Making it big in small market TV

Rayanne2In the competitive world of television news, most journalists are told that moving up will require moving on.  Yet, there’s a lot to be said for staying put, according to Rayanne Weiss, assistant news director at Raycom-owned WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss.

“You can do amazing things in a smaller market; we’ve won every national award; the big news has come to us.  I’ve covered three hurricanes, including the largest natural disaster in America’s history.  Don’t think you won’t ever have big news in a small market — here we’ve had Katrina and the BP oil spill in the span of a few years — you can get the big meaty stories whereever you go,” says Weiss, who’s been at the station for 22 years.

Biloxi-Gulfport is ranked 162 out of Nielson’s 205 markets, but Executive Producer Natalie Campen is hitting the 25 year mark at the station this December.  She says having managers who’ve spent so much time in the community helps guide her station’s news coverage.Rayanne

“I tell young producers, ‘Hey, I live here, too.’ It’s important to me that what we report is correct, accurate, well-received and respected,” says Campen.

Many of the station’s reporters and anchors have worked there for decades as well, and that longevity has helped them foster relationships with the people they cover.

“Nine out of 10 times we get the story because they know how we’re going to handle it; we’re not just the stereotypical media coming out to stick a microphone in your face and then leaving,” Campen says.

On the other hand, you might think that knowing the people you cover on a personal level could lead to some uncomfortable encounters in the grocery store, for example.  Weiss says that’s typically not the case.

“You’ll get the occasional phone call from somebody who tells you not to run something, and you have to say, ‘It’s my job to run it.'”

Both Campen and Weiss have had job offers at other stations, and in fact, Weiss also worked briefly in New Orleans and Detroit.  But they now both say it’s unlikely that they’d take another TV job anywhere else.

“It’s a good place for real life,” Campen says. “A small market offers opportunities to do news that impacts a large number of people; the big markets cover a lot of crime and corruption but that impacts so few.”

They both encourage young journalists to think beyond market size when they chart their careers.  If you’re working in a station that helps you stay passionate about journalism, it may be the right place, regardless of the Nielsen DMA number.

‘By the time you get 30 years in the business, if you don’t have that passion, the inconveniences to your life, the hours — you can’t rally past it,” says Weiss.