An Interview with Broadcast Journalist, Joe Stoll

by Seán O'Donnell, Contributing Writer
An Interview with Broadcast Journalist, Joe Stoll

Joe Stoll tried both accounting and nursing in college before a fortunate series of events led to the phone call that turned his sights on broadcasting. As a freshman in high school, he had visited WTVG 13, an ABC Television affiliate in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. An engineer he met on the field trip was behind the fateful call: when the affiliate was looking to hire young workers as studio help, the engineer called to gauge his interest in filling one of the positions.

A student at Owens Community College in Toledo at the time, the prospect of hands-on experience at the TV news studio excited Mr. Stoll enough to shift his community college studies to a broadcasting focus and later, a transfer to Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Bowling Green, Ohio. He enrolled in the Bowling Green journalism program, which has a broadcast journalism concentration, and gained additional experience with the campus television news station, BG24. Mr. Stoll also stayed at WTVG, working on the weekends, while working his way up at BG24.

After graduating college, Mr. Stoll continued working at WTVG on the assignment desk until an opportunity arose to work as a reporter and anchor — his true passion. He moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, to work at WTHI, and currently serves as their weekend editor and general assignment reporter.

Mr. Stoll & His Career

What inspired you to go into broadcasting? How long have you known you wanted to do that?

During my freshman year of high school, I had gone on several tours of my favorite television station in Toledo, Ohio, WTVG. One of the engineers there piqued my interest in television news. I was a kid, but I was taken aback by the bright lights and the on-air celebrities. It was like being in Hollywood without leaving my hometown.

After high school, I went to Owens Community College, where I began studying accounting, quickly switching to nursing. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, but everyone kept saying I was young and had plenty of time to decide.

One day, I came home and my mom told me there was an interesting message for me on the answering machine. It was a message from Larry Scott at WTVG telling me they were looking for college-aged workers to do things like running the teleprompter and operating the studio cameras at the station. This was the engineer who I had met during my tour way back my freshman year of high school. He knew about where I lived, and called every “Stoll” in the phonebook until he found me.

I went for an interview at the station, was eventually hired as a broadcast technician and did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work. I scrolled the words that the anchors and reporters read, I operated the four robotic cameras in the studio and the newsroom, setup live remote shots at events so reporters and anchors could go live, and even spent time running master control. That's sort of the heart of the on-air product. It's where all of the commercials play from and all of your favorite television shows get put on the air.

Once I got started working at 13abc, I knew this was what I wanted to do. So, I continued my schooling at Owens Community College, and started taking classes that I knew would transfer to a four-year college, and went from there.

Tell us about your broadcasting career. How is your career unfolding?

Throughout college, I worked as a broadcast technician at WTVG in Toledo. However, as I progressed through college, I realized that I needed to get some news into my background. Yeah, the campus TV station was giving me that, but I was working at a real station, too, and it would be much better if I could get it there with people who are really in the business.

One day, there became an opening for a weekend video editor in the newsroom, so I figured, what the heck, I'll apply for it. I had experience at BG24 editing video together. So, I put together a tape demonstrating my ability to edit video together and submitted it.

I was hired for the position, and trained, when I got some bad news. My boss came to me and told me that there were some money issues, and they would have to send me back to the engineering department. What a bummer for me. I was really looking forward to this job, but there was nothing I could do.

So, back to engineering is where I went. Then, several months later the weekend assignment editor position opened up at the station, so I figured I would apply for it. There was no harm in it. It took a little while, but I finally got an interview. It was the first time I sat down with the news director at the station, and I was definitely nervous. You just know they hold a lot of the power in that newsroom.

Things obviously went well because I got the job. I listened to the police and fire scanners on Saturdays and Sundays and sent reporters and photographer to breaking news scenes. I was responsible for confirming information in the paper with authorities so we could run a similar story in our newscast. You can't just take a story and put it to air like we would in college, rather, you have to make calls and make sure the information in the paper is fair and accurate.

I would also help out with planning for the future. I would file away press releases both into a computer system and then into a file we called the dayfile. It's a cardboard-type file with 31 numbered slots in it. Each number stood for the day of that month.

A few months before I graduated college, the nightside assignment editor position became available. I had proven myself for the past year on the weekends, and this would be my chance at a full-time job with health benefits right before graduation. I grabbed at that offer and took hold of it. I felt like I deserved it.

The pay was great for me. I had never seen that much money before, so it was perfect for me, but I'm sure it wasn't enough for some people. I then began working Monday – Friday, 2:30pm to 11:45pm.

I would arrive and get a day summary from the dayside assignment editor of what still needed to be confirmed for the producers before air time. Usually it was just a few patient conditions at the hospitals or get updates on people in court. Then, at 3:00 p.m. or so, we would have our afternoon editorial meeting in the news director's office, which was an office inside the newsroom itself.

Typically, the assignment editor leads the meeting, but sometimes the news director or the producer or the assistant news director would lead the meeting. We would go over the events that were taking place that night that we may want to cover, and we would talk about things that are being talked about in the community. Basically, what's the talker tonight in Toledo?

After the meeting, I went back into the newsroom and listened for breaking news on the scanner, things like shootings, stabbings, fires, etc. At the same time, I would answer the phone that seemed to never stop ringing, and get those last minute tidbits of information confirmed before the news started.

Then, I would watch the others stations' newscasts to make sure they didn't have stories we didn't have. If they did, I would jot down the information and work on confirming it for us.

After the show, I would take my lunch break for an hour. If breaking news happened, I obviously couldn't leave. Then, I would make my beat calls throughout the night. This is where we would call all of the different police stations around our viewing area to see if anything was going on. It was something we had to do every two to three hours to make sure we weren't missing something going on in the area. Before I knew it, the night would be over.

A year later, I was promoted again to the dayside assignment editor position. Dayside assignment desk was difficult. I would start my shift at 7:00 a.m. and get the day started. I would then have to lead the morning meeting at 9:30 a.m. There were many more reporters and photographers to assign and keep track of compared to nightside.

However, they held to their end of the deal and let me occasionally fill-in report. It was a dream come true for me.

Then, several months later, the opportunity to leave came right to my desk. A candidate for a reporter position at the station came over to talk to me about the station. I told her my thoughts and then we got to talking about her job. She was visiting from Terre Haute, Indiana, where she was the weekend anchor and reporter.

After she left, we kept in touch through email. Then, we talked about me sending a tape to her news director, just in case something happened. Turns out, she got the job in Toledo, and her news director was impressed with my tape and called me to come for an interview.

I made the drive to Terre Haute on a weekend so nobody at work would know anything was up. The news director and I had breakfast and talked about news in general terms and what the station had to offer. He then took me to the station where we watched over my tape and talked about what he liked.

I remember having a not-so-happy feeling about it all. One, it would be a huge move for me, and two, I really didn't want to leave the station I was at. I had been there for nearly five years, and it was hard to imagine just walking away.

A few days later, I got the offer for the weekend anchor and reporter position at WTHI. It took me a few days to weigh my options, but in the end, I took it. I knew this was something I had to do. I wasn't going to get a reporter job in Toledo anytime soon, so why not go where I can get it now, and the anchoring part was definitely the icing on the cake.

I've been at WTHI now since March 2007, and I am enjoying every aspect of the job. It's a much different city than I'm used to, but I'm slowly finding new things to keep me busy.

Any anecdotes about life in broadcasting?

One time, a producer told me they needed some video of a particular restaurant because of some new liquor permit they were being required to get. She gave me the address and I figured I would walk there, rather than going way out to where my car was parked.

I kept walking and walking and walking. It was much farther than I had anticipated. It was in the upper 60s, and I was wearing a pretty heavy coat and long pants. When I finally made it back, my shirt was soaked with sweat, and my face was beet red. It's a story I don't live down to this day when I talk with some old schoolmates.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

I'm still not sure what it is that I want to do with my career. It tends to change from week to week. Sometimes I feel like I want to work at a network and have my own news show; other times, I just want to be at a local affiliate in my hometown. It's still something that I'm trying to figure out as a first-time anchor/reporter.

Education Information & Insights

How did you choose which school to go?

For me financially, the only two options for a four-year college were either the University of Toledo or Bowling Green State University.

Many people I worked with at 13abc said great things about their experience at BGSU. They had a real television station where I could get the reporting experience I so badly wanted. My mom and I went to their President's Day Open House, saw what they had to offer, and I fell in love. It was almost like something was calling me there. It had the comforts of home and it wasn't that far from home. It was far enough away that I couldn't commute, but close enough that I could come home on the weekends. Best part, I could keep my job on the weekends at 13abc.

What factors should prospective broadcasting students consider when choosing a school?

When it comes to picking a school, I think a lot of students look for that cool college or the one that all of their friends are going to. I don't feel I was well-equipped with the knowledge of what the whole college experience was going to be like. If I could take what I know now about college, I would definitely do some things all over again, but I wouldn't pick a new school.

I think you have to be very comfortable with your surroundings. If you don't feel at home, then I don't see it being the best possible experience. Don't just pick a college because you've heard about all the parties or because all of your friends are going there. These four years have to be about you. This is the time in your life where you're becoming the professional person you'll be. You'll meet so many new people and be so busy that you'll almost forget that you're even away from home. It's a weird feeling to describe.

Broadcast students need to pay close attention to schools that are going to give them that hands-on experience they desperately need. It's crucial to get started as soon as possible learning how the whole TV newsroom operates. Take advantage of as many internships as you can. If it means going to New York, then so be it. Don't ever settle for less when it comes to your education. You have to dream big in order to succeed. If you keep that in mind, I think you can make some of the best choices in life.

Describe the "hands-on" phases of your broadcast education.

While at BGSU, I became an active member of BG24 News, the campus television news station. It's completely student-run, but there are advisers who watch over the organization to make sure it runs smoothly.

I started off as a photographer and an editor. I would lug around an old VHS camera and tripod and head off to some event the producer wanted for the show. I would shoot video of the event, and get interviews if necessary, then bring the raw tape back so the producer could look over it and see what information and video they wanted for their newscast.

Then, I started doing the weather. I would create my weather maps and give the weather in front of the blue-key wall in the studio. That was my first on-air experience, and I was definitely nervous. My fellow classmates would make fun of me because of one of my teases. I was doing the weather live outside one day, and I said, “Live weather in the weather is next…” I thought it was clever, but everyone else seemed to think not.

Eventually, I worked my way up to producing. That's the person who comes in first thing in the morning and ‘stacks the show,' as they say. They put in the stories that will be part of the newscast that night, then they have to write them and assign which anchor will read them. It's a difficult job because you're trying to be creative, while at the same time reasonable with the resources you have. You have to assign reporters a story to put together, you have to send photographers out to shoot video for your show, you have to tell editors what video you want cut and pieced together for the show, and you have to remember to go to class during the day. It was very easy to get so into your show that you would lose track of the time.

Then I worked my way up to reporting and anchoring. This was a special privilege to me. It was what I had always wanted to do, and now I was doing it. During my senior year, I became the news director of BG24 News. I kept up the organization of the newsroom. I would make the schedules of when members would work. Also, I organized training sessions so everyone would have an equal chance of enhancing their news skills. It took a lot of extra time being the news director. At times, you would butt heads with other executive board members because they didn't agree with your ideas. It was definitely a chance to learn how to come together as a team and keep something going. It's something I'm proud of myself for doing.

I met some of my best friends during my time at BG24 News. A number of us held jobs in real television stations in Toledo outside of school. We juggled a lot of different tasks every day. Allison Brown, who is a dear friend of mine, and is a reporter at WUPW Fox Toledo News once described BG24 News like this, and I must say it's well-put: “A lot of people in college join a fraternity or a sorority. BG24 News was my fraternity or sorority.”

BG24 News was broadcast on cable, and we all knew nearly nobody watched, but we still took it seriously. I know I got jitters just before going live. They had the bright lights and the cool anchor desk and it felt real, therefore, why wouldn't you have real nervous feelings? I think if you don't get nervous, you're either fibbing or there's something seriously wrong with you.

It also gave me the chance to put together that first resume tape. It's hard to explain to people in the ‘real' world that I don't just have to send a prospective employer a resume. I also have to send along a VHS tape or DVD nowadays of what kind of person I am on-air. So, it definitely gave me the chance to build that.

In retrospect, what do you know now, that you wish you knew before you began to pursue your education?

I wish I had known how competitive of a field broadcast journalism is before I had gone to college. Honestly, I wasn't prepared to be competing against fellow classmates and now against fellow co-workers. It's a job where you have to worry about yourself.

Broadcasting Information, Trends & Advice

Describe a typical day of work for you. What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities? On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?

I'm definitely living a dream right now. I probably have one of the coolest jobs in the TV news business. I'm a reporter three days a week, and then I'm an anchor on the weekends. I get the best of both worlds. I'm not doing the same thing five days a week. Although, in this business, you're never really doing the same thing. There are different stories happening every minute of every day.

When I'm reporting, I come into the station with story ideas for our morning meeting. Every newsroom has a morning editorial meeting with the news staff. They go over story ideas, events that need to be covered, court proceedings that are happening that day and whatever else is just plain going on that people at home would care about.

During the meeting, I'm assigned a story to go out and cover. After the meeting, I go to my desk and make the necessary calls to line up interviews for my story. Then, I head out with a photographer and we do the interviews and shoot extra video for the rest of the story. It's a complicated process.

Then, I come back to the station, go over the material we shot in the field and decide what I'm going to use in order to tell an effective story that people at home are going to care about. I look for emotional parts of the interviews or words and phrases that stand out. Then, I write my story and insert interviews into the story.

Then, it's up to the photographer and me to work together in putting the final product together. It's like a puzzle. There are many different pieces, and they all have to fit together just so to make a story that the viewer will remember and possibly learn something.

As an anchor, I come in and read over the stories that I'm going to be reading in the show and make changes to make it more conversational.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

Being a reporter has many perks. The obvious, people recognize you in the community. Also, reporters get to go places and do things that the normal person can't. I love being able to do that and then being able to bring that experience to the public. I'm your eyes and ears in the field. For example, we get to go to a lot of house fires. Yeah, you can drive there if you want, but if it's too far away or too late at night, I can be there for you and tell you what's going on. I tell you what I'm seeing as I see it and what I'm hearing as I hear it. It's an amazing job.

What are some drawbacks about your job?

Every job has its downside and mine is no exception. I have strict deadlines as a reporter. I can't go and do part of a story today and say we'll finish it tomorrow. It doesn't work like that. We go out on a story, and it has to be put on the air that day. Obviously, there are some exceptions during ratings periods when we're working on special segments. There's an overused phrase for journalists, but it's true, and that is, “This is not a job; rather, it's a lifestyle.” You have to always be on-call so to speak. I'm constantly looking for stories going on. It's a never-ending job. I don't come in at 9:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00 p.m. Some days I come in at 8:00 a.m. and work until 10:00 p.m., and other days I work my regular shift.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Anchoring is a lot like acting. You have to be happy for some stories, yet be able to naturally switch into sad mode for the following story. It can be a difficult task to try and do.

In Closing

What are some of the top challenges facing broadcast journalists over the next decade?

There are definitely going to be some challenges for broadcast journalists in the coming years. More stations are going to be combining and jobs are going to become more cut-throat than they already are. I'm sure pay is going to continue to go down, but you have to love what you're doing and that makes up for it.

Editor's Note: Iyou would like to follow-up with Joe Stoll personally about this interview, click here.

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