entrenched in the local community and build trust. Two co-workers suggested that he volunteer for the local fire department to meet people and give back to the community in the process. Before he knew it, McLeod started taking night classes and passed his certification test to become a firefighter.

“Just thinking back to all the times at Virginia Tech where they pushed you to give back one way or another, I felt that this was my way of giving back,” McLeod said. “Part of how I identify with my community is through the fire department. It’s a great way to not only show my face as a news reporter, but to feel like I belong here in an area where I did not belong.”

Now, McLeod carries a pager around with him everywhere he goes, ready for action. He volunteers to show Boy Scout troops around the firehall. And he’s formed a brotherhood with other firefighters who have accepted the same call of duty.

“It’s exciting and exhilarating to learn new things and look to your left and look to your right and know that both of those firefighters are there with you,” McLeod said. “They believe in the same cause you do. It’s really empowering to know I’ll charge into this burning building and I’ll come out with some stranger that I don’t know.”

It’s not out of the ordinary for McLeod to serve his community. At Virginia Tech, he participated in the Big Event. Plus, he was a resident advisor for three years at three different residence halls where he connected with a bevy of students and exemplified Ut Prosim.

"When I think of Clint, the first thing I think is how selfless he is—always putting others first even if it is inconvenient to him,” said Joseph Welsh, McLeod’s former supervisor in Housing and Residence Life at Virginia Tech. “Even when faced with challenges, Clint was always positive and there to lighten the mood to cheer up the team. The opportunity to work with and get to know Clint was one of the things that brought me to work every day."

And this is just one side of the coin for McLeod. He’s excelled in his first year covering stories around the Upper Peninsula for TV6. In fact, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters named McLeod the “Best News Reporter” in Market 4 after just six months on the job.

Clint McLeod
“If you told me a year ago that I would be a firefighter and I’d be filling in for anchoring spots, I would have told you you’re crazy,” Clint McLeod said. Photo courtesy of Clint McLeod.

It comes as no surprise to Bill Roth, a professor of practice in the School of Communication.

“Clint was a remarkable student in our sports media and analytics program,” Roth said. “He was the person in group settings who organized the others and became a real leader. He was immensely popular with his colleagues and brought creativity, passion, and a great work ethic to every project. Clint makes everyone around him better.”

McLeod attributes much of his early success to the education he received from the School of Communication. There’s the long-form storytelling he learned in Roth’s Sportscenter class, the dedication needed to complete Wat Hopkins’ Communication Law class, and all the other tricks he learned along the way like white balancing a camera and finding newsworthy stories and interviews in the Blacksburg community.

“Bill Roth talked all the time about the tools in your toolbox and making yourself more marketable,” McLeod said. “It puts the onus on you to make yourself more marketable. Showing initiative. There’s no such thing as a bad idea in a newsroom setting.”

In recent weeks, McLeod has filled in as news anchor for his station. He continues to grow as a firefighter. He is adding one tool after another to his toolbox.

He stands out in the crowd in Michigan with his Chicago Maroon Virginia Tech polo shirt, which he wears often. Not many people in the community know about Virginia Tech. So whether finding that breaking news story or fighting fires, McLeod shows exactly what a Hokie is on a daily basis.

“If you told me a year ago that I would be a firefighter and I’d be filling in for anchoring spots, I would have told you you’re crazy,” McLeod said. “Everything at Virginia Tech has built up to where I am today. They were building blocks all around. What really pushed me was that art of giving back.”

Written by Cory Van Dyke