Life in 2020, especially as it relates to COVID-19, forced many changes in how we go about our lives and our business of broadcast and digital journalism. The same was true for the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas’ annual award presentation. Normally held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, this year’s awards were presented during a digital conference on Nov. 14.
RTDNAC President Laurabree Monday welcomed participants saying, “We know this is a strange year. We still hope you enjoy this (digital) event. We very much hope to be back at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2021.”
The awards presentation started with keynote thoughts from CNN National Correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, who is now based in Charlotte. She welcomed participants, noting, “This has been one hell of a year and every single one of you deserves to celebrate your accomplishments.”
Gallagher talked about her journey from CN2 News in Rock Hill, to CNN. She had words of encouragement for the digital gathering, as both students and professionals grapple with the current pandemic. “COVID-19 elevated everything. It elevated the need for you, your diligent effort to get the truth to people. At the same time it made doing that so much more difficult.”
“You were often risking your own physical health and mental health to make sure the rest of your community knew what was really happening,” she added.
The awards presentation also featured Rachel Ellis, a reporter for ABC 4 News in Charleston, S.C. Her comments addressed college students in their last year of journalism school. “I was in your shoes a little over a year ago.” “No one could have predicted the curve ball of 2020, it became quickly apparent to me that our jobs have never been so important for the communities we serve.”
As much as things have changed in 2020, CNN’s Gallagher noted that much remained the same for broadcast and digital journalists. “My life has changed, but the basics of building relationships, demanding accountability, telling stories, that hasn’t.”
It’s rare that the story you’re covering as a journalist directly impacts you, your family and your newsroom. However, that’s the reality of 2020, as news organizations balance priorities, keeping the public informed and journalists safe in the face of the coronavirus.
In the Carolinas, the newsroom landscape is remarkably quiet, by most accounts. On-site staffing is kept to a minimum. Mask wearing is mandatory in many locations. Barriers have been installed between work stations. Thermometers and hand sanitizer stations have become as common as cameras and notepads as the tools of the trade. Temperature screenings take place before entering stations. Many stations offer regular, free coronavirus testing to employees. The rare positive cases are contact traced and potentially exposed people are notified and offered testing. “With 25 years in news, I have seen stomach bugs and the flu take down a newsroom. I’m thankful we have been so cautious and so quick to get everyone out of the office and working from home. It has absolutely minimized spread, protected our people and our product,” says Cathy Hobbs, News Director of WCIV in Charleston, SC.
“We have drastically reduced the number of people who work in the building,” reports Kim Saxon, News Director of CBS affiliate, WBTV in Charlotte, NC. “MMJs and photographers have take-home vehicles and most don’t come into the newsroom at all. Shifts have been adjusted to minimize overlap and we have changed seating in the newsroom to spread people out during each shift.” Many newscast producers can build their shows from home, and in automated control rooms, show directors can even punch a show from home. At WBTV, news management rotates in-station duties on a weekly basis. “One team is in the newsroom, the other works from home for a week, then they switch.”
Stations have deployed a variety of technology so that people can work and broadcast from home. Meetings are held by conference call, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Brad Hyatt is the News Director for WIS, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC. He notes that technology, while critical to COVID-19 era news operations, is not a total solution. “The lack of face-to-face time with staff and the inability to really brainstorm as a group takes away from the dynamic.” And Hyatt notes the distance between talent hurts the on-air product. “One anchor on set and another in their extra room at home just doesn’t have the same feel. We can get close, but it lacks the same connectivity, energy, and chemistry you get when a team is really cranking on all cylinders on set.”
In terms of coverage, the pandemic is forcing newsrooms to make decisions that focus on safety. In the case of WBTV in Charlotte, it drastically reduced the number of people on site at the Republican National Convention and did not send teams to the coast when Hurricane Isaias threatened. “We weren’t going to put a crew on the beach, just to get whipped around by the wind, ” says Saxon.
The coronavirus has changed the hiring process for many stations. It’s gone virtual. “We have hired about a half-dozen people who didn’t set foot in the building until two weeks after they started working for us.” according to Saxon. “Those who started with us early in the pandemic and have never been in the same room with 75-80% of their coworkers.” With teleconferencing, Saxon notes, “I have employees who have never seen the lower half of my body. It’s a whole new world!”
Another pandemic casualty is the student internship. Since outsiders are generally not allowed inside of TV stations right now, college seniors are hard pressed to get that hands-on experience which often opens the door to a first job. Colleges and stations are trying to find ways to bridge the gap. One way is by news professionals offering critiques of student work via email. There are some exceptions. CN2 News in Rock Hill, SC recently brought on Winthrop Student Lindsey Burrell who says, “It was extremely difficult to find an internship due to COVID-19. I sent my resume to six different news stations, most of which told me that due to the virus, they couldn’t even consider taking interns until spring of 2021. Some stated that they were unsure if they would even be able to have interns in the spring. As a senior graduating next May, I was afraid that I wouldn’t gain the necessary experience in a news station that I needed when applying for my first job post-grad. I’m extremely thankful for Comporium and CN2 for this hands-on opportunity!”
It has been said that adversity reveals the strength of organizations. This is true of Carolina newsrooms and COVID-19. Hobbs is proud of her team and the job they have done under difficult circumstances. “Yes, balls have been dropped. That happens even without COVID. I will be grateful when everyone is back in the newsroom.”
Looking ahead to the future, it must be asked if working remotely, social distancing and other COVID-19 procedures are the new normal. “I hope not,” says Hobbs. “We need communication and collaboration for the editorial process. I miss my team!”
For college students studying broadcast and digital journalism, the thought of turning their education into a career can be daunting. That’s why the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas holds an annual Student Workshop, putting students together with working professionals.
The 2020 event, at the studios of WBTV in Charlotte, drew 130 students from several journalism programs at both North Carolina and South Carolina schools. More than 30 working professionals shared their experience of getting into and thriving in the modern media environment.
An increasing number of workshop professionals, offering advice and a helping hand, were once among the students. For example, Abbey O’Brien of Charleston’s WCSC, Live 5 News. O’Brien had attended the Student Workshop several times during her education at the University of South Carolina. She was once the winner of a RTDNAC scholarship. Now she shares her experience with others, after 5 years of work at two South Carolina television stations.
Workshops covered many topics including: Getting your first job, reporting and anchoring, investigative reporting, broadcast voice, producing, digital news, and multi-media journalism. Students also had one-on-one sessions with broadcast and digital professionals for critiques of their college work and specific advice on how to start and advance their careers.
The next Student Workshop will be held in February 2021.
Students from across the Carolinas, this is your chance to network with news managers and educators and gain knowledge that will help as you prepare for graduation and seeking that first job.
The RTDNAC Student Workshop will take place at WBTV, 1 Julian Price Place in Charlotte, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, from 9:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The registration desk will open at 8:30 a.m. in the WBTV lobby.
There is no fee for the workshop, but space is limited. Please register online by Feb. 14.
The workshop is open to students enrolled at universities and colleges in North and South Carolina.
This year’s workshop will include the following sessions conducted by broadcast professionals from across the Carolinas:
The Broadcast Voice
Producing TV newscasts
Online news and social media
Landing that first job
Students will also be given the opportunity to have their work critiqued by professionals. Samples of students’ work must be accessible online.
For more information, contact:
RTDNAC Board Member & Scholarship Chair
S.C. Department of Transportation
RTDNAC and Elon University are proud to sponsor the first MMJane conference, to be held at Elon at the end of March. Started by Associated Press Journalist Sarah Blake Morgan on Facebook, MMJane has grown into a movement.
MMJane was born out of a need: a space for women in television news to call their own. Four years later, nearly 5,000 female journalists are inspiring and supporting one another daily in this demanding and ever-changing business.
For the first time, we’re partnering with RTDNAC to take the conversation from social media to the classroom with MMJane: The Workshop.
On March 28 and 29 at Elon University in North Carolina, women are invited to hear from some of the best journalists and storytellers in our profession.
From investigative digging and crime beat reporting to severe weather coverage and creative shooting and editing, sessions will push attendees to be better journalists in every sense of the word. Heck, we’re even bringing in a mental health professional and self-defense expert to help us stay sane and safe while reporting.
Whether you’re an MMJ, reporter, anchor or even a student hoping to make the jump, MMJane: The Workshop will inspire and challenge female journalists to tell better and more impactful stories in their own communities.
DATES: March 28th – 29th, 2020. Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon.
LOCATION: Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, near Greensboro.
COST: $75 for professionals
$45 for students
HOTEL: Courtyard Marriott – Burlington
MMJane/Elon room block is $129 a night. Call 336.585.1888 to reserve.
Concord, NC — More than 160 broadcast and digital news professionals gathered on Saturday, October 26th at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2019 convention of the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas.
Keynote speaker was Zackary Kiesch, a correspondent for ABC News, who told a personal story about his challenging journey into the broadcast news business. As for many broadcast veterans, his path to success was punctuated by challenges and setbacks. But focus and determination led to the opportunity to prove himself, eventually earning a place on network TV.
The convention featured a panel discussion on how to get the most out of your efforts on social media. The panelists were Molly Grantham, long time anchor and reporter for WBTV News in Charlotte and Trooper Bob Beres, traffic reporter for WCIV in Charleston and a 24 year veteran of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. Molly has more than 100 thousand followers on Facebook and talked about her years-long path to success. Trooper Bob not only uses social media effectively now as a television news professional, but also had viral success in law enforcement, distributing safety information.
This convention was a bitter-sweet, as the association marked the loss of two important board members. Haney Howell, was a professor at Winthrop University and an emeritus member of the board. Before education, he had a notable career in television and radio news at the network level. Ken White, a television news director in many markets, including Charlotte NC, served the RTDNAC for many years and was particularly focused on student members and their advancement. The families of both men were presented with awards of appreciation. Ken’s wife, Jenny, and son, Mack, were on hand to accept the tribute and to present the “Student of the Year Award,” now named in White’s honor.
The highlight of the annual convention was the presentation of professional and student awards at the luncheon. Award winners can be found here.
Ken White, an RTDNAC board member for two decades, died on Friday, October 11, 2019. He was 63. Ken was a journalist, working in Alabama, Tennessee, New York and West Virginia, and his home state of Pennsylvania. He was the founding news director of Fox Charlotte and had most recently been news director at WVVA in Bluefield, West Virginia. Ken was a past-president of RTDNAC and was named News Director of the Year in 2005.
As dedicated as Ken was to broadcast journalism, he was also a natural teacher. He worked closely with students in colleges in the region, including Winthrop, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Elon. He was serving on the Elon University School of Communications Advisory Board at the time of his death. He had been on that board for more than 15 years. Ken gave many current journalists their start, through internships and by hiring them for their first jobs. He was always available to look at a student’s reel and to give career advice.
To his many friends, Ken was known as a “herder”, someone who kept people together. While others would text, Ken would call. During those calls, Ken’s passion for journalism, education, and sports, was always on display. According to his published obituary, “Ken coached multiple seasons of flag football at the Siskey YMCA, worked as an intern coordinator for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Academic Intern Program, and was a board member for the National Sports Media Association. In recent years, Ken also volunteered at Providence High School where he worked with newspaper classes and high school’s student newspaper, the Providence Prowl.”
Ken met his wife, Jenny (Ferguson) White when they were both working for WPXI in Pittsburgh. She survives him along with his son, Mack, and daughter, Madeline.
Here’s what some RTDNAC members had to say about Ken:
Tributes to Ken White
“Ken ran a very friendly, warm, and open newsroom. He’s the only news director I’ve ever worked for who regularly took the entire crew out for breakfast. He really facilitated a family environment in his newsroom. I look back and realize what a special thing that was. Ken always had a smile on his face. He knew how to balance being a friend and the top boss, and we all know that’s no easy balance.
I was always so impressed with the fact that Ken would regularly show up to work at the crack of dawn in order to catch the morning show and be present for the morning team. I remember thinking: he doesn’t have to do this. He wants to do it. One morning he asked me how I was doing. I jokingly said I could use some breakfast. The next morning he showed up with a Bojangles spread for the whole morning show staff. This was not out of character for Ken.
We only worked together for one year, but Ken and I would regularly see each other at Elon and RTDNAC events in the years to follow. Even though I was no longer his employee, his kindness and warmth never wavered. We last saw each other at a RTDNAC conference– must have been around 2013. I remember giving him a hug and chatting for a bit before he went off to mentor the visiting college students. In my circle of journalism friends, that’s what Ken is known for. “
-Leigh Lesniak, Consumer Investigative Producer/ NBC Philadelphia
“Ken White is the reason many of us are on the board today – he was a man who loved to connect people and saw the big picture. He cared about those he worked with, he loved the industry and he made those around him better. Ken had a true heart for RTDNAC and its mission. He was committed to our organization and he loved seeing it grow year after year. Mostly, he was a constant that will be very missed. His jokes, smile and sense of humor make life just a little more fun. His years of experience and love for sharing it with students was unsurpassed. Ken’s passing is truly a loss for our board that will never be replaced. “
“Ken showed us how to face adversity with an incredible attitude and amazing courage. His zest for life in his fight against cancer became an inspiration. He also impacted so many people through mentoring, coaching, teaching, supporting, and counseling. His legacy will live on through their collective work and public service. Ken was remarkable, and we’ll truly miss him.”
-Rick Gall—RTDNAC Past President, WRAL News Director
“I first got to know Ken in the Nineties when he was at WXII-TV in Winston-Salem. Ken never failed to make me smile, or laugh out loud, with his quick, sharp wit. When my boss, Andy Still, was retiring in 2007, Ken reached out to me about taking Andy’s position on the RTDNAC board. How many of us who have joined the board over the past couple of decades have gotten that call from Ken, gently cajoling us to considering serving? Ken, we will miss your passion, your leadership, your love for RTDNAC and the future of our business. Thanks for being a great friend.”