March 9, 2008

Always on the air

an interview with…

WSVN-Channel 7

Craig Stevens may be the most recognizable anchorman in South Florida – if for no other reason than he’s on the air more than anyone else, save for his co-anchor Belkys Nerey.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for broadcast majors at South Florida universities to ask their peers and professors, “Are they married?” Because Stevens and Nerey spend more time together than some married couples. They anchor the local Fox newscasts at 5, 6, 10, and 11 p.m., and they also do a couple of three-minute webcasts every weekday.

With that much airtime, other anchors could start to wear on viewers. But Stevens’ easy-going delivery and ageless looks have made him easy on both the eyes and ears for the past seven years in the anchor chair – an eternity in the TV news business.

Most people don’t know that you majored in print journalism. Why’d you do that?

I'd always planned to major in broadcast – that was my expectation from about 10 years old on. That all changed when I was getting ready to declare my major at The American University (in Washington, D.C.).

I was working full-time at NBC News in Washington by then, and several of the old-timers gave me a hard time. In the end, they persuaded me to focus on print – focus on the writing, the analytical thinking, and so on. I'm glad I did it, although I was forced to learn the technical side pretty quickly when I got my first job as a one-man band.

Like you said, early in your career you worked on NBC Nightly News. You also worked at Today and Meet the Press. Biggest difference between there and here?

What struck me first was staffing. At the network, even nowadays in a culture of tight budgets, there are scores of professionals who perform specific tasks. At the local level, there are fewer bodies.

I remember my first day as a reporter at the NBC station in Fort Myers. I asked for my researcher! After they stopped laughing, they explained that they didn't have researchers, field producers, tape librarians, and such. I think the assignment editor joked that I should look in the mirror if I wanted to find him. Large-market stations often have staffing that might rival a network bureau, but generally, that's not the case.

One thing the viewing public don’t know about your job?

What people may not know is that while we may be the “face” of a broadcast, we actually have very little editorial input. I might suggest a story or an angle here and there, but that's the extent of it.

That’s fairly common in local television, and I think it's a mistake. Many of us have several years in our communities – I have 16-years at WSVN, 18 years overall in Florida – and we can offer a perspective that many cannot. There are times where I'd like to put my 20-plus years to good use and help shape our coverage.

Funnest part of your job?

Funniest? Definitely the makeup. After all these years, I now know my way around a makeup counter.

Career highlight?

Enduring weeks of Hurricane Andrew coverage – I've never worked so hard. Reporting "undercover" from Cuba during the migration crisis of 1994. Oh, and my first liveshot from the north lawn of the White House – talk about an adrenaline rush! Still, I'm a young guy, I'd like to think my career highlight is still to come!

Amusing professional gaffe?

In the days after Andrew, like so many of my colleagues here and elsewhere, I was sleep-deprived. I was finishing a live shot on top of a trash heap in South Dade, and while I was talking, I saw a WTVJ-Channel 4 microwave truck drive by. It distracted me enough that when I finally finished my live shot, I urged viewers to join me for more on the "Channel 4 News" instead of Channel 7 News. Needless to say. management wasn't too happy with their rookie from Fort Myers.

Weird dues-paying story?

I'm a big believer in paying dues and have little patience – a character flaw I admit – for folks who don't.
I'm not sure this qualifies as weird, but it certainly put everything in perspective:

It was election night 1988 – my first night working in the newsroom at NBC. I was dressed to the nines ready for anything, when all of a sudden, bureau chief Bob McFarland snapped his fingers, ''Kid – yeah, you, kid – come here.'' My heart started racing. I was sure he had a big task for me. He motioned toward the set where New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman was providing commentary. His task? "Connie Chung will join Rudman in a second. She has a sore throat, find her some tea." Ouch!

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into college students and young professionals?

Start small, make your mistakes, learn from them, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Watch people you respect and learn the craft from them. And above all, don't take shortcuts!