Waylon O'Donnell

JDM graduate returning to his journalism roots after being a game show host for cruises

Published on Nov. 03, 2023
Ashland University

Waylon O’Donnell loved working as a game show host with Carnival Cruise Lines but felt a longing to get back in the journalism industry after nearly two years of living at sea.

“I missed my family, my partner and my landside friends,” said the 2018 graduate of Ashland University’s JDM (journalism and digital media) department. “It was time for me to return to my professional roots.”

Waylon O'Donnell as a game show host for Carnival Cruise Lines

O’Donnell’s return to journalism in October landed him at The Daily Journal newspaper in Franklin, Indiana, a city with a population of around 23,000 about 20 miles south of Indianapolis.

It hasn’t taken O’Donnell long to shed his sea legs and hit the ground running as a general news reporter, covering the city of Franklin, the town of Whiteland (population of about 5,000) and Johnson County (population of nearly 162,000), as well two school districts, according to an article in The Daily Journal announcing his hiring.

“Waylon has proven himself already to be trustworthy and fair reporter,” Editor Leeann Doerflein said in the article, “and I can’t wait to see what he can accomplish here.”

Waylon O'Donnell at the Ashland University TV station

His multimedia experience helped him land the job, said O’Donnell, who also has a master’s degree in communication and leadership from Gonzaga University that he earned during the pandemic.

“The Daily Journal was particularly interested in me because they wanted to acquire a multimedia journalist as opposed to one who focuses solely on written journalism,” O’Donnell said. “Ashland University’s JDM program and classes are specifically constructed to produce multimedia journalists. They are focused on creating journalists fit for the future of the industry, honing individuals who encapsulate all mediums of media. This allowed me to stand out above the competition and secure my job at The Daily Journal.”

Waylon O'Donnell at WRDL

It also helped him accept a job offer from 104.5 WQKT as a radio announcer in Wooster days before his AU graduation and eventually a simultaneous correspondent reporter role for the Ashland Source, an online newspaper.

When he left WQKT for Carnival Cruise Lines, O’Donnell was the program director.

The versatility O’Donnell developed at AU in television, radio and through the school newspaper, as well as theatre productions, was also key in landing his game show gig. He minored in theatre and public relations.

Waylon O'Donnell in an AU Theatre production

Hosting trivia events at a few local eateries in Ashland inspired him to begin applying to cruise ships.

“I utilized my multimedia journalism skills to craft a 3-minute audition video that showcased my duties as a reporter and radio announcer,” he said. “That edited audition tape, partnered with my audio reel, landed me that first interview with Carnival.”

Two interviews later, O’Donnell was on his way to seeing the world. Aside from Antarctica, the Pittsburgh native met, worked and befriended people from every continent.

“Living at sea had its perks, but it also at times could be exhausting,” O’Donnell said. “But I love to work, and it is my personality to stay active. I thrive in busy waters, no pun intended. I am glad I did it while I was young.”

Waylon O'Donnell at Carnival Cruise Lines' comedy club

In addition to working alongside some A-list celebrities like Jay Leno and Emeril Lagasse and managing the onboard comedy club and entertainment, O’Donnell was able to hone his onstage presence and public speaking hosting game shows like “Family Feud” and “Deal or No Deal” for hundreds of thousands of people on cruises.

He looks forward to bringing those skills, as well as the ones he learned at AU, WQKT and the Ashland Source, to his new job.

“I love getting involved in the community,” he said. “It was one of my favorite things to do in Ashland County. I look forward to meeting as many people as I can, keeping public figures in check, benefitting the community with timely updates and compelling stories, as well as working with an amazing, impartial team who hold themselves to a higher standard.

“The Daily Journal is reputable,” he added, “and I am eager to add myself into the fold with each passing week.”

Waylon O'Donnell at Ashland University