KLAS of the Field in Vegas

Landmark’s Neilson aims to inform, connect and inspire

Why This Matters

Emily Neilson

President and general manager, KLAS Las Vegas

Utah Valley State College; UNLV

Employment Highlights:
KLAS traffic/ accounting clerk, 1980-1981; newsroom secretary, 1981-1983; assignment editor, 1983- 1987; managing editor, 1987-1992; news director, 1992-1999; programming and new media director, 1999-2004; current title since 2004.

b. October 3, 1959; husband, Brad; children Sara, Clay and Ann

Emily Neilson appreciates stability and consistency. She
has been married for 31 years. She’s worked for KLAS
Las Vegas for 31 years as well, and expresses no desire to suddenly switch to the nomadic life
of a typical general manager. KLAS has
had the same owner for more than
three decades.

Yet Neilson is not averse to the occasional
dramatic overhaul, such as when
the Landmark Media Enterprises-owned
station, long engaged in a ratings duel
with rival KVBC (now KSNV), executed
a big-time rebrand two years ago. Known
for its hard-hitting investigative work,
KLAS scrapped its venerable Eyewitness
News motif for 8 News Now, which Neilson
felt better expressed the station’s mission
of being a breaking news leader all
the time, and across all available media.

“It was a risky move, in the middle
of the biggest recession we’d ever had,”
says the unassuming GM. “But by any
measure, it’s been a huge success. It
was kind of fun…and a little scary.”

In truth, it’s not surprising that Neilson
would shake things up to get ahead of
the curve. While every station manager
talks about breaking news online, Neilson
has been pushing that strategy since
the late ’90s. “Broadcasters back then all
thought about holding breaking news
to put on the air,” says Gary Gannaway,
CEO of WorldNow, which manages the
sites of KLAS and sister Landmark outlet
WTVF Nashville. “Emily would break
news on any platform at any time. To my
knowledge, she was the first.”

Even back then, KLAS was turning a
profit on the Web, says Gannaway. In
1999, Neilson spearheaded the station’s
digital transition. In 2005, KLAS debuted
a mobile product. A year later, it
went HD. Late last year, the CBS affiliate
began simulcasting its signal for mobile
devices. Users may not be equipped to
receive the station’s signal on their handhelds
yet, but KLAS is waiting for them.

“We’re up and ready and experimenting,”
Neilson says. “As the devices
come on line, there we will be.”

Breaking news defines the KLAS
brand. The station employs a seven-person
investigative team, which earned a
2009 Peabody Award for its “Crossfire:
Water, Power and Politics” report on how
Vegas’ blockbuster growth has affected
the greater Southwest. Neilson is all-in
on investigative, both to make a difference
in viewers’ lives, and to set the station
apart in a market where people are
presented with an array of distractions
like no other in America.

“Everyone throws everything into
weather and traffic and breaking
news,” says Neilson. “We are there too,
but we want to be more.”

Neilson knows news intimately. She
answered a help wanted ad in the KLAS
traffic department in 1980 and got the job, but was drawn to the strange noises
coming from the newsroom. “I saw the
other end of the building, where there
was so much energy,” she says. “I was
able to talk [my way] into a job as a secretary
in the newsroom.” She moved up
to the assignment desk, then managing
editor, then news director in 1992.

Neilson was promoted to KLAS president/
GM in 2004, but retains a special
place in her heart for the 100 people in
her newsroom. “She knows what I’m up
against,” says Ron Comings, news director.
“Emily is a real project-execution expert.
She knows how to get things done.”

Staffers say Neilson has very high
expectations of them, but also shows
deep compassion for her charges, such
as when she got Landmark to sign off
on $1,000 thank-you gifts (after taxes)
for each full-time employee last year.
“When Emily makes a recommendation
on something she needs to do, we know
her credibility is strong,” says Jack Ross,
Landmark president and COO. “We
know she has our best interests at heart.”

Staying ahead in Vegas, where new
residents arrive in droves and the
economy is digging out from a dreadful
recession, is a 24/7 task. But Neilson
makes time for full-contact unwinding,
whether it’s busting out the shotguns for
target practice, taking the dirt bikes out
for a ride with husband, Brad, or playing
with her toddler granddaughter. (A
grandson is due to arrive in June.)

Neilson disdains what she calls “Dilbert
language” corporate-speak, but is
adamant about KLAS’ mission to “Inform,
Connect and Inspire.” “The station
reaches 90% of the audience in an
average 30 days,” she says. “We can air
stories and support organizations. We
can make a difference.”

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