Amidst all the noise about the TV industry, and where it’s going, local news—and the journalists who deliver it—remain the steadfast cores of broadcasting. Keen on building deep-seated viewer trust, the country’s topper-forming news talent have long played a range of community roles–neighbor, advocate, informer and analyst. All of which has become even more evident, and more critical, as an increasingly unwieldy world has pushed localism to the forefront.
In the last year, local broadcasters from Chicago, New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., to Dothan Ala., have been there—keeping viewers safe from destructive storms, guiding them through a brutal election season and reporting on the devastating shootings that rocked communities. In our annual spotlight on winning journalists around the country, B&C highlights some of the most popular, and effective, local broadcasters on-air today, based on the wins and reputations they have in their markets.
MARKET: Chicago (DMA No. 3)
PROGRAM/TIME: WGN Morning News
ANCHOR TEAM: Larry Potash and Robin Baumgarten
TRACK RECORD: WGN Morning News from 6 a.m.-9 a.m. has ranked No. 1 with adults 25-54 for six years. THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: The day after Donald Trump was elected president was among WGN’s biggest news days of 2016; Iraqi War vet Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, unseated Illinois’ incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk; baseball’s Chicago Cubs broke the Billy Goat curse, beating the Cleveland Indians to win the World Seriesfor the first time in 108 years.
WHY IT WORKS: Baumgarten and Potash take Chicago’s news, and its impact on viewers, very seriously. But when it comes to themselves and the rest of the morning crew, all bets are off. “It’s like working with the brothers you wish you never had,” Baumgarten said. Take, for instance, the time the studio’s audio board crashed; the team delivered their show via hand-written signs, rather than opting for a “technical difficulties” message. And “when sometimes we suck, we say we suck,” said Potash, adding that real-life delivery goes far. “As Bozo used to teach us, ‘Someone’s got to get the pie in the face if it’s going to be funny.’” Admitted Baumgarten, “And it’s usually me.”
MARKET: Dallas-Fort Worth (DMA No. 5)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: Fox Television Stations
PROGRAM/TIME: Good Day
ANCHOR TEAM: Tim Ryan and Lauren Przybyl
TRACK RECORD: Good Day has ranked No. 1 from 4:30 a.m.-9 a.m. with adults 25-54 for the last 14 years.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: In July, a sniper gunned down five Dallas police officers during a peaceful protest, garnering national outcry during a summer of unrest; Texas politics, and how it played out in the presidential election, was rife with incredible headlines; the Cowboys tied for the most regular season wins in team history with 13.
WHY IT WORKS: The way Ryan and Przybyl see it, their long-standing appeal in the market stems from the consistency and transparency they and the rest of their morning team bring to the job. “All four of us are the same people on camera as we are off camera,” Przybyl said. “[Viewers] connect with us on all different levels, and in all different stages of our lives.” Plus, they all genuinely like each other—something that certainly resonates when covering tragedy, such as last summer’s police shooting, or good times like the Cowboys’ winning streak. “You can be together for 20 years, but if you don’t have the chemistry, viewers can figure it out pretty quickly,” Ryan said. Added Przybyl, “We lift each other up.”
MARKET: Washington (DMA No. 7)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: NBCUniversal Owned TelevisionStations
PROGRAM/TIME: News4 Today
ANCHOR TEAM: Eun Yang and Aaron Gilchrist
TRACK RECORD: News4 Today from 5 a.m.-7 a.m. has ranked No. 1 with adults 25-54 for the last 33 months. THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Exploring the presidential election’s impact on federal workers; Inauguration Day coverage spanned platforms—the seven-hour Inauguration Café, an interview show broadcast from a local café, aired on WRC digital platforms and the digital sub-channel, Cozi TV.
WHY IT WORKS: “Our viewers have told us that they want a morning news program that doesn’t waste their time and makes them smarter and more keyed in,” said Gilchrist. “We’re lucky to be an anchor team of friends who enjoy each other and care deeply about the people whose expectations we work to meet every day.” Gilchrist added that he and his morning show colleagues share a primary goal: delivering news that’s informative and preps viewers for the day ahead, which seems an ever-more vital charter in the nation’s capital. “If we can do that and help folks get their first smile of the day, we can feel like we’ve earned the privilege to try to do the same thing tomorrow,” he said.
MARKET: Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (DMA No. 16)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations/Telemundo
PROGRAM/TIME: Noticiero Telemundo 51 a las 11 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Fausto Malavé and Daisy Ballmajó
TRACK RECORD: WSCV’s 11 p.m. weekday newscast has ranked No. 1 in the market with adults 25-54 for 46 of the last 47 months.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Fidel Castro’s death in November generated nearly 23 hours of nonstop coverage; a destructive April earthquake in Ecuador yielded coverage from the hardest hit areas, as well as the collection and distribution of aid; “Cuban Exodus” included special reports on Cuban immigrants’ journies to South Florida, and the hardships they faced throughout the ordeal.
WHY IT WORKS: In serving the market’s Spanish speakers, Malavé and Ballmajó don’t distinguish between being journalists and being advocates for their Hispanic viewers. “We are committed to being the voice of our community,” said Ballmajó. At WSCV, that includes partnering with organizations to promote health and education; the station’s hallmark consumer investigative unit, Telemundo Responde, has helped viewers recover hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We stay connected,” Malavé said. “When viewers reach out and ask us for help, or tell us about an issue, we address it and get them answers.”
MARKET: Denver (DMA No. 17)
PROGRAM/TIME: 9News at 10 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Kyle Clark and Kim Christiansen
TRACK RECORD: 9News at 10 p.m. has been dominant for 10-plus years, holding a commanding lead among viewers 25-54.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Clark’s commentary calling out a pet owner for leaving a dog in a hot car drove national attention to the issue. He also rallied viewers across the political spectrum to talk politics; Christiansen documented the story of a mother who texted her son in order to cope with his tragic death—and got a text back.
WHY IT WORKS: In leveraging their individual strengths, Clark and Christiansen together provide both impactful journalism and empathetic storytelling that resonates with viewers. An accomplished political and investigative reporter, Clark is a hands-on anchor who remains instrumental in developing and producing the sort of newscasts he’d want to watch. Christiansen, through writing and storytelling, is known for her uncanny ability to connect with viewers, and give them reason to care about what’s on-air.
MARKET: Salt Lake City, Utah (34)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: Sinclair Broadcast Group/CBS
PROGRAM/TIME: 2News This Morning
ANCHOR TEAM: Ron Bird and Mary Nickles
TRACK RECORD: 2News This Morning has been rated the No. 1 morning newscast in households for four years.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Homelessness in Salt Lake City is getting worse, affecting businesses—long-term plans, including reducing shelter capacity, are hitting major roadblocks; Utah is in the top five states for the number of opioid-related deaths.
WHY IT WORKS: They have a combined history of 54 years at the station, and have been anchoring together for more than 20 of them, but Bird and Nickles are still very much in the thick of reporting the news they deliver. Bird is a fan of doing feature stories on the breadth of local characters and businesses – and still edits them himself. Five years ago, Nickles documented her experience from treatment to recovery of breast cancer, won an Emmy for the project and missed just four days of work. “One of the things that helps us is our respect for each other as reporters, writers and human beings,” Nickles said. “Plus, we are polar opposites in personality, and we keep each other on our toes.”
MARKET: West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, Fla. (DMA No. 38)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: E.W. Scripps/NBC
PROGRAM/TIME: NewsChannel 5 at 11 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Kelley Dunn and Michael Williams
TRACK RECORD: West Palm Beach’s longest-running anchor team has ranked No. 1 at 11 p.m. for 20-plus years. The late-night newscast grows from their primetime lead-in nightly.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Toxic alga hit the South Florida coast, prompting reports and a half-hour special; the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando galvanized the entire state of Florida; sometime local neighbor Donald Trump—whose Mar-a-Lago estate is four minutes away—won the presidency.
WHY IT WORKS: “You can’t create chemistry between an anchor team. You either have it or you don’t,” said Dunn, a 31-year vet of WPTV. “And I promise you from day one, I have had it with Michael.” Which wasn’t necessarily a slam-dunk when Williams left Miami to join Dunn in 2011, replacing Jim Sackett, who had been a WPTV mainstay for 33 years. Today the duo report having a great “yin and yang” based on mutual respect, trust and complementary skills. Said Williams, “I often kid Kelley, I’m someone people would happily invite in their home to analyze and talk about the day’s events. You are someone they would invite into their home to live with them.”
MARKET: Jacksonville, Fla. (DMA No. 47)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: Graham Media/Independent
PROGRAM/TIME: News4 JAX at 5 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Tom Wills and Mary Baer
TRACK RECORD: Wills and Baer have ranked No. 1 in households at 5 p.m. since May 2003.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: Hurricane Matthew approached the Florida coast in October, causing significant damage in the region; a woman abducted from a Jacksonville hospital in 1998 was found alive and reunited with her family.
WHY IT WORKS: The day before Hurricane Matthew hit the region, an emotional Wills made an impassioned plea with viewers to evacuate. “We’ve been together for 40 years, you and I. It’s time to take precautions. It’s time to protect yourself,” he said. “We’re in for a terrible, terrible experience.” Wills was utterly authentic—a trait that has kept him and Baer, his co-anchor for nearly 25 years, dominant. “He makes me a better person,” said Baer, adding that the pair are so in tune “we can finish each other’s sentences.” Wills said the key is that he and Baer complement, but have no interest in changing, each other. “She has more softness in her little finger than I have in my whole body. And I am a pain-in-the-ass stickler,” he said. “And so we blend.”
MARKET: New Orleans (DMA No. 50)
OWNER/AFFILIATION: Louisiana Media Company (owner), Raycom Media (manager)/Fox
PROGRAM/TIME: Fox 8 News at 10 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Lee Zurik and Kim Holden
TRACK RECORD: Six years after its launch, Fox 8 News at 10 p.m. in May 2016 rated No. 1 in households as well as among adults 25-54, marking the first time CBS affiliate WWL did not win the slot in 35 years. WVUE has won the time slot for nine of the past 11 months.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: “Medical Waste” investigation uncovered insurance clawbacks that sparked 11 federal lawsuits and changes to the state law in Louisiana; “Swiped: Financial Mismanagement” exposed reckless personal spending by the Louisiana retirement system’s executive director, who also squandered $150 million in retiree benefits and led to a sweeping investigation; “Jindal’s Presidential Run” highlighted potentially illegal campaign spending by former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that left taxpayers on the hook for financing part of his failed run at the White House.
WHY IT WORKS: Zurik’s nationally recognized investigations are an indisputable draw, although both he and Holden also credit their newscast’s success to something more organic as well. “I don’t think you can fake chemistry,” Zurik said. In addition to their personal affinity for each other, Zurik and Holden share deep roots in their native New Orleans, and take seriously the impact the news has on their families and friends, as well as viewers. “People know we aren’t just coworkers. We are friends who know this area inside and out,” Holden said. “I think viewers connect with us because they can see how much we love being able to deliver the news every day to the community we grew up in.”
MARKET: Dothan, Ala. (DMA No. 173)
WNER/AFFILIATION: Gray Television/CBS
PROGRAM/TIME: WTVY evening news at 6 p.m.
ANCHOR TEAM: Devon Sellers and Reginald Jones
TRACK RECORD: For the past 10 years, the toprated 6 p.m. newscast has averaged a 20 rating and 40 share in Nielsen numbers.
THEIR YEAR IN NEWS: WTVY pinpointed tornadoes several times live on-air before the National Weather Service, and live streams are broadcast on Facebook during severe weather warnings; heavy live sports coverage of events including Masters Golf Tournament and Dothan Hoops Classic, as well as the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and Peach Bowl in Atlanta; a telethon raised $33,000 for 150 families rebuilding after flooding in December 2015.
WHY IT WORKS: “Throughout the years, WTVY was not merely in the community, but a vital part of it,” said Jones. In the last year alone, for instance, the station partnered with the Red Cross of Eastern Alabama in raising thousands for flood victims, and during 2016, WTVY held two blood banks, a pet food drive and its annual holiday food drive. The Alabama Broadcasters Association awarded Sellers, Jones’ co-anchor, for her “60 Minute Miracle,” in which she gave someone $1,000 to pass on to a stranger in need within an hour of receiving it themselves. “Over the decades people have come to depend on WTVY for their local news, weather and sports,” Jones said. “By being actively involved, the station has earned viewers’ trust.”