Charleston GM’s Vision for News Tested By Tragedy

WCIV’s Nelms perseveres and delivers strong results amid shootings and floods
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“The sports guy, even though he’s the sports guy, is doing the job I need him to do right now, which is to make me feel like somebody I know is telling me about something terrible happening where I live,” author and Charleston, S.C., resident Bret Lott wrote in Vanity Fair in June.

Lott was referring to Scott Eisberg, sports director at Sinclair’s ABC affiliate WCIV, who grabbed a camera and headed to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at word of a mass shooting there. WCIV was first in the market to break into primetime and reported throughout the night.

Eisberg was also “doing the job” general manager Mary Margaret Nelms needed him, and the whole WCIV team, to do throughout 2015. That is, as she said: “To persevere and be aggressive, but compassionate. And stay focused.”

The “Emanuel Nine” was one of three tragic incidents that put Charleston in the national spotlight this year, along with a police shooting death and devastating floods.

A South Carolina native, Nelms, 39, joined WCIV as GM in August 2014. Before that she had risen through sales to GM of WTAT/WMMP in Charleston, which utilized a news share, so responsibility for news was a big career step.

“I wanted to put together a talented team that shares my vision of wanting to win and really wants to serve the community well,” she said. “We are a 24-hour operation that always wants to be respectable, dependable and compassionate in our reporting.”

WCIV was the only station to offer live coverage during primetime of the unity chain march along Ravenel Bridge, dubbed the bridge of peace, following the shooting. An estimated 15,000 people gathered. “Showing that helped the community heal and it was very inspiring,” Nelms said.

She notes that she “really clicks” with news director Cathy Hobbs, whose RTDNAC News Director of the Year award is one of numerous WCIV honors this year.

Nelms described her primary role: Get the resources to the staff that they need. At times that meant food, cellphone chargers, mechanisms to keep people cool, grief counselors, corporate assistance and positive feedback.

“What the community went through was just a really hard time and I think about our team, how they responded—I’m so proud of them,” said Nelms. “They inspire me and hopefully I inspire them.”

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