Breaking the News
News waits for no one. Broadcasters must work under high pressure and intense deadlines daily. But the desire to inform, advise, and enlighten the public motivates these Ithaca College alumni, who are passionate about their profession.
“We work long hours,” said Matt Mulcahy ’87, who anchors 5, 6, 10, and 11 p.m. broadcasts for WSTM and WSTQ in Syracuse, New York. “When other people are starting their weekends, my Friday is just getting going.”
Ben Simmoneau ’03, co-anchor of WNYW’s Good Day Wakeup in New York City, starts his workday at 4:30 a.m. and calls it “doable.” “It’s my first broadcast job working Monday through Friday. It’s nice to have weekends with my family.”
“I look forward to 12-hour flights home from far-flung assignments,” says David Muir ’95, anchor and managing editor for ABC World News. “No one can reach me on email, and I can either sleep or watch a movie that everyone was talking about a year ago.”
“At a network, the demands on your time are extraordinary, but I often tell myself sleep is overrated.” — DAVID MUIR '95
Kyle Clark ’05 recalls getting soaked to the bone during 12 hours of live flood coverage for KUSA in Denver and then returning to the studio at 1 a.m. to do another hour and a half on the anchor desk wearing a flannel shirt—his only piece of dry clothing.
Matt Wright ’10, a reporter for WJW Fox 8 News in Cleveland, talks about pressure: “Deadline pressure, management pressure, pressure to be accurate when you don’t have a lot of time.”
For Mary Bubala ’91, anchor and reporter for WJZ in Baltimore, the time pressure doesn’t ease once the news is gathered. “My stories have to come in at a minute and 20 seconds,” she said.
“It’s very difficult to choose what to include and what to leave out. I’ve been writing in this condensed fashion for more than two decades, so I’m used to it, but I don’t have to like it.”
HOOKED AT AN EARLY AGE
The news bug bit Bubala in grade school. “When I was 10, my parents gave me a tape recorder for Christmas, and I drove my family crazy making them pretend to be famous people so that I could interview them,” she said.
Then came IC: “The second I walked into Dillingham and saw students running the entire operation, I was hooked,” she said. “Producing, directing, anchoring, reporting, and writing for a host of shows set me up perfectly to get a job in TV news, which I did [at WENY in Elmira, New York] the day after I graduated.”
Wright got hooked in middle school. “Growing up in a family that always watched the news, I thought covering it would be exciting,” he said. A programming stint for a local radio station during high school broadened his broadcast experience. So did reporting and anchoring for ICTV, the Ithaca College television station, where his news team won national and state awards for its coverage of a local tragedy.
“We were finishing our early broadcast when we heard about a shooting involving an Ithaca police officer and went downtown to cover it. Everyone on the crew stayed late, and we did a live broadcast when usually there’d be a re-air of our earlier show. It was a very exciting night. It let me know this was what I wanted to do.”
Mulcahy was also drawn to journalism at an early age. “I remember as a freshman being impressed by how much time the upperclassmen spent at the radio and TV stations. Within a year, I was one of those people. I loved it.”
Clark was 15 when he started covering news for his local radio station. When he arrived at IC, he headed right for the sign-up session at ICTV.
“Diving right in, I got a true taste of TV news. For some students, it wasn’t at all how they’d imagined it. But me? I got hooked.”
It was the same for Simmoneau, who as a freshman was the news director of WICB and later worked for ICTV.
“I knew right away I’d made the right choice. We covered real issues. Where else would a freshman get to do an hour-long radio show with paneled guests and moderators?”
David Muir was also in his teens when he heard broadcast news calling his name. “I was a kid growing up in Syracuse hoping one day I’d get the chance to join veteran anchor Ron Curtis — the Walter Cronkite of Syracuse — on the news desk.”
Ten years later that happened for Muir. But his path went through Ithaca first. “As a freshman, I auditioned for the evening newscast. When the results were posted, my name wasn’t listed under writers or producers or reporters, but then I heard someone say, ‘Who’s David Muir?’ I’d been given one of the anchor slots. I was honored that the television-radio seniors were willing to take a chance on a fresh-faced kid who’d just arrived.”
LOCAL, NATIONAL, GLOBAL AWARENESS
After leaving IC, Kyle Clark started working at WHAM in Rochester, New York, 25 miles from where he grew up.
“Everyone should work in his or her hometown,” Clark said. “You already know your way around.”
Wright’s first job took him a little farther away, to WTOL in Toledo, Ohio, but only 100 miles west of his native Cleveland.
Chicago native Bubala stayed in central New York, anchoring Monday through Friday at WENY in Elmira and then driving to Rochester on the weekends to report. Later, as a reporter for WOKR in Rochester, the New York State Broadcasters Association honored her with a best series award for her reports documenting doctors working to reform health care among poverty- stricken residents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“I was working my tail off, aiming for the networks. But in Rochester, I met the man who was to become my husband,” she said. “He was headed for Johns Hopkins University. I made a quick stop at a TV station in Harrisburg before landing a job in Baltimore. I’m now the mother of two with a busy, satisfying career in local TV news. I’m content where I landed.”
Syracuse native David Muir landed at a network. He’s the new anchor for ABC World News.
The road there started in his hometown, at WTVH in Syracuse, where he joined Ron Curtis and fellow Syracuse native Mulcahy. In 2003 Muir left Syracuse for Boston and then joined ABC three years later. Mulcahy, now managing editor, anchor, and reporter for WSTM and WSTQ , stayed in Syracuse.
“When you’re a student, you think, ‘If someday I’m not at a national network, I won’t be successful,’” Mulcahy said. “But the network tradeoffs are extraordinary.
On any day of the week, any hour of the day, you have to be ready to go where you’re sent. I’ve had opportunities to go to bigger places, but the time just wasn’t right in relation to what else was going on in my life.”
“People were stuck at home with their TVs on, and we were able to get important information to our community throughout a difficult time.” — MATT MULCAHY ’87
Some of Mulcahy’s assignments have, in fact, taken him abroad but always with a local angle. In 2012 he traveled to the Vatican to cover the canonization of Marianne Cope, a Sister of St. Francis in Syracuse who ministered to lepers in Hawaii in the 1800s. Often, though, Mulcahy serves Syracuse best by staying in town, especially during emergencies — such as the two-day blizzard in 1993. “People were stuck at home with their TVs on, and we were able to get important information to our community throughout a difficult time.”
Mulcahy’s 25 years of reporting and anchoring news for central New York have garnered him an Emmy for best documentary as well as numerous awards from the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters, the New York State Broadcasters Association, and the Syracuse Press Club. In addition, Mulcahy received an Edward R. Murrow Award for best writing for a series of entries he produced from his blog for a local theater performance, the premiere of which raised thousands of dollars for people with developmental disabilities.
The sense of community service that keeps Mulcahy in Syracuse also kept Kyle Clark at the anchor desk one treacherous night in a flannel shirt.
“We got absolutely no negative feedback on the way I looked,” Clark said. “The floods were a serious threat, and people wanted good information. They didn’t care if it came from a guy in a suit or a flannel shirt.”
Clark hadn’t planned to leave Rochester, but Denver’s KUSA made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I knew they had a thoughtful approach to storytelling and journalism, so I came out here and found a second home. The Rocky Mountains are at my back door.”
“People wanted good information. They didn’t care if it came from a guy in a suit or a flannel shirt.” — KYLE CLARK '05
In addition to garnering several regional Emmys and an Edward R. Murrow Award, he was named the top anchor by the editors and readers of 5280 [The Denver Magazine]. Being popular doesn’t compromise his journalism, Clark said. Broadcast journalists do well when they take journalism more seriously than they take themselves.
“The trap that too many people in communications are falling into is an attempt to imitate something they’ve seen on TV — the Voice of God Anchor, the Live Reporter Gesticulating Wildly at the Scene behind Him — as opposed to thinking how they provide useful information to their communities. What we have to do is lower the decibel level and tell people why something happened, not simply that it happened.”
For Clark, a network assignment for him would be “a hard sell.” “I like to do a lot of things outside work. A network job isn’t conducive to that. What I love most about my job is bringing my own vision to features and investigative stories that reflect the connection we’ve built with our local viewers.
“Shining a bright light on issues that are often pushed into the shadows is very satisfying.”
—MARY BUBALA '91
Ties to the local community also mean a lot to Bubala. “The biggest reward of being in TV news is connecting with people from all walks of life,” she said. An example is a series of stories Bubala did on sexual assaults at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Several very brave women came forward to tell their stories of abuse and to document their frustration and anger when their cases were ignored or dismissed,” Bubala said.
“Shining a bright light on issues that are often pushed into the shadows is very satisfying. It keeps me coming back for more.”
Simmoneau’s local community may be New York City, but he sees the country’s largest metropolis as a place to “set down roots” after five-year stints as an anchor and investigative reporter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then Philadelphia. “I’d never been a fulltime anchor,” he said. “I saw WNYW as a great opportunity in a great city.
Around lunchtime I get to go home and spend the afternoon with my infant daughter. My wife is home by six, so we have evenings together.”
Though he may still be called for occasional weekend duty, he doesn’t expect a repeat of his KYW days, when he got the call to cover the Jerry Sandusky scandal. “I drove out from Philadelphia with the clothes on my back and bought toiletries and shirts in State College. I spent 18- and 19-hour days, killing the batteries on my phone and witnessing a terrible piece of history.”
Simmoneau’s investigative work has won him three Emmys, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and a Walter Cronkite Award. Particularly memorable was the story involving a state legislator who was taking his chief of staff on trips to questionable venues, such as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and the Super Bowl, to discuss campaign business.
“The problem was, Pennsylvania campaign finance law is so vaguely stated that he could flout the intent of those laws,” he said. “They gave me a lot of airtime to show how the state law on campaign financing deserved another look. TV stations may be private companies, but they’re also publicly licensed service entities. To me, that story was a true public service.”
Stories that create change are the ones that stand out in Wright’s mind as well. “Those are the moments that make you glad you went into the business,” he said, recalling a story that garnered him a regional Emmy nomination. “When I was in Toledo, I interviewed the wife of a man who was having health issues. It took the fire department half an hour to respond, and in that time, the gentleman had passed away. In part, through our coverage, the city brought in more emergency responders during overnight hours.”
Those moments may be rewarding, but their life on air is measured in seconds. It takes way longer than that to capture them.
“You hope and pray you have what you need because that’s your deadline, and the deadline rules all.” — MATT WRIGHT '10
“By late afternoon, you hope and pray you have what you need because that’s your deadline, and the deadline rules all.”
Is it still as exciting as covering that late night shooting in Ithaca?
“There’s definitely an excitement that keeps bringing me back,” Wright said. “I get access to people and stories I never would have otherwise.” One of those meaningful stories was the ordeal of three Cleveland women held captive for nearly a decade.
The mother of one of the women was living in southwest Florida where Wright was reporting for NBC2, so the Fort Myers station dispatched Wright to Cleveland.
The story was also national news, so ABC sent David Muir.
“I’d interviewed David when I was a student, and he’d come back to campus to talk about the future of journalism. I said, ‘Hey, remember me?’ He did. We had a nice chat about Ithaca.”
The reunion not only reminded Wright of where he’d been but also where he wanted to go. “Some people want to work for the stations they watched growing up. Some people want to work for the Today show. Someday I’d like to get to a network.”
“The impact from a particular story sometimes exceeds your wildest dreams.” — DAVID MUIR '95
Muir can empathize. “As a journalism major, I remember sitting in the front row, listening to visiting speakers from the various networks. I’d hang on their every word, hoping that one day I’d join their ranks.”
In 2003 Muir joined ABC News as overnight news anchor and then as lead correspondent.
As the weekend anchor for World News and co-anchor of the news magazine 20/20, Muir covered stories that took him across the globe. In 2011 he was the first American journalist to report on a devastating famine in Mogadishu, taking viewers on a 100-mile trek from Somalia to refugee camps in Kenya.
He anchored the live events surrounding the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and reported on the Egyptian revolution, the earthquake in Japan, and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In the process, he won numerous accolades, including an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting.
“At a network, the demands on your time are extraordinary,” Muir says. “But I often tell myself sleep is overrated. It’s rare in life to travel to Ethiopia with an American doctor performing a simple cataract surgery that gives sight back to parents who haven’t seen their children in 10 years. And after our report, viewers donated more than $355,000 to pay for the lenses needed for that operation. The impact from a particular story sometimes exceeds your wildest dreams.”
Though the community he serves is spread from coast to coast, Muir feels intimately attached to it, thanks in part to social media. “It’s knocked down the barriers that once existed with network news. I’m getting immediate feedback, and I try to tweet back to viewers during commercial breaks.”
It’s also exciting, Muir added, that in light of laments over the demise of broadcast news, 25 million viewers still watch network news nightly while millions more watch news and information programs on cable and in primetime.
And, according to Bubala, local viewers are still plugged in as well. “Local TV news hasn’t changed that much since my first job at WENY,” she said. “The essence of bringing important information into people’s homes remains constant. The best stories are still the ones that grab your heart and make you think.”