The WAGA way

tacoma newsomeYour name is Tacoma Newsome.  You’re the new kid at WAGA.  OK, you’re no kid.  You’ve paid your TV reporter dues elsewhere.  You’re polished.  You’re ready for the big time.

Careful what you wish for.

WAGA is a big happy family.  Nearly all of your co-workers are lovely and agreeable people.  Many of them are downright entertaining.  Like most families, there’s a certain element of dysfunction.  At WAGA, it’s pervasive enough that one veteran reporter continually refers to “the waga way.”  It’s not a complimentary reference.

You probably have a three-year contract (with windows at each anniversary, effectively making it a series of one-year contracts).  Settle in, but don’t get too comfortable.  Here are some helpful tips from a guy who spent 21 years in the family.

* The general manager, Gene McHugh, is a prince and perhaps the nicest guy in the building.  Don’t cross him.

* The news director, Budd McEntee, is super-smart, talented and quick-witted.  He will be the first to tell you that he’s not a nice guy and he’s not there to be your friend.  Believe him.

* Expect to hear the term “Budd wants…” frequently from Mr. McEntee’s embattled, well-meaning middle-managers.   You’ll almost never hear it from Mr. McEntee himself, however.  As the guy running eight and a half hours of local news programming each weekday (soon to be 9 1/2), he’s very busy.

* You’re working a 3am shift.  That’s not as terrible as it sounds, because it minimizes your exposure to the army of managers who show up at 9am each day.  Expect the final three-plus hours of your shift to be the most painful.Kool-Aid

* Understand that the middle managers are every bit as overworked as anybody in that newsroom.  They take a lot of abuse.  They’re actually nice people, but can get a little crazy.  They’ve all drunk the local TV news Kool-Aid, and expect you to enjoy its taste each day.

* Respect your show producers.  You’ll hear the reporters at the other stations gripe about their producers, but you shouldn’t.  At WAGA, your producers are bright and capable.  They’re under pressures comparable to yours.  And unlike you, they’re stuck in the building.

* Eventually, you’ll work a day shift.  Expect to cover news with one hand tied behind your back.  You’ll be expected to work on tomorrow’s news today, while beating the competition on today’s story.  By 3pm each day, an individual known as the “planning editor” will call you to ask what exclusive story you have planned for tomorrow.  S/he isn’t kidding.

You’ll get similar treatment for nightside and weekends.  If you work nightside, expect your phone to start ringing hours prior to the start of your shift.  Nightside can be crazy-pants.

* As a daysider, producing separate pieces for the noon, 5pm and 6pm newscasts is de rigeur. Learn to breathe without a lot of oxygen.

* When the EP for Special Projects asks you for ideas for sweeps, give her a half-dozen each time.  If they’re recycled from your previous job, that’s OK.  Special Projects will provide your most consistent opportunity to produce stories that you’d actually be proud to show people.  Take advantage.v2008-09

* Don’t let your managers see behind the curtain.  If you’ve got a story idea that came from your next-door neighbor, don’t volunteer that.  Let ’em think you develop stories by working sources day and night.

* If you want to become an investigative reporter, you’ll probably have to do it without becoming part of the I-Team.  The last reporter to move into that unit did so about 12 years ago.

* If you’re expecting to become an anchor, don’t hold your breath.

Feeling your pain:  Franz Kafka

Feeling your pain: Franz Kafka

* Don’t expect anything resembling “job security.”  You were hired because your audition DVD landed at the top of a large stack of applicants.  The stack is refreshed daily.  You can be replaced, and they don’t mind saying it out loud.

* Read Kafka.  It probably won’t help you understand your workplace, but it might make you feel better.

Like most young TV news folks entering “the big time,” this experience will hit you in unexpected ways.  You’ll be amazed at the trivial pursuits of big market news.  You’ll find the feeding of the beast to be exhausting. Learn to revel in the fact that you work small miracles each day.  You and your photog will be the only ones who fully appreciate it, however.

You’ll learn that your 3am shift will frequently become a 12-hour shift.  As the new kid, you won’t feel comfortable asking for relief.  Do it anyway.

When your contract expires, you’ll probably search your soul for an answer to the question:  Do I want to keep doing this?

Funny thing is, TV news needs good people.  The audience appreciates them.  But that doesn’t mean your employers necessarily will.

Keep up the good work, kid.  You’re doing a great job.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

19 thoughts on “The WAGA way

  1. JunkJunk

    “As the guy running eight and a half hours of local news programming each weekday (soon to be 9 1/2), he’s very busy.”

    ————–

    Mr. LAF,

    FOX5 is adding yet another newscast? When is this expansion taking place?

    Great post, BTW – I’m sure Tacoma will appreciate every bit of that advice…

    Reply
  2. juanita driggs

    Speaking fondly of the Fox Five Family…

    Congratulations, Susan Kicak, for 17 great years at Fox Five. You’re the epitome of what

    the “family” is all about.

    Reply
  3. The Road Warrior

    Great article Doug. As a Fox 5 alum I can tell you, Doug is right on point with this. Thanks for sharing this perspective. While many people will read this article, very few have a first hand account.

    Reply
  4. Andy Funk

    Oh, yes. But please, dear readers, don’t dwell only on the pressures. People at WAGA truly do have a family relationship. When former colleagues email or call for advice, assistance, or just to chat, I always make a point of being there for them. And when it’s me emailing or calling, they’re always there for me. I truly miss being an active part of the WAGA family, walking the WAGA walk, doing it the WAGA way.

    Reply
  5. gilted

    But Bud is NOT afraid of copying.

    Watch how many stories they do they go from someone else.

    Heck, now he steals from WGCL.

    In the past week they got the car fire rescue from WGCL, and tonite they did the exact same carfax story wgcl did back in May and June.

    My, My Bud – have a little pride.

    Reply
    1. CB Hackworth

      There isn’t a news operation in town that doesn’t copy from the competition. Methinks this insult to McEntee must come from something more personal.

      Ah, so easy to leave those anonymous slams, though, isn’t it?

      Reply
    2. AtlBigEar

      gilted – Not working for Bud I can’t say what he is like 24/7, but I do have a respect of him based on my few run-ins with him and what others say about him. If he copies, it might just be that he recognizes that story as a good story. I would take it as a compliment if he “stole” one of my stories.

      Reply
  6. CB Hackworth

    Speaking as someone with a name that nobody even believes is real, I just want to know how you end up being named Tacoma Newsome if you’re not a character in a book by Patricia Cornwell. There’s got to be a good story there.

    Reply
  7. Andy Funk

    @Gilted: Bud (Veazey) was Assistant News Director at WAGA, but retired some time ago. Budd McEntee is the News Director. Were your referring to Budd or Bud?

    Accuracy in the details does count.

    Reply
  8. Dan Ronan

    Doug’s hit the mark with his thoughts. Good luck Tacoma! I spent 3 VERY enjoyable years at WAGA and have nothing but great memories. Fine people, good journalists and Budd is tough as day old steak, but that’s ok. He cares about the news. WAGA is a good newsroom. Enjoy it!

    Reply
  9. Jay

    Since Doug decided to single out Ms. Newsome for a warm welcome with friendly advice, I would like to offer my own advice as a viewer. Ms. Newsome, please do not use the phrase “on tomorrow.” It sounds awkward (to most people) and it is grammatically incorrect. Just because some people in this region use that phrase does not mean it is acceptable for a journalist to say it in a story. By using that phrase you might endear yourself to a certain segment of the population, but you (and management) should understand you are making yourself and Fox5 look foolish to larger segment of your audience.

    Reply
  10. Budvz

    Damn! I thought that picture was young Dougie. Good blog. Could describe any large TV newsroom and is an accurate depiction of WAGA. Local TV news takes a lot of often well-deserved criticism. WAGA, warts and all, is one of the best local newsrooms anywhere. Like him or hate him, the big reason for that is the tough bastard in the corner office.

    Reply
    1. live apt fire Post author

      I’m delighted to know I’ve written such an uplifting post. And if my younger look was Kafkaesque, I’ll take it as a compliment.

      I’m sure Mr. Kafka would have appreciated Monday’s firing / layoff of Steve Zumwalt, a WAGA photog of thirty years. And photog Geoff Pekarek. Good guys, both of ’em.

      With apologies to Ms. Newsome, whom I’ve never met, for unwittingly becoming a metaphor for any newcomer to the local news big-time.

      Reply
      1. juanita driggs

        Especially sorry to hear about Steve’s “layoff”. Some years ago while making small talk and awaiting the inevitable dismissal from Dekalb jury duty because we both worked for the “dreaded” media, upon commenting on his name Steve confirmed that he was indeed related to the famous and highly decorated Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, 19th Chief of U. S. Naval Operations and distinguished Viet Nam war vet. Steve is a very honorable guy and so I wasn’t surprised when he told me that he came from one of this country’s great military families. I wish both him and Goeff the best. If I was a manager today it would seem to me that given the increasing media demands in these perilous times I would nearly kill to keep seasoned, highly experienced guys like Steve and Geoff on my team at all costs… much the way a brilliant Admiral probably would.

        Reply
  11. Pingback: Confessional « live apartment fire

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