NewsNation: A Rich Melting Pot of Our Nation's Stories

By MediaVillage Education Foundation Archives
Cover image for  article: NewsNation: A Rich Melting Pot of Our Nation's Stories

In order to present nightly stories of national and world affairs to a diverse country, it is important for a newsroom to mirror its audience. This summarizes the credo of NewsNationWGN America's new three-hour nightly newscast, now only a mere two months into its existence. With a 150-person editorial and production team working in Chicago, and access to more than 5,500 journalists across 115 broadcast stations owned by WGN America parent Nexstar Media Group, there's ample opportunity for viewers to see a broader picture of their environment than anywhere else.

That opportunity constantly empowers NewsNation's home base employees. "This is the most diverse newsroom I've ever seen in my life," declares Ron Schofield, the executive producer who oversees the newscast's team of zone managers, each working with a region of Nexstar stations on story development and enterprise reporting. "You can look around and not only do we have different life experiences, we have different cultural experiences. We have couples that we hired together because it was important that they work together in the same market. Everybody gets to say what they think about a story."

"Another important aspect, which sounds very basic, is that there's a constant dialogue about different stories, and we actually talk it through," adds Susanna Pinto (pictured at top), the special projects producer working both with NewsNation's Chicago staff and the Nexstar station field reporters. "Because we are such a diverse staff, all these people speak up. The final product, by nature, is going to be richer and more diverse and include different points of view."

An early example of what Pinto brings up: a report on the aftermath of Hurricane Laura from Lake Charles, LA, during one of the 20-minute segments that opens each NewsNation hour. On the program's second night, the report profiled five members of a South Asian family succumbing from carbon monoxide poisoning in their home (because of a faulty generator). After that extended report, one of the studio anchorpeople delivered the latest stats on annual carbon monoxide fatalities, followed by tips to prevent such fatalities when natural disasters occur.

Over the last two months, the opening 20 minutes of NewsNation's middle hour centers on similar stories with multiple angles. A recent summary of the Justice Department's lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for selling opioids was followed by conversations with families around the U.S. dealing with this health crisis. "We gave them three or four minutes to tell their stories," explains Andy Gipson, the second hour's supervising producer. "We're trying to really let real people tell their stories."

Several recurring features also are popping up during that middle hour, such as "Health Center," featuring weeknight anchorperson Marni Hughes, and "Hometown Heroes," giving local notables from small communities nationwide national exposure. "The other night we had a single father who lost his job to the (coronavirus) pandemic, and the community came together to help him," Gipson continues. "We show that the news isn't all doom-and-gloom for the whole three hours we're on."

Gipson is especially proud of presenting coverage inclusive of the LGBTQ community, such as reaction to Pope Francis' recent commentary on civil unions. "Here, you have the time to think more critically about how you're going to cover stories, how you present stories," he says. "Our management hammers home for us that every voice matters. I definitely feel more comfortable here than in any other place."

Diversity of previous work experience also benefits NewsNation's nightly effort to offer a diversity of subject matter and the communities involved. Schofield's resume includes years as Washington, D.C. and Midwest bureau chief at ABC News, and Chicago public TV station management. At one point, Gipson was executive producer of a five-hour weekday newscast in Indianapolis, while Pinto developed and executive produced Eternal Word TV Network's first nightly news hour.

For Schofield, the big accomplishment so far is getting the Nexstar stations in the direction of making important -- and diverse -- contributions to NewsNation. "If their story is good enough to be on our air, there's more we can do to have a subject be more accurate and represent all sides," he explains. Look for those contributions to take up more of each hour in the months ahead.

"What's so wonderful is that we're showing the diversity of our nation through all of our stories," concludes Pinto. "We have a rich melting pot. We come together and we're unified … and we show that both in our content and in all of our anchors and reporters."

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