Heidi Wigdahl is an MMJ with KARE 11, an NBC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul. What is an MMJ and what does her day look like? She’s here to answer those questions and more.
1.Tell us about your background in television news and the reason(s) you wanted to get into journalism.
I studied journalism at DePaul University and did several internships before landing my first job at KTTC in Rochester, Minnesota. I spent two years there before working at WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee and then came to KARE 11 nearly five years ago. I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was in high school. I was working on a project covering the lack of funding for our school’s orchestra program and through that experience, I saw how local reporting can make a difference.
2.You are an MMJ at KARE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Can you please explain what an MMJ is and what your responsibilities are on a day-to-day basis?
MMJ stands for multimedia journalist. It basically means I shoot, write and edit my own stories. I still have opportunities to work with photojournalists but I spend a lot of time out in the field solo. On top of shooting, writing and editing, I have to post to social media and write a web script for my story.
3.What is your schedule like on a typical day (although I realize there is no typical day when it comes to working in a newsroom)?
I start off my day pitching stories in the morning meeting. I then make calls, set up interviews and go out and shoot my story. I usually try to budget at least an hour for filming but some days I have to make multiple stops. Back to the station I log my interviews, write and edit the story. If my story airs at 5, I try to be back no later than 2. Sometimes I will front my story or shoot a standup. When I’m live, the workflow is way different. It usually means I need to be done an hour earlier than normal. After my story airs, I will write my web script and send a shorter version for the morning show.
4.How do you fit all of it in on a daily basis (story ideas, arranging interviews/producing/shooting/interviewing/editing/fronting the story-live shots)? Do you have a favorite part of this story process?
I am still trying to figure out how to fit it all in! Some days I don’t have time to eat (still working on getting better at packing lunches). I give myself mini deadlines and back time my day. It’s challenging to set up stories/interviews because usually we don’t know what we’re doing until the day of. It’s rare that I’m able to set up a story the night before. There are a lot of parts of the story process I love… mostly the shooting, writing and editing. My favorite days are when I get to work on my franchise, Behind the Business. Those stories are set up ahead of time so I’m able to just enjoy the storytelling process without worrying about interviews falling through or getting taken off a story because of breaking news.
5.Where do most of your story ideas come from for your daily assignments? Do you receive many story pitches from public relations people?
I get a lot of story ideas from Facebook neighborhood groups, Twitter, local newspapers and also national news that can be localized. I do receive quite a few story pitches from public relations people.
6. If you do receive pitches from public relations people, what’s included in the pitches that make you take notice and either decide to cover them or keep them for another day to cover? On the flip side, is there a story pitch that stands out as particularly bad (without naming names)? What was it about the pitch that made it stand out for negative reasons?
I definitely notice timely pitches. For example, if I’m trying to localize a national story and someone reaches out with an available expert. I also notice pitches with great personal stories. It’s nice when a public relations person has an understanding of stories I’ve covered in the past. Because I have a segment dedicated to highlighting local businesses, I will definitely notice those pitches more. On the flip side, I usually am not interested in a story if I find out it’s been sent out to multiple people (either in my newsroom or competitors). I understand why people want to cast such a wide net but it usually means that story will be seen on multiple outlets. Some pitches are also too long. I receive so many emails every day and don’t have a lot of down time to be reading pitches.
7.If you could tell public relations people something about your job or how to interact with you, what would it be?
If you pitch a story, let the people involved in that pitch know how TV works (quick turnaround) and get their availability so we know going into the morning meeting if it’ll even be possible that day. When we’re out shooting a story, give us space. I’ve had PR people shadow me so closely that I’ve missed out on some of the best video or sound because of it.
8. What’s one your favorite stories that you’ve produced and covered? Why?
When it was super cold one winter, I did a story on neighbors in northeast Minneapolis who were freezing their pants and putting them out in their front yard (like a sculpture). The story was hilarious and had a lot of heart. The Today Show also picked it up. The best stories I’ve done focus on people and the community.
9.If you’re trying to set up an interview for your story and you’re having a difficult time convincing a source to do an interview, how do you encourage them to do an on-camera interview?
If it’s a sensitive subject and they say no, I will respect that. I’ll usually give them my business card and encourage them to reach out if they change their mind. When it’s not a situation like that, I will try to explain to them the process. I think a lot of people get intimidated by the idea of going on TV because they think it’s going to be a ton of lights, cameras and crew. I explain to them that it’ll just be me and that it’s not live and usually people are relieved and more than willing to then do the interview.
10.If you could give people that you interview any tips, what would they be?
Don’t practice what you’re going to say. I get people want to be prepared but it then comes across that way… scripted. I always tell people we’re just having a conversation. My questions will guide it but really, I give the people I interview a lot of chances to mention anything I may have missed.
11.Anything else you’d like to add?
Always think of visuals. I’m always looking for stories that avoid the talking head sitting in a sterile office.
Follow Heidi Wigdahl on Twitter @heidiWigdahl or on Facebook at Heidi Wigdahl.