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Satisfaction comes from informing people: WTAE’s Michelle Wright

By Nicholas Vercilla, Point Park News Service:

Michelle Wright, a Lynchburg, Va., native, has been in broadcasting since 1984. She has interviewed many politicians, celebrities and athletes, and she has covered some of the country’s biggest news stories. Wright graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a double minor in journalism and television. She worked at WSET in Lynchburg before joining WTAE in Pittsburgh in 1994. In this interview, she opened up about becoming involved in broadcasting, highlights of her career and how journalists should prepare for the ever-changing media industry.

 Michelle Wright, WTAE-TV anchor and adjunct instructor at Point Park speaks to the audience about adapting to new media. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service.
Michelle Wright, WTAE-TV anchor and adjunct instructor at Point Park, speaks at the opening of the Center for Media Innovation. Photo credit: Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service

Q: How did you get started in broadcasting?

A: I was a freshman in college and I wanted to go into some form of journalism. I was working at the mall at a sporting good shop and a guy came in to talk to my manager, and the guy worked at the local television station as a photographer. He said why don’t you come over to the TV station and I’ll give you a tour. When I got there, they were down three reporters, an assignment editor and an executive producer, and when I walked in the news director said, “Would you please intern?”

After my internship was up, I became really valuable to them. I was there all the time, came in really early, worked there really late. When I was done they called me and said do you want to work here part-time?

Q: What is one moment from your experience that you are not fond of?

A: Once, I had to cover a train derailment and I was covered in mud, not showered, but Barbara Bush was coming, and I was the only one in the bureau to go and interview her. So, I was covered in mud from my knees down and she came to Roanoke [Va.] to open up a new medical center.

Q: What was your experiences in covering the 9/11 tragedy?

A: I got my son at 11 a.m. [from preschool] and dropped my kids home and I went straight to work and I didn’t come home from work for seven days. We would only get a few hours of sleep a night. I would have to get up at two in the morning because it was around-the-clock coverage and I would get to the crash site at three in the morning and I would work until eight o’clock that night.

Q: Overall, throughout your career and all your reporting stories, how do you maintain focus in the field?

A: I really do think that the most satisfying part about being a reporter is knowing that information that you get will help other people, even if it’s horrible news. People can control their situation the best if they are informed. It’s important to get the story right and to get both sides of a story.

Q: What advice would you give inspiring journalists?

A: Well, you have to love it because it’s hard, especially when you start. It’s very demanding and there’s a lot of pressure because when you do a story, someone is not going to like what you did and you really have to have thick skin because you are going to get complaints, sometimes from both sides.

The other thing I would say about getting prepared is that whether you’re studying journalism, television, magazine, whatever it is, you have to know that it’s all kind of merging together. It can help you land that job, that little bit of experience.

Q: What have you noticed about changes in the journalism industry?

A: A few years ago, nobody cared if you were on Twitter or Facebook, now it’s essential. You have to be ready. You have to be appropriate on social media because you are being monitored and you have to remember that you are representing your company, and that’s for any company, not just television stations.

Q: How did the Wendy Bell situation change your perspective of how journalists should communicate via social media?

A: I was on vacation when all of that happened, so I wasn’t there for it. Plus, working the early morning shift I’m pretty isolated from what happens at night so I can’t really comment specifically on what happened.  I do, though, think it’s very important for all journalists to remember that social media is an extension of our responsibilities and we can’t be careless with our important role in the communities we serve.


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