He Likes the Action in Covering Conflict
O.J., Election Night 2000, war in Iraq: Ryan was there
By P.J. Bednarski -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/27/2003 8:00:00 PM
Although he doesn't have much time to rest, Marty Ryan finally has a little time to reflect on Fox News Channel's coverage of the war in Iraq. Ryan, a veteran news producer, was the executive producer of Fox's coverage. It was hardly the first time he has been at the center of covering major stories (including 9/11) for Fox and other news outlets.
In 2000, for example, he was Fox's point man for the contentious and crazed Election Night coverage, which, all things considered had more turning points than the conflict in Iraq. And, jokes Ryan, "both stories lasted about a month."
At 56, Ryan, a Chicago native, hasn't seemed to have lost much of his get-up-and-go, and this is a journalist who spent many of those years getting up very early. He became the producer of NBC's Today Show in 1982. Under executive producer Steve Friedman, whom he replaced when Friedman left in 1987, Today began to dominate. In some ways, the two-hour length of that show helped Ryan get ready for the 24/7 nature of cable news, which then consisted of only CNN.
"I think we all went through some growing pains," he says of cable news, but he reasons that the all-day news cycle isn't really that different from how newsrooms, even local ones, have always operated—except, for most of those hours, it wasn't being seen by viewers. "You do a show at 4 and another one at 11, but, in between, there's a car chase and you cut in, or you're working on getting more information about the stories you're working on. That's kind of what we do in cable news."
If he had his druthers, Ryan would have been the centerfielder for his much beloved Chicago Cubs, but he gave up on that dream, "when I realized I couldn't hit a curveball."
Ryan's early training began in 1974, when he was the evening-news producer for NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in news-crazed Chicago. It was there that he found his first journalistic hero, Ed Planer, the station's news director at that time. "He was a mentor. He encouraged me to ask, 'Why do you think this is the way to do this?" or 'Why don't we do this?'"
Ryan, however, never aspired to the top job. He liked producing best, and, he notes, management has mundane downsides: "I didn't want to be the guy in charge of finding out who was throwing spitwads at whom," he laughed.
He also credits Chicago's rough-and-tumble political world for his interest in politics. (Along with being executive producer for political coverage, he is also executive producer of Fox Broadcasting's Fox News Sunday.) "I love being involved in Election Night. Think of it: For that one day, for that one time, you really do know what people want and what they're thinking. Because they're telling you."
He now credits Fox chief executive Roger Ailes for building a network that reacts quickly and without lots of bureaucracy, one of the real differences of working at the network.
He has worked for NBC—the network, WMAQ-TV and KNBC-TV, where he was executive producer of its O.J. Simpson coverage—and ABC, where he was the executive producer of the daytime talk show Home. At Fox, he says, the biggest enjoyment is the staff—or lack of it.
He recalls that, during the 2000 presidential race, the major networks arranged a meeting to discuss pool coverage. "There were three of us from Fox there, and the door opened and in came 14 guys from another network I'd rather not mention. The guy next to me said, 'Who are all those guys?' I said, 'Well, three of them are me, three of them are you, four of them are our other guy, and the rest, I don't know.' We're an extremely lean machine. We just have a really good command structure."
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