Awards & Events

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Veteran Reporter Stands Up for Press at Women’s Event

March 28, 2017

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Veteran WFMJ reporter Michelle Nicks believes viewers trusted TV news more before social media radically transformed how journalism – or what portends to be journalism – is transmitted.

Nicks addressed 50 female business, political and community leaders this morning at Powers Auditorium as part of Mayor John McNally’s annual Women’s Breakfast, an event he began three years ago to commemorate Women’s History Month.

Peppering her talk with humor, Nicks began by observing how much broadcasting has changed since Channel 21 hired her in 1995, “and how many doors have opened for women.”

Studio cameras are now robotic – no more humans; live broadcast trucks are now backpacks “that can get a live shot back from anywhere” – no more signals blocked by trees in the antenna’s line of sight. And now when she arrives at the scene of breaking news story – a fatal car accident or police standoff, for instance – she’s expected to immediately broadcast live on Facebook even if she has few facts to offer.

“I was raised that it’s better to get it right than get the news first but unfortunately, that’s not always the way it is today. In this web generation, it’s faster, faster, faster,” she said.

As the news business and professional journalists make the transition to this age of instant social media, they compete with everyone else who’s posting his reportage – and fake news – on Facebook and Twitter.

“People have a difficult time sorting our what’s fact and what’s fiction,” Nicks said. “It’s a very dangerous thing.”

And as more news consumers turn to social media to get all of their news, broadcasters are still sorting out how to handle the immediacy of Facebook and Twitter – as well as the competitive and ethical challenges.

“It’s all new to us,” she said.

Nicks told how she was broadcasting live on Facebook Jan. 25 shortly after three people were killed in a two-vehicle crash on Youngstown-Hubbard Road. The owner of one of the vehicles saw her report on Facebook, rushed to the scene and screamed over and over: “I never should have let him leave the house.”

“It was heartbreaking,” Nicks said. “That weighs heavy on me sometimes.”

Nicks ended her talk by reiterating there are more opportunities for women in journalism today but female reporters – and anchors – do not receive more respect. She cited Donald Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly following a Fox News debate during the Republican primary, and how she personally hears more comments from viewers about her hair and clothes than the stories she covers.

“Sometimes it hurts but we handle it because we have a job to do,” she said.

One woman in the audience, 7th District Appeals Court Judge Mary DiGennaro, asked, “How can consumers of news support your cause, your work?”

Nicks paused then repeated her belief in journalism’s integrity.

That led to another reporter in the audience affirming the dedication of journalists to do their best to be fair and decrying President Trump’s  assertion  that reporters are “the enemy of the people.”

Mayor McNally agreed.

“From my perspective, all reporters want to do is their job. Sometimes they ask you difficult questions but that’s their job,” he said.

“Our media in this area does a great job and from what I can see, what the president said about the media is completely false.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.