Ellerbee Honored for Breaking the Mold'Nick News' anchor wins Paul White Award for 20 years of success in the ‘storytelling business’ 9/26/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Linda Ellerbee’s career comprises
much more than the 20
years she has spent as anchor
of Nickelodeon’s Nick News, the Emmy-
winning children’s news program
created by her company, Lucky Duck
Productions. And this year, the Radio
Television Digital News Association
(RTDNA) has honored Ellerbee with
the Paul White Award, which recognizes
her lifetime contribution to journalism.
Ellerbee spoke with B&C Contributing
Editor Lindsay Rubino about changes
in the news business and the work Nick
News has yet to do in following Ellerbee’s
time-tested advice: “If you want to know,
ask!” An edited transcript follows.
How do you think you have contributed
to changes in the way we
broadcast and receive news?
I’ve never thought of myself as a maverick;
I always thought everyone else was a
little weird. Perhaps I changed some of the
ways we think about women in broadcasting.
I was not blonde; I was not beautiful;
I was not thin. I did not fit the mold. But
I discovered that that was OK with me.
I also was not that ambitious. I was
the sole support of two children; that
was my ambition. Let me tell you something
very important—you can run just
as fast running away from something as
you can running toward it. I was afraid
of losing my children, and so I became
a journalist. I like to think I got to stay
because I was a good one…I insisted
on writing everything I said. I wasn’t
the only one to do this; there are many
other women who deserve this award as
much, if not more, than I do. Perhaps I
made a few changes…regarding women,
and perhaps I helped make a few changes
regarding kids and news.
What has changed for you since you
began your career?
The major change for me in the
40-some-odd years that I’ve been doing
this is, without question, the technology.
And with that has come, sadly, far
too many changes in the ideology of my
craft—of what our rules are, what honesty
is; it has been affected and changed
by technology. Getting it fast does not
always mean getting it right, but that is
the name of the game….The truth is, in
the end, no matter what the technology,
ours is still a storytelling business.
What do you think of the predicted
demise of network evening news?
I have been asked this question now for
close to 30 years, and it hasn’t gone anywhere
yet. I think not only is it unlikely
to go anywhere, I think the question itself
is irrelevant. People get their news
where they want their news. They get
it live; they get it streaming; they get it
all kinds of ways. Having said that, the
numbers suggest they still have enormous
When you first started Nick News,
what were your expectations for
It was an accident that we started Nick
News! The [then] president of Nickelodeon
[Geraldine Laybourne] called
me and asked my company to produce
a show that would calm American kids’
fears and explain [the first Gulf War].
I knew nothing about kids’ news, but
I am a journalist. I know how to find
out things, so I called a bunch of people
who did know about kids and news. The
more I listened to them, the more some
of what they said made sense; and the
more I listened to kids, the more of what
they said made sense. So my two teachers
were kids and experts, but I learned
more from kids.
Is there ever a story that you
wouldn’t cover for children, either
because they wouldn’t understand
or they should not hear about it?
Not a single thing. There have been stories
we have not covered for children.
For example, we have never done a
show about abortion. However, I tell you
right now, if that became the single most
important issue in the presidential campaign,
we would be covering it. There
are stories we haven’t covered; there are
none we wouldn’t cover.
What’s the main difference between
covering news for kids and adults?
The most surprising difference is how
little difference there is. Kids are not
dumber. They have less experience and
they are shorter, but they are not dumber.
It is our mistake that we think that.
When you explain things to a kid, kids
have reasonable thoughts.
Many news outlets have been criticized
for sensationalizing stories.
Do you think this is true?
We just don’t think about it because
we have no need to do it….I’m much
more interested in a story about the fact
that there is not a country in this world
[where] girls are yet to have equal educational
rights, according to the United
Nations. I am much more interested in a
story about a school that is fighting to get
corporal punishment returned to it. I am
much more interested in a story about…
the fact that we, as people, are moving
into wildlife habitats…I am more interested
in a story about organ donation.
There are plenty of stories.
What subject have you wanted to
explore, but have not been able to
do so yet?
The only show I haven’t done that I really
want to do one day…will be my last show
and it will be the hardest one I ever do.
That will be what I learned from the kids
over the 20 years, what they taught me.
That will be a tough one. I’m not ready to
do that one yet!