Why I Want to Be a TV News Producer

Isabel MoralesIsabel Morales is a senior at the University of Illinois studying broadcast journalism and is scheduled to graduate in May. The Pekin, IL native is looking for a job as a producer.

Ten minutes before the Midday show was about to air and reports of a bank robbery began to buzz through the police scanner. All of the practice as an intern producer for WICD Channel 15 and long hours of training at the University of Illinois had prepared me for this — breaking news. It was a refreshing reminder of why I want to be a TV news producer.

The broadcast journalism program at the U of I isn’t very big. My reporting and television classes had about 10 people, each of whom we got to know very well throughout the semester. We knew who was good at putting together a hard news story, who was the creative shooter and who really didn’t want to get into the “business” — which was almost half of my class. Three of my classmates wanted to be reporters, nobody was interested in anchoring and only one had dreams of becoming a producer — me.

Shooting and editing a story for TV class is equivalent to writing a 10 page essay for History class. It takes time, you need sources, and you need to be accurate. Reporting was fun because I would get to talk to actual people and get access to information not everyone has. But I knew reporting wasn’t for me, like a pair of heels that look great on the rack, but realistically make your feet sore after wearing them for an hour.Isabel Morales

So my junior year, I applied for a producing internship with WICD and it reinforced what I already knew — my strength lies in writing, organizing, and editing. They hired me, and soon I was producing entire shows, writing scripts, organizing the rundown, and editing video. These were a pair of shoes I knew I could run a few miles in.

Last summer, I interned with NBC Chicago. I can’t even begin to explain how valuable that summer was to my career focus. I was able to investigate stories, go out with reporters, and even field produce. I would practice reporting on camera, watch the recording later, cringe, and hope to do better next time. But really, I knew I wanted to be back in the producer chair, organizing the show, deciding what stories would be aired, writing scripts and watching the clock to make sure the show stays within 30 minutes.

The bank robbery tip was placed at the top of the Midday show. I wrote a quick 20 second script with the information we had with a couple minutes to spare. By the end of the show we learned that there was another bank robbery within minutes of the first. It was a busy breaking news day and it felt great that I was able to say I produced that show.


The Day the News Bug Hit

Pam Grimes is an Emmy award winning producer at Superstation WGN-TV in Chicago. She’s been on the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for several years and also serves on the Executive Committee.

Pam Grimes circa early 1980s

Pam Grimes circa early 1980s

I set foot in a newsroom for the very first time on January 22, 1973. I was applying for a newsroom secretary’s job at the ABC station in my home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Within minutes of my arrival, bells started clanging and chaos erupted. Back then, breaking news came from Associated Press and United Press International machines with ear splitting sound effects.

A normal office setting instantly transformed into people ripping wire copy, yelling instructions and racing into broadcast booths to read it on air. The Supreme Court had just legalized abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Before I left that day, President Lyndon B. Johnson died, creating a new wave of newsroom excitement. It was a glimpse into a whole new world for me, and I decided that second that the energy of a newsroom is where I belonged. I got the job.

Women were very rare in newsrooms in the early 70s. Timing is everything and I’m living proof. I partially credit Affirmative Action that required newsrooms to hire women and minorities. I wasn’t a very good secretary.

Pam and the news team at KWWL-TV in Waterloo, Iowa.

But the news director liked my voice and let me do radio headline news during the Sunday morning Polka Hour. Don’t laugh! It had a HUGE following. They also needed someone to do the weather on the Sunday night television broadcast. I stunk at that too. But nine months later I was hired by one of the best in the

business, news director Grant Price, at KWWL TV, the NBC affiliate in Waterloo. My job was reading radio headlines on the hour and half hour from 2 p.m.-midnight, which left my days free to go to school.

Pam at the 2012 DNC convention, along with co-workers Jordan Guzzardo and Micah Materre.

Over the almost decade I was “paying my dues,” I learned to write, edit, report, anchor and eventually produce the No. 1 rated 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

Over the past 40 years, I’ve played a role in covering major news stories such as the

Challenger explosion, the execution of serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the inauguration of the first black President of the United States. I’ve interviewed world leaders, been chased by tornadoes, and slept in an ice hotel in Alaska. I can honestly say I’ve never been bored one day in this business. And if people tell you news is dead, they forget that good storytelling and solid content never grow old.


Early Bird Gets the Traffic

Multiple Emmy award winner Roz Varon has served on the Board of Governors of the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences since 2000.

Roz Varon

Roz Varon

Traffic’s been good to me! Not from a driver’s perspective; I dislike sitting in solid delays as much as the next person. I mean as a career. I was first hired as a radio traffic reporter in Chicago six months after graduating from Columbia College. I was fortunate enough to make the switch to TV in 1989 when ABC7 started a morning newscast and had the foresight to include rush hour traffic reports. The rest, as they say, is history. According to my bio, I am “the first TV traffic anchor in the country to bring rush hour traffic reporting to the morning news.” That being said, all good things come with a price. Mine is getting up at 2 a.m. for work –- and trying to have a “normal” life!  Bedtime is 8 p.m. and that still doesn’t give me enough sleep. As you might imagine, I make the most of my weekends!

My teenage daughter is pursuing a career in film and TV production. I recently put together a short video, “Behind the Scenes at ABC 7 News This Morning” as part of a presentation for her broadcast class. I hope you enjoy it!