Sitting on a beanbag on a Saturday evening, watching the steely-eyed TV news assassins detail the inside story of that day's cat show in La Mesa, you might say to yourself, "How the hell did that preppy dork get a job on TV?"
It's a reasonable and fair question, boys and girls, judging by the generic news bunnies and Rotary Club PR dudes manning the news desks. Beyond a zest for makeup, it's fairly unclear what it takes to be a professional TV news journalist in San Diego, the Des Moines of the West.
Fortunately, KFMB-TV is advertising for a weekend anchor, providing some clues on what its news executives believe are the essential ingredients.
"Ability to ad-lib and handle breaking news is a must," the ad says, immediately eliminating any geeky types incapable of the whip-smart banter displayed by Channel 8's TV anchors. A candidate may be able to recite the entire U.S. Constitution backwards, but they're not going to go far on Channel 8 if they're not ready with a quick retort when Matt Baylow says something witty like, "It sure is raining out there."
According to the posting, the "successful candidate" will also be a "talented journalist with a professional look and strong voice and writing skills."
This is, of course, a long way from, "must be an expert on emerging socio-political trends and able to converse on modern economic theories." Heck, it's quite possible that even if the candidate is a wee bit short in the "writing skills" department, they may still have a shot if they've mastered that "professional look."
But the ad makes it clear that not just anybody can boogie in and become a professional TV new journalist. There are basic requirements that must be met. For one, a winning candidate, according to the ad, "must have valid driver's license."
Imagine the hurt and disappointment when a young TV journalist with a professional look and a strong voice reads that last line and realizes that, dammit, once again prejudice against non-drivers has scuttled their dreams.
But to others-primarily those with a valid driver's license-the dream has come true and a magical whirlwind fantasy-like ride has led them to the glamorous and fast-paced world of San Diego TV news.
A review of the bios of San Diego's best and brightest finds that almost all came up through the mean streets of places like Omaha, Topeka, Little Rock and Yuma, molded by the pain and hardship of covering community bake sales and really bad traffic accidents.
KNSD's Lynn Stuart made it to journalism through the classic route, learning her chops in the dog-eat-dog world of beauty pageants. She was Miss San Francisco in her early days and "a second runner-up to Miss California," which must have been a bitter pill to choke down. Her bio also noted that she "served" as Miss Hot Springs, where she "had the opportunity to meet then Governor Bill Clinton," who, no doubt, had some sage advice to share with the budding young journalist.
The resumes of San Diego's TV news demons are dotted with the interviews and press conferences of history, decades of doing live stand-ups from places where stuff happened only hours earlier.
Channel 8 anchor-reporter Dan Shadwell lists as his journalistic highlight an interview with George W. Bush during the presidential election campaign. Face to face with the controversial candidate, the future leader of the free world, Shadwell hit him with the tough question:
"Who would make a sexier running mate, Elizabeth Dole or Alan Greenspan?"
"He answered, "My mother,'" Shadwell proudly recalls in his bio. "I'll just say that was something that'll always stick with me!"
That alone would have been enough to bump Shadwell into Channel 8's primetime news lineup, but his bio also notes that he spent several years in Los Angeles, working as an actor on various commercials, soap operas and primetime shows, "including Diagnosis Murder and Walker, Texas Ranger."
Sure, maybe it's just a wacky coincidence, but many of San Diego's eager young TV news hounds moonlight as actors. The WB's Darlynne Reyes has "landed several acting roles in local TV shows and movies."
Several of San Diego's clear-speaking crew wrestled with their career choices, unsure if they had the right stuff for TV journalism. Fox6's Marc Bailey spent three years as a San Diego cop before going to work for E! and then HBO. His cohort Nancy Aziz has a degree in biology.
At one point in his career, KNSD reporter Steve Walker abandoned his "passion" for TV journalism to spend three years training dolphins for oceanariums. But Walker soon returned to television, parlaying what he learned with the dolphins to land a job as a TV news consultant.
From the bios, it is possible to learn many intriguing details about the hungry news beasts, little nuggets that suggest the type of burning intellect resting below the junior PR associate looks.
KSWB reporter Jill Cogswell reveals that in her spare time, when taking a break from working over her undercover sources in the Cali cocaine cartel, she "enjoys spending time with friends and family, going to movies, and flower arranging."
Her compatriot, sports director Kevin Garcia, who is "currently working on a personal website which highlights several of his fond childhood memories," also enjoys "hanging out with family and friends." This is apparently a sharp contrast to the other members of the KSWB news team, who spend their days avoiding family and friends, except for "meteorologist" Emmett Russell, who "enjoys time with his dog."
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.