“NEW…NOW…NEXT,” is Angela Byrd’s mantra. Angela is WPTV’s 5 pm producer and she has a few basic rules when she’s producing her show. She looks for stories that are “NEW” and unique to her show. New comes first. She wants the reporters on the stories to tell tell the audience what is happening, “NOW”. Now is immediacy. In the same breath, good writing and producing informs us of the significance of the story or what happens “NEXT”? Next answers the question, "So what?" Angela eagerly takes on every story with her litmus test.
Angela’s focus and energy level is hard to describe unless you’ve been in a newsroom. Ever drive fast through city traffic, late for an appointment? It feels a little bit like that. Sitting next to Angela, you feel like a passenger who has to hang on tight as she steers through tight turns. She's not alone. Angela’s fellow producers share a journalistic edge that is forged by the clock on the wall.
Every day at WPTV starts with a morning meeting. Producers gather to split up stories for their particular show. Each newscast has a separate target demo and style. Managing Editor, Melissa Dart is the force behind the four newscasts. She carves through the list of stories with the quick judgment of a sniper. If you want to know the source of Angela’s energy, look no further than Melissa. Melissa walks through the newsroom like a day trader, phone in hand, writing down notes on a her notepad, as she negotiates with reporters to keep trying different angles and finding sources. You can tell she wills stories to life by her perseverance.
The work ethic comes from the top. News Director Nicole Hogensen wants WPTV to stay the #1 station in the market. It's not easy to stay on top. You need to keep working to be the best. Being the best means you are the most liked in the community. She likes creating a culture in her newsroom that fosters responsibility to the community that rewards them with good ratings. She doesn’t let her reporters or producers cut corners. She will let reporters miss deadlines if a story requires more research or requires more investigation. Hogensen believes the job of a news department isn’t about just filling up the rundown. There needs to be a purpose.
The news day started slow and without a clear lead story. There was a bit of nervousness among the group. They want good stories but they don't come out of thin air. The day feels weird, nothing seemed solid as the meeting concluded. There were prayers for breaking news. TV news folks, like myself, live in a strange world from others. We want breaking news, not that we want people to be hurt or lose their property or get arrested, we want to feed the beast. The beast is that churn for news that news junkies crave. When a tree falls in the forest, we not only want to be there to hear it go THUD, we want to videotape it falling, and hopefully it falls on a politician.
There are many trees falling in the forest we never hear go THUD or they don't fall on a politician.
Immediacy is the life blood of producing and writing for news is like trying to type on a roller coaster. One minute it’s a slow ascent with a passive view of the world beneath them, and then hang on for dear life. It’s a rush. The rush is what makes this job challenging and exciting. It can be fun one day and miserable the next. You’ll never be bored at this job. Every day is different and you never know what will happen next. Except, everyday at 4:28:30, all the planning, writing, organization, and effort comes together in a whirlwind ride piloted by a director at the controls.
Each day leaves producers like Angela tired but anxious for the next day. Hogensen admits being a TV journalist requires long hours and strange schedules. She will be the first to tell a student that the lifestyle comes with the profession. In the future, local news may be a 24 hour service that lives on OTT sites and deadlines will be NOW. It will require a committed journalist. Hogensen believes that a successful journalist needs a competitive edge and desire to report a story. She believes the secret to success is curiosity. A good journalist wants to know something and she will empower her staff to seek out what they need to find.
Hogensen points to the exemplary work of MMJ, Alex Hagan. After the Parkland shooting, Hogensen directed Hagan to go to Parkland and tell the story of the community and the students. She told him not interview the kids the networks were talking to but find the other kids, tell their stories. She cut him loose for three months to report on the story. Originally, the goal was a podcast but it morphed into a documentary. Hagan went to homes to meet victim’s families, and he met students traumatized by the event. He stood in the classrooms after the shootings and wondered how students could take tests with those memories so fresh. Hagan produced the entire documentary on his own. Needless to say, Hogensen is very proud of him.
Local newsrooms are vital to communities but today’s millennial crowd seems indifferent to local news. A challenge for all journalists and broadcasters is trying to give the community the things they “need” to know. Too many people only seek out what they “want” to know and ignore the rest. The daily grind in a newsroom is necessary for more reasons than ratings.
I enjoyed the buzz of the newsroom on my next to last day at WPTV. I enjoyed hearing the chatter of producers as they juggle stories, reminding me of the camaraderie I shared with others as we fed the beast. Once you’ve been indoctrinated into the news world, you may never get the craving out of your system. It was good to feed off the vibe and remember the good old days. Watching Melissa and Angela craft their shows gives me hope because their commitment and energy will fuel the next generation at WPTV.