Scripps’ ‘Executive Reporters’ Light The Way For Upcoming Journalists
In August, as Hurricane Idalia strengthened over the Gulf of Mexico and the storm’s Florida landfall seemed imminent, Channing Frampton wanted to be at the WTXL anchor desk. He’d worked at the Scripps-owned ABC affiliate in Tallahassee, Fla., for three-and-a-half years, and spent a lot of time suited and seated in front of a camera. After multiple promotions he gladly assumed greater responsibilities off the set, behind the scenes; however, while moving up he told WTXL’s GM Matt Brown to still consider him for anchor duty when needed during emergency situations. Frampton cherished the role too much and wanted to be relied upon for news delivery by the WTXL team and the station’s viewers.
So there he was, on air at the desk when Idalia struck, informing the local community about power outages, reminding its citizens about safety measures they should take and narrating what fortunately turned out to be a less-destructive outcome than had been anticipated.
But Frampton felt a burst of pride not only in his own job well done, executed under hotter lights, in front of a more tensely attentive audience than on a typical day. He beamed over reports, live from the field as the storm surged through the area, as well as produced packages, filed by two of his colleagues that week. Both were recent college graduates and fresh hires he’d mentored as the station’s “executive reporter,” a new position at WTXL, and one that Scripps will continue to staff at additional stations, too.
“Seeing the reporters that I’ve been working directly with for the last two months since moving into this role, and seeing them take what we’ve talked about and take what they’ve learned and then apply it in a situation like that, it was very rewarding,” says Frampton, who at 35 has served various stations as an anchor, reporter, MMJ, producer, managing editor and even a meteorologist since graduating from Robert Morris University in 2011 with a BA in media arts. It was that kind of dynamic experience that compelled Brown, his GM, to recommend Frampton for the executive reporter job, which had been dreamt up at Scripps’ corporate level.
“It was definitely different,” says Frampton about the role. “I had to take some time to think about it, but I was flattered and grateful that they thought of me to be in that kind of position, and test things out and experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.”
According to a job posting for an executive reporter position at KRIS, the Scripps NBC affil in Corpus Christi, Texas, among other responsibilities the new hire will “lead, develop, and enhance the storytelling skill and abilities of all reporters and MMJs in the station”; “collaborate with other newsroom leaders to consistently execute the content strategy through authentic, meaningful storytelling”; “oversee the writing of stories for all platforms [and] provide timely feedback to foster continuous improvement”; “develop and supervise effective workflow strategies and procedures for multiple news programs and outlets”; and “deliver a vision and create trust among reporters, photographers and newsroom staff.”
Venton Blandin, who’s been in TV news since the late 1990s, was just named executive reporter at KRIS, and Mike Hart, who’s been at KERO Bakersfield, Calif., since 1991, filled the new executive reporter spot there as well.
Back at WTXL, Frampton’s workday is as jam packed as the ad for the KRIS executive reporter suggests.
“I do everything from managing story assignments for the day, talking through pitches with reporters [and telling them] ‘OK, when you get there, make sure that you’re doing X, Y and Z,’” Frampton says. He asks them questions like: “How can we create an intro for the story that’s going to be interesting and compelling?” and “Who can we talk to to get the best sound?”
“So, that’s on the very front end of the day,” he continues. Later, he manages the website and pushes stories on social media, “making sure that we have posts that are engaging and interesting so I can grow our reach and help build our brand there,” he says. As reporters start working on their stories, they call Frampton for advice, asking questions such as “What would you do for an introduction for this story?” and “How can we make this story more interesting?”
“I’ve lent reporters my personal selfie stick,” Frampton goes on. “I’ve lent them my cell phone tripods; I’ve worked with them on GoPros. So, taking those extra bells and whistles to make their stories pop, that’s going into it.”
He then works on scripts and edits video packages, two more duties that continue through the station’s evening newscasts — on days when he’s not anchoring.
“The goal is always to be out of here by 7 p.m.,” he says. “That doesn’t always work, but that’s it in a nutshell — a very large nutshell. I’m doing a lot.”
The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I’ve enjoyed watching Channing step into the executive reporter role,” says Vicki Bradley, news director at WTXL. “I’ve always looked at Channing as a leader in our newsroom. This new position allows him an opportunity to have an even greater impact on the stories we tell and shows we produce [and it] allows him to be hands-on with our reporters as we put a greater focus on reporting in neighborhoods across our viewing area.”
Dean Littleton, Scripps’ SVP of local media, adds: “Channing is truly breaking the mold for how our local stations cover and connect with our communities,” impressively as “the first in the company to step into the executive reporter role.”
The Scripps stations’ executive reporter role was born out of the company’s “news initiative” that CEO Adam Symson announced in an email to employees this past May. The stratagem for improving the Scripps news product included a $10 million investment to better compensate journalists and add on-the-ground resources to reporting teams. A resource such as the executive reporter — versatile and empowered with trust to help shape so many aspects of a station’s news product — appears to be an economically efficient tool in the building of a better, financially sustainable news corps.
“This position has the opportunity today to influence change for the better,” Frampton says. “You need somebody who has the experience and the will and the passion about all these different things — the writing and the editing and all that. A position like that is crucial to success, and I don’t say that as a biased person because I’m in this role, I say it because I’m living it and I’ve seen the influence that it can have, and I’ve seen the positive impact.”
Editor’s Note: This is the latest of TVNewsCheck’s “Newsroom Innovators” profiles, a series showcasing people and news organizations evolving the shape and substance of video reporting. These profiles examine the inception of their innovations, the tools they employ and how they’re reconciling experimental approaches to news storytelling within daily workflows. You can find the others here.