TV Reporters bear a burden unlike many other career choices – the burden of truth.
As a reporter the world listens and watches you, expecting the story you weave to be honest and truthful, something that could alter their perception or they can act on in their life.
This is a burden that those in the TV news business enjoy, the underlying search for truth.
“As a journalist, you are always seeking the truth,” says Michael Konopasek, general assignment reporter for KWTV in Oklahoma City. “Sometimes it is a challenge to find, since interviewees won’t always be honest with you, so as a news reporter it’s important to be skeptical. As you become more experienced in your field, you will find that these challenges are easier to tackle.”
Working in Oklahoma City has its own challenges, as Konopasek has dealt with an abundance of human tragedy in the form of tornadoes, flooding, and wildfires – but the job of a TV reporter remains the same – tell the stories that need to be told and continue to dig for the emotions and truth of each story.
For more on one of the most popular television jobs we feature on WorkinEntertainment.com, here’s Michael Konopasek on his life as a news reporter:
During your time in Oklahoma City tragedy has struck the area on multiple occasions – tornadoes, flooding – as a reporter these are great opportunities to find and tell important stories, but you are also surrounded by real people who have lost so much and will never be the same. The media is often criticized for capitalizing on human tragedy – how do you balance telling the stories that need to be told while still being respectful of the emotional challenges your subjects are going through?
Konopasek: While in Oklahoma City, I have covered more than a dozen tornadoes, wildfires or some other form of a natural disaster. The weather here is unlike anywhere else in the world.
You work as a reporter, but you are still a human.
In May 2013, I followed a deadly tornado into Moore, Oklahoma as it ripped apart neighborhoods and schools. I was in the middle of the destruction path moments after the Twister went through. It was impossible for me not to feel for the people I saw with blood on their faces and tears in their eyes. But, I pulled myself together and got the job done!
I quickly realized that what I was doing was important and information needed to be distributed fast. I was able to turn my personal heartache into energy to help as many people as I could.
While working that fateful day, photojournalist Michael Johnston and I realized a short-haired Dachshund was lost and looking for her owner. The dog, Abby, would not leave our sides. So we brought her to our news truck and kept working.
That night, Abby stayed with me. She was so nervous that she slept under my bed. The next morning, she warmed up to me. One day later, I learned her owner was being treated at a hospital with tornado-related injuries. Owner Pam had lost her home. Pam and I are now friends.
I know I was not required to take Abby with me, but I couldn’t leave her behind. It was something I wanted to do, and I’m happy I did it.
Journalists should never capitalize on human tragedy. Viewers deserve and demand much more.
Being a news reporter is one of the most popular television jobs we have searched on our site – so let’s talk about the details of the role. Take us through your process of finding a story, to eventually creating a finished product
Konopasek: Being a news reporter goes well beyond the hours of being in the field and in the newsroom. You are always looking for story ideas to set you and your station apart from the competition. More importantly, you are looking for stories that will make a difference in people’s lives.
As a general assignment reporter, my stories can come from just about anywhere.
Through my time in Oklahoma City, I’ve developed connections with many people, including public officials, police officers and neighbors living down the street. My stories also come from stopping by the county courthouse and looking through records. Every morning, I’m scrolling through Twitter feeds and checking blogs to see what people are talking about.
You’ll find newsroom managers expect a lot from reporters, as they should! Each morning, I will pitch story ideas for the day. I may or may not be assigned one of my ideas, depending on the news for that particular day. At News 9, more often than not, reporters are allowed to pursue the stories they develop.
Just know, there is no such thing as a “normal day” for a TV news reporter (and that’s one of the reasons why I love my job).
After being assigned a story, I’m usually out the door while making calls to line up interviews. When you’re in the field, you must have a solid of line of communication with your photojournalist as well as producers back at the station. It will make your life much easier.
After collecting interviews and finding an opportunity for a creative standup (if it makes the story more compelling), you start the logging process of picking out sound bites. I can still hear Ball State professor Terry Heifetz say, “Good sound bites convey emotion and/or opinion.” Use the sound bites as puzzle pieces to construct your report. Then, write!
Finally, your 8 hour-plus day boils down to a 1:30 report on air. Write a web story and call it a day. Then, start thinking about more story ideas!
Now that you are a few years into your career – what advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career as a TV news reporter?
Konopasek: This industry is competitive and it requires hard work. If all you want is to just be on TV, then you might want to re-think your career choice or learn to embrace what goes into the final product.
As for tips, here are a few that have really worked for me and other friends working in various television jobs:
- Get active in your major as soon as possible
- Take courses with talented professors who will teach you to write for TV
- Find out during school what you like and dislike about various television jobs
- Pursue for what makes you feel fulfilled
- Ask a lot of questions
- Never shy away from an opportunity that will set you out among the rest
- Study the pros you see on the networks
- Do as many internships as possible
- Become a sponge soaking up as many tips and nuggets of wisdom as you possibly can
That’s pretty good stuff – a big part of being a news reporter is developing sources – as a news reporter in a new market how do you start developing relationships with people “in the know”?
Konopasek: It doesn’t happen overnight. Have patience!
Collect business cards and hand yours out like candy. Eventually, through hard work, you’ll meet people who will start providing you with good information. As the fresh reporter in the market, it’s important to find a co-worker who will introduce you to the “movers and shakers.”
Some connections can be shared, others you will want or need to keep to yourself. I’ve found each relationship will be different. There are some people I will text on a daily basis. Others, I will hear from every now and then. It’s not uncommon for me to go out with some on the weekend for lunch or a cup of coffee.
In a relatively short period of time after graduating you are already in a top 50 market – what do you think has been the key to you finding success this early in your career?
Konopasek: You need to be focused in college on what you want to do and where you want to go. I understand not everyone has a solid idea on what they want to major in right away, and many of those people still prove to be successful — so there’s no right answer.
However, for me, I stayed with telecommunications all four years. I started becoming active in my department as a freshman.
What I learned in and out of class helped me secure an internship at ABC7 WLS-TV in Chicago. At ABC7, I was allowed to report for the station website. That work gave me a tremendous foundation to grow during an immersive learning project at Ball State called NewsLink Indiana on WIPB-TV. At NewsLink, students worked as full-time reporters, editors, writers, photojournalists and producers.
During the summer between my junior and senior years, news director Bob Walters from Fox 7 WTVW-TV in Evansville, allowed me to report as much as I wanted for the station’s newscasts. I could be found at the station seven days a week. I grew so much that summer!
As I was wrapping up my college career, I worked part-time at WPTA-TV/WISE-TV in Fort Wayne as a multimedia journalist. I started working at KWTV News 9 in May of 2011.
So I’d say the key to success in television jobs, like being a news reporter, is getting started early and getting as much hands-on work as you can.
You studied political science along with telecommunications while at Ball State, and did a congressional internship at the US House of Representatives – how much has it helped you as a reporter to have a political background and understanding?
Konopasek: Having any specific area of interest will help you as a news reporter.
Before I decided to become a journalist, I was interested in working in government. As a Congressional intern, I learned what it was like to be on the other side of the phone when someone called with questions.
That experience gave me a newfound respect and understanding for a press secretary’s job, which in turn, has helped me become a better reporter.
If you have career questions for Michael Konopasek or just a thought you’d like to share on this interview – include it in the comments below!