The life of a general assignment TV reporter can rewarding. It can also be nasty, brutish and unpredictable. There are several ways to avoid its perils. You can become an anchor. You can take a pay cut and find a smaller market. You can find another line of work. Or you can get a gig. The gig, or franchise, gives the reporter a specialty: Health reporter, investigative reporter, political reporter. Those gigs all have their own perils and pressures, but they take the assignment desk somewhat out of the equation. That’s always a good thing.
For five years, I had the best job in the world. Feature reporters are rare cats. News directors are loathe to devote resources to features when research shows that audiences want hard news. But for awhile, my boss overlooked his loathing and let it happen anyway. With photographers Rodney Hall and Mike Daly, and editor / producer Andi Larner, I got to dredge up and produce whatever features I could find. The whackier, the better.
One day I walked into the news director’s office and was told that the feature gig was toast; report back to the assignment desk. It was ugly. I never regained my footing, though I dragged out my career as a TV reporter for another seven years.
At WXIA, Marc Pickard has gone through something similar. He no longer exclusively does “Earthwatch” stories. He now also answers to the desk as a very capable, very skilled general assignment reporter. If the transition has pained him, it hasn’t shown on the air. Meantime, backpack reporter Julie Wolfe has begun a feature gig of sorts for WXIA’s morning shows. Her stories aren’t whacky. She’s more into poignance. It puts her on a high-wire, though. Don’t get too used to it, kid.
This post has been updated to correct information about Marc Pickard’s Earthwatch franchise.