Posts Tagged ‘Burton Fitzsimmons’
As my subscribers know because of an inadvertent early post of a rough draft last week, after much consideration your humble proprietor has decided to close down the Listening Post. It’s been fun and I’m happy that some of you liked it and found it worthwhile, but it’s time to move on.
Writing the blog has become too much like a job, an unpaid job at that. To do this blog right means spending way too many hours in research, handling technical problems, developing relationships and writing several posts a week, not to mention watching lots of local TV news. I’ll do that anyway, but I would rather be free to watch what I want, when I want.
One of the reasons I started the blog was my belief that the Austin American-Statesman was not doing a very good job covering Austin TV news. Its media reporter/blogger has his hands more than full covering radio, retail and various and sundry other business and city desk stories. I know times are tough in newspapering, but I hope his editors will give the guy time to do some original reporting and in-depth analysis on the local TV news scene. I haven’t even been trying to compete with the Statesman, but I have consistently beaten them to stories they should have had. That’s no great credit to me, but it should be a concern to the Statesman. I fear it is not.
With that, I thank all of you who have read this blog regularly over the past 17 months and wish you news junkies happy viewing. I’m sure I’ll continue to have some thoughts on the local TV news scene on Twitter, so please follow me @billrr.
Ranking the Newscasts and On-Air Professionals
Before I go, a number of you have asked me from time to time to offer my opinion on Austin’s best newscast, best anchors, reporters, etc. I have refrained from doing so because I felt it would taint various stories I might write. I did not want to appear to be coming down on the side of those I had identified as my favorites or criticizing those I had left off my lists. Now, with no future stories to write and with 2013 upon us, it seems like the appropriate time to do a report card.
These choices are just my personal opinion, based on what I have seen on the air. I have no axes to grind or personal vendettas or anything like that to influence these choices. Almost everyone in Austin TV has treated me wonderfully and I am truly grateful.
For all of you who did not make my lists, I am in no way saying you are bad or that I do not like your work. I simply chose my favorites and in many cases it was a very close call between making the list and just missing.
Judging TV newscasts and TV news talent is a very subjective topic, and I’m sure most of you would choose differently if you put together similar lists. No rights or wrongs here, just differences of opinion. I’ll leave the site up for awhile so that those of you who feel strongly can comment on this post and make your case for why anchor “X” or weatherperson “Y” should have made my list. Please, no obscenities, especially about me.
I based my opinion purely on journalism and on-air performance over the long haul–those I think have the best chances for success in TV news for the foreseeable future.
Best Overall News Coverage
1. KVUE (Tie)
1. KXAN (Tie)
Comment–OK, I punted on the big one. Sorry, couldn’t choose between them.
Best on-set team
1. Tyler Sieswerda, Terri Gruca, Mark Murray, Mike Barnes, KVUE Prime Time
2. Robert Hadlock, Leslie Rhode, Jim Spencer, Roger Wallace, KXAN Prime Time
3. Bryan Mays, Yvonne Nava, Albert Ramon, KVUE Mornings
4. Brian Sanders, Sally Hernandez, Mark Monstrola, Amanda Dugan, KXAN Mornings
5. Greg Kerr, Katherine Kisiel, Keri Bellacosa, Zach Shields, FOX 7 Mornings
Comment–These are the teams that both deliver professional newscasts while also seeming to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They are comfortable with each other and as a result, we are comfortable watching them.
Best Male Anchor
1. Tyler Sieswerda, KVUE Prime Time
2. Robert Hadlock, KXAN Prime Time
3. David Scott, KXAN Weekends
4. Mike Warren, FOX 7 Prime Time
5. Robert Maxwell, KXAN/KNVA Prime Time
Comment—While for me, Sieswerda is the best, KXAN seems to have cornered the market on male anchors. I could have added that station’s Brian Sanders, but I elected to put him on my top up-and-comers list (below) as he begins new duties on the KXAN weekday morning team.
Best Female Anchor
1. Katherine Stolp, KEYE Weekends
2. Sally Hernandez, KXAN Mornings
3. Yvonne Nava, KVUE Mornings
4. Terri Gruca, KVUE Prime Time
5. Leslie Rhode, KXAN Prime Time
6. Shannon Wolfson, KXAN/KNVA Prime Time
Comment–I have ranked three “secondary” anchors ahead of the prime time stars. For me, Stolp, Hernandez and Nava are essentially tied for first. Because of families and ties to Austin, I’m assuming Hernandez, Nava, Gruca and Rhode will be around for awhile, which is good. Wolfson has already announced she will be leaving in March in search of greener pastures and I fully expect Stolp to land a better job in a bigger market at some point, if she chooses. Still, this is her hometown, so we may keep her, too.
1. Jim Spencer, KXAN Prime Time
2. Mark Murray, KVUE Prime Time
3. Scott Fisher, FOX 7 Prime Time
4. Burton Fitzsimmons, YNN Mornings
5. Zach Shields, FOX 7 Mornings
Comment–Spencer and Murray are tied for first in my opinion, and obviously Troy Kimmel would have made it a three-way tie had he remained at KEYE. This is probably Austin’s strongest category and we will be blessed indeed if these gentlemen continue in their roles.
1. Dave Cody, FOX 7
2. Roger Wallace, KXAN
3. Bob Ballou, KEYE
4. Mike Barnes, KVUE
5. Ricky Doyle, YNN
Comment–Again, tough call. Veterans all who seem to love Austin sports. We are the winners.
Best Male Reporter—Non-Regular Anchor
1. Chris Willis, KXAN
2. Chris Sadeghi, KXAN
3. Mark Wiggins, KVUE
4. Rudi Koski, FOX 7
5. Jim Swift, KXAN
6. Shelton Green, KVUE
Comment–For day-to-day, on-the-street coverage of any story, Sadeghi is the best in this market. You can argue that Willis does not belong here since he was a long time anchor and still fills occasionally on the desk, but as KXAN’s chief investigative reporter, he has assumed that role as his main job. He has become the face of KXAN’s branding efforts with frequent on-air promotions. You can also argue that Swift is more a story teller than a regular news reporter, but that’s quibbling. I love his work and it’s my blog.
Best Female Reporter—Non-Anchor
1. Heather Kovar, KVUE
2. Jessica Holloway, KVUE
3. Noelle Newton, FOX 7
4. Erin Cargile, KXAN
5. Jessica Vess, KVUE
6. Karen Kiley, KEYE
Comment–These women all do a good job. Kovar’s experience shows. Holloway has brought a real skill to sensitive interviews.
Up and Comers to Keep an Eye On
1. Brian Sanders, KXAN anchor
2. Mark Monstrola, KXAN meteorologist
3. Angie Beavin, KXAN reporter
4. Amanda Dugan, KXAN traffic
5. Shawn Clynch, KVUE sportscaster
6. Adam Bennett, KEYE reporter
Comment–I guess there’s not too much doubt about which station I think has a bright future.
Fifth and last in a series
While weather is very important at all local news operations, at Time Warner Cable’s Your News Now (YNN) it’s the key branding element in the 24-hour cable station’s arsenal. With “Weather On the 8s” as the major tag line, Chief Meteorologist Burton Fitzsimmons is a very important person at YNN. Does he feel the pressure?
“I feel some pressure because we clearly highlight weather, but at the same time we know that’s why people tune in,” Fitzsimmons said. “From a weather standpoint, we never sleep.”
That’s almost true. On a normal day, at least one of the five YNN meteorologists is on duty from 3:30 a.m., when Fitzsimmons starts the day, until 11 p.m. Eight hour shifts are the norm.
Fitzsimmons was creating computer graphics even while he was in high school and actually began as a computer science major at the University of Texas before switching to radio-television-film for his degree. His skills come in handy now as he begins his workday by creating the weather graphics he will need.
At 5 a.m., he begins taping his first six weathercasts, plus four more exclusively for YNN’s Waco channel, all of which run during the 5-6 a.m. hour. His first live weathercast is often at 6 a.m. if the weather is the newest piece of news available to the producer. The 6:08 weather is live, followed “on the eights” by the taped weathercasts from the 5 a.m. hour. Each taped piece runs three times, unless Fitzsimmons has significant new weather information which warrants him going live at any point.
“Each weathercast has a theme, a highlight,” Fitzsimmons said. “We try to always find a creative way to present the information to our morning viewers who are getting ready for work and school and not really watching as much as listening.”
Fitzsimmons’ early morning duties also include writing weather discussions for the web site, Facebook and Twitter, a forecast for KUT radio, and an audio recording for a radar channel, an automated loop people can access anytime. He completes his shift by taping new forecasts for the remainder of the morning hours.
Like his competitors at the network affiliate stations, Fitzsimmons marvels at the sometimes rapidly changing Central Texas weather.
“The weather here can swing from wonderful to wicked in a matter of hours,” Fitzsimmons said. “Predicting weather is both a science and an art form. I get to do two of my favorite things–play with computers, still help people and even save lives.”
The YNN weathercaster and his colleagues rely on various computer models that are updated throughout the day. With its “always on” format, YNN is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new information. Still, Fitzsimmons says it’s up to the forecaster to choose the information he or she feels is most correct based on experience.
“I have actually found the Farmer’s Almanac to be spot-on this year with its prediction of a cooler and wetter winter for Texas,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons, who joined YNN in 2000, has used his technical background to work with his station’s web team to develop a web site that allows the forecasters to enter all new weather information in one place. The update then shows up on 10 different maps on all platforms and only takes 90 minutes to populate.
Time Warner has also given him a hand in installing systems and training people at some of its other outlets around the country.
“Time Warner has invested a lot in training,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’ve tried to help the weather people in the other markets convert from a broadcast to a cable style of thinking. It doesn’t sound like much but it requires a big change in mentality.”
As chief meteorologist, Fitzsimmons has a supervisory role for the weather team. He says he has kept his early morning shift, despite the hardship of rolling out of bed at 2:30 a.m., because he can set the “tenor and tone” of YNN’s coverage in the morning.
Fitzsimmons has hiring responsibility for new meteorologists, conducting interviews and making recommendations to News Director Michael Pearson for his final decision.
“We train a lot to make sure everyone is completely up to speed,” Fitzsimmons said. “I have a great staff and I wouldn’t be successful without them.”
The staff includes nine year-veteran Rich Segal, Adam Krueger, three years with the station, and Dan Robertson and Mary Wasson who joined last year. All are veterans of both Austin TV and other markets.
In what has become a broken record for this series on Austin’s chief meteorologists, Fitzsimmons praises the work of his competitors at the network affiliates.
“We see each other four-five times a year and they have helped in part in getting me to where I am today,” Fitzsimmons said. “The National Weather Service says we are one of tightest-knit groups of local forecasters in the country in terms of both working with them and in partnering with the community.”
The YNN weather team tries to schedule a remote appearance at least once a week at a school or science-related story.
“School visits are a very rewarding part of my job and we rarely say no,” Fitzsimmons said. “I got interested in this career when a San Antonio TV weather man visited our school.”
Fitzsimmons says some of the best storm chasers in the country live here and he has accompanied them on a successful trip to the Panhandle where he saw tornadoes form right over his head.
“I still talk to the storm chasers here three-four times each week and use their pictures when they live stream back from the scene,” Fitzsimmons said.
The severe weather came a bit too close several months ago when Fitzsimmons, while on duty, tracked wind shear as it moved within 1,300 yards of his East Austin house. He lost his back door, but otherwise escaped serious damage.
Fitzsimmons, who will admit only to an age in the late 30s, grew up on his family’s farm perched on a hill south of San Antonio. From that vantage point, he could watch the weather cycle develop as wispy clouds turned to threatening weather.
“I didn’t have to chase storms, I had a great show all the time,” Fitzsimmons said.
An engineer at KSAT-TV introduced him to the “gadgetry” of TV. At UT, he switched his major from computer science to radio/TV/film after working at the student TV station and realizing how he could use technology in weather and do something with it.
While still in school, he worked at KEYE-TV in master control but convinced weather guys Troy Kimmel, now KEYE’s chief meteorologist, and Dan Robertson, who ironically now works for Fitzsimmons, to give him pointers on doing TV weather. He convinced his news director to let him do the Christmas Day weather in 1998.
“Every day since has been easier than that day,” Fitzsimmons laughed.
Armed with demo tapes, he got a job at KTAL-TV, Shreveport for a year, then learned about a new 24-hour cable operation beginning in Austin. He landed the weekend weather job in 2000, moved on to the morning show two years later and there he remains. He was named chief meteorologist in 2005.
In addition to his UT degree, Fitzsimmons earned a certified broadcast meteorologist certificate from Mississippi State University. He is an active member of the National Weather Association and an associate member of the American Meteorological Society.