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News Anchor - Susan Wornick MAG
An aspiring reporter would be hard pressed to find a better role model than Boston legend Susan Wornick. A fixture on WCVB-Boston’s Channel 5 since 1981, Wornick’s experience in front of the camera and natural talent for connecting with he rviewers has paved the way for numerous awards (including two regional Emmy Awards and the prestigious Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association), widespread acclaim from colleagues, and, in 1985, national attention when her morals as a journalist resulted in her being held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal a news source. She was hours away from being sentenced to time in jail when her source came forward.
Nowadays, Susan is co-anchor for WCVB’s noon newscast and a reporter who uncovers local wrongdoings with Team 5Investigates. An alumna of my high school, Susan showed me around Channel 5 on Job Shadow Day and kindly allowed me a second visit to interview her about her career in front of the camera, debate whether the public wants to see starving children or celebrities, and clear up rumors about being “too old” for television.
Looking back on your teen years, can you see how your personal characteristics would lead you to become a journalist?
Well, I was always very active in school activities. I was in the forensic society and the drama society. I was always very social, and I think, as I look back, that was the beginning of my being involved with people and issues.
Did attending Emerson College (a school dedicated to communications and the arts) influence your decision to pursue a high-profile career?
No, I didn’t take any broadcasting courses. I went to Emerson for speech pathology and audiology. I ended up majoring in psychology, and I never had any broadcasting courses other than the mandatory speech. I was just very lucky - I fell into this business.
You were an award-winning radio anchor and reporter in Boston for three years before moving to TV. What motivated you to pursue a job in such a different genre?
The news director at Channel 5was a friend and asked if I wanted to do some work filling in on weekends. I thought it would be a great opportunity, a great experience. But I loved radio and never thought I would transition to television. But once I started, I loved it, loved having the opportunity to show people what was going on in addition to being able to tell them.
You gained national attention in 1985 when you refused to reveal a news source. What was it like to go from being a local reporter to living in a fishbowl?
It gave me a very unique opportunity to experience what so many of the people we report on experience when they become the subject of a news story. I didn’t like it. I very much prefer being on the other side of the camera. Although, it was a very important issue, and I was thrilled to have the attention because it was something that people needed to stop and think about.
Do you think most reporters in your position would have done the same?
I can’t speak for all reporters, but I can tell you that, especially in Boston, we are an exceptional market and unique in that we have an excellent field of journalists. Any journalist who is sincere about his or her profession would have made the same decision.
How much of a say do you have in which stories go on the air?
On a scale of 1to 10, 9. 5. I tell them the stories that we’re working on, and inmost cases, my immediate superior agrees that it’s a good story and we work to get it on the air.
Does that come with seniority, or is that the same for all the reporters?
No, it comes with my job description. I truly have the best job in America because I’min touch with consumers, who tell me the issues that are on their minds and I try to turn them into stories. It’s very unique to my kind of reporting because of my consumer reporting. General-assignment reporters come into work and are assigned a story that the producers have deemed appropriate for that evening’s newscast.
Are you ever made to report stories you would otherwise not give a second thought to?
No. And on the other side of that coin, nor am I ever told I cannot do a story because it interferes with business or anything. If it’s a good story, they let me do it.
Do you feel that there is too much sensationalism in the media?
Yes, I do. There are certain descriptions of how we present stories that I often don’t agree with.
Why do you think it is so difficult to give a story like the famine in the Congo the attention it deserves, whereas headlines about celebrity marriages have a loyal audience?
Well, I think that you should survey your own friends and family and ask them which story they would rather see. We try to respond to our viewers. And I would argue that while you and I might think that covering the famine in the Congo is crucial, a majority of viewers would say otherwise. I would argue that most would be in terestedin the celebrity marriage. So we try to provide what our viewers want. This is not to say we would not do the story about the Congo, but we try to spend most of our time, energy, expertise, and resources on local news. We leave the famine to ABC’s “World News Tonight. ”
What differences, if any, do you notice between local and national news?
Oh, they are too numerous to mention. But national news is about national and international issues. It has a whole different flavor because it highlights stories that affect people in very different ways than local news. For example, the war in Iraq affects us all, but a fire in Natick would affect us in different ways.
Since the news business is so fast-paced, what makes for along-lasting story?
There aren’t too many long-lasting stories that continue to grab peoples’ attention, and that’s, by definition, news. It’s something that’s important now and today, and then once an issue is solved, or fully uncovered or debated, you move on. Not to say that there aren’t some ongoing issues like drunk driving or tax problems, but for the most part, the stories are here today and gone tomorrow.
What are the most important characteristics a successful television personality must possess?
When you say a television personality, what do you mean?A game show host? Or a journalist?
I mean a journalist.
Because to be honest, we don’t see ourselves as television personalities. We see ourselves as journalists, and our venue happens to be television. And when I’m doing a story, of course I don’t want people not to like me, but what I’m really concerned with is how much information we are going to get to people and how we are going to be able to present it in the most straightforward terms. It is important for journalists to keep themselves and their opinions out of the stories. Nobody cares what we think, necessarily. They care about the information.
When your contract was up in the early 2000s and WCVB chose not to renew it, why did you think you weren’t asked back?
It wasn’t a matter of not being asked back. It was a contract dispute and it was a misunderstanding between me and the general manager at the time.
It had nothing to do with them thinking that you were “too old” to be on television?
Oh, no, no, no, never. I don’t know where that would have come from. It had nothing to do with my age, as evidenced by the fact that here I am. And if you look around, especially at Channel 5, there are a number of people older than me. No, it was a contractual misunderstanding.
What do you think the public’s response to the news that you were leaving says about your ability to connect to your audience?
I was thrilled, really thrilled, that people were outraged by the fact that this had happened, even, obviously, people who didn’t have all the information. I was very humbled by it, and I felt more than ever that I had a responsibility to viewers to continue to be a solid journalist on whom they could depend.
Because you are a local celebrity, do you feel you have a responsibility to use your status to act as a role model?
I do as much as I can, not only asa role model, but also to help charitable organizations and not-for-profits. I feel very strongly that if somebody can use me in a good way, I want to help. I try to do that in Natick, in Boston, and throughout the state. I do think it’s important.
Why should teenagers watch and, more importantly, care about the news?
I think teenagers need to be aware of what’s going on around them so that they can make smart decisions about their futures. They need to understand things like taxes, what’s expected of them, and their responsibilities in the workplace.
I think that, more than ever, teens need to understand what their place is in society and how decisions are made on a national basis. They need to know the different views and opinions and personalities of elected politicians and know how the process works. And all of those things they can find in newspapers, in television, in radio, as well as, of course, in the classroom.