Veronica Castelo looks gorgeous in front of the camera, but that’s part of her job.
She’s also a smart, community-oriented journalist who enjoys being behind the camera, producing the stories that viewers will be talking about weeks later. In her work as the special projects producer at News 8 Austin, she pulls back the layers of a given issue to let her audience in, to educate them and to reach the heart of the matter. This polished San Antonio native is also doing that for herself–gradually revealing her truth–and she’s happy about it.
“I’m sure there is a little speculation. It’s funny, since I don’t look the part, people have no clue. They have no idea what is going on in my world,” Castelo said. “Everybody’s story is different.”
From the time she was in middle school, Castelo knew she was destined for a career in journalism. In high school, she took an independent study course that paired her up with an anchor and a reporter from two different stations. When she entered the newsroom, it felt like home.
“I was in love! It was exciting, it was high energy,” she said. “Everybody was dressed up in suits. The women were attractive, the men were attractive. I wanted to be a part of this group.”
New York To Austin
After graduating from Syracuse University with degrees in broadcast journalism and Spanish, Castelo spent a few months in New York City waitressing and teaching English to Spanish-speakers. Then she landed her first job as a reporter for News 10 Now, a 24-hour cable station based out of Watertown, New York, and owned by Time Warner.
Five years ago, her boss offered her a transfer back to Texas. Castelo worked at News 8’s bureau in San Marcos before landing in Austin. Thrilled to be back home and near her family, she was also glad to leave the cold winters of Watertown behind. She worked hard as a reporter and ended up as the weekend anchor. “I loved it. Delivering the news is fun and exciting, and when it’s live, you get this adrenaline rush, but I was always reporting to a camera,” Castelo said. “I really never felt connected to it and I knew it wasn’t something I would be doing forever.”
When the special projects position became available, Castelo jumped at the opportunity to be working hands-on in the community and involved in fun stories such as News 8 Austin’s coverage of South by South West and Austin City Limits. She’s also in charge of community events for News 8 Austin, which is in the process of becoming even more actively involved in various local happenings. “This job has me out there building relationships,” Castelo said.
Recently, News 8 Austin paired up with the Trail Foundation as part of a campaign to increase citywide awareness of the history, hidden treasures and value of the trail that’s utilized by countless Austinites every day. Castelo, herself a big champion of Town Lake and an avid runner, produced a five-part series, “Our Trail: a special look at Lady Bird Lake,” that examined (in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the lake’s creation) how the trail came to be and the way the community has fought to protect it.
“The lake is such a special place for me. It’s not only where I’ve trained for many races,” she said, “but it’s where I go to find peace. It’s my happy place.”
In addition to swimming regularly, Castelo loves to run around Town Lake and has completed three marathons. Although running is off limits right now because of a back injury she sustained in April, Castelo still walks the trails at least once a week and looks forward to running again. She also can see herself getting more involved in the future with the Capital City Front Runners, Austin’s lesbian and gay running group.
It’s been a learning curve for Castelo over the past few months, but she’s enjoying it. “I’m still trying to figure it out, being behind the scenes and learning how to produce,” she said. “I know what a story looks like but I’m learning how to make it flashy and fun.”
Even so, Castelo manages to juggle it all with panache, whether she’s writing, shooting video, editing or planning her station’s ACL coverage. It’s a lot of management and making sure that everyone knows exactly what to do at any given moment.
Living Her Truth
“I wasn’t nervous for a minute that anything negative would come of this,” she said.
Castelo has been cognizant of the steps she’s taken to come out –both personally and professionally–and she’s received nothing but positive responses. Although she came out to her family and friends about five years ago, she never made a public declaration at work. She wasn’t deliberately hiding anything; it just never came up as an issue.
“I didn’t want that to define me,” she said, noting that the experience of the photo shoot at her office was another step in the process. “But I may be a little more vocal now that the cat is out of the bag.”
She emphasized that whenever it’s time for Austin Pride, she has always encouraged nonstereotypical coverage, meaning to show more than just the shirtless guys dancing on the floats, but to go deeper and examine the true meaning of pride.
Although Castelo dated guys for a time, she always knew her own truth. Part of that realization was related to the fact that her sister is also gay. “I’ve always been around the community, but always said to myself, well, we already have one in the family.”
Her sister, who is nine years older than Castelo and lives in San Antonio, has been consistently supportive. “She and her partner have shown me what a loving relationship should look like and what compassion is all about–they’re in the process of adopting their second child–and that through hard work, all things are possible.”
Castelo is still working through her coming-out process with her parents (they divorced when she was very young), and she’s hopeful about the future and grateful about the support that she’s received from her mom and her two siblings. Her father, who lives in San Antonio, isn’t aware of her sexuality. Castelo emphasized that although they aren’t close, she knows that in order for any relationship to grow, she can’t hide one aspect of herself.
“While being gay is not who I am–I identify with my work more these days–some day I hope my life will revolve around a partner and children whom I will be proud to call my family and whom I will never hide from anyone.”
Castelo said that for her, the issue of coming out boils down to whether she wants to live a fully open and honest life. Since her looks don’t conform to stereotypes that some people believe about lesbians, she’s been able to escape the blatant discrimination that others have faced. She also credits the overall open-minded vibe at News 8 Austin and the city’s progressive attitude with smoothing the way.
“I have a great family and they’re supportive no matter what,” she said. “The biggest person in my life is my mom, and it was important to make sure she was okay with it. That’s difficult, and still a process, but she is my rock and I know she will always be there for me.”
“When you read magazines that expose someone’s sexuality, which isn’t a big deal, and you think, ‘Wow, they’re living a very full, happy life and they’re not afraid of who they are,’ ” Castelo said. “For a very long time I was afraid to face it. It’s heartbreaking that some choose to live life not to its fullest.”
Whether it’s in her daily work overseeing coverage for SXSW or in her running on Town Lake, Castelo believes that living openly and honestly is right for her, and she hopes that others follow suit. “You can really keep yourself from reaching your potential by being afraid, so whether your full potential is being healthy, acting in the community, or being a good friend, a good daughter or a good anything, you have to do it without fear and you have to do it openly,” said Castelo. “The community should know that they’ll get better citizens when people are allowed to be who they are.”
When we chatted in late May, Castelo was a day away from finishing up one project and taking a much-needed 11-day trip to New York City to relax and see friends. “I’m excited to see my friends,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I don’t know if it’s sick, but I’m looking forward to coming back to work.”
Speaking of work, Castelo has barely scratched the surface in terms of her new role at news 8 and is looking forward to a range of upcoming projects. “I’m excited to boost our station’s involvement in the community and produce what I know will be the best coverage of ACL and UT football,” Castelo said.
“I used to be all about the future: What will I do? Where will I be? When will the next opportunity present itself?” she said. “Right now I’m enjoying being present in a very blessed life. I feel a weight has been lifted just by doing this magazine.”