The Anchor Women
Four journalists discuss life behind the news desk.
Flip around your tv dial, and you’re more than likely to see Julie Haener, Jessica Aguirre, Ann Notarangelo, and Diane Dwyer on channels 2, 3, 5, and 11. But rarely will you find all four women in the same room—unless you attended Diablo’s recent roundtable interview.
“This is fun because we never get to see each other,” said Haener, KTVU-2’s Emmy award–winning anchor, as she reminisced with Aguirre about their days chasing stories in the field for fiercely competitive stations, before they both became weeknight anchors.
Notarangelo, a reporter and weekend anchor for KPIX-5, is the group’s only East Bay native—although Dwyer grew up on the Peninsula before attending Cal—but all four women now live in the suburban neighborhoods around Mount Diablo.
Diablo got the group together to talk about the state of the news business, where news is headed, and how these dynamic East Bay moms balance family life with their high-profile jobs.
"I was on air for the first live shot in Butte, Montana, TV history. It was a story about the first overhead traffic light in Butte, which happened to be right outside the TV station. We were able to connect enough cables to drag one outside and get the shot."
On Air: NBC BAY AREA.
Lives in: Orinda.
Career Path: Butte, Montana, to Chico, to KTVU-2 in Oakland, to NBC Bay Area in San Jose.
"I was so eager to land that first TV job in Yakima, I worked three months for free while living in a tiny studio apartment above the station."
On Air: KTVU-2.
Lives in: Danville.
Career Path: Yakima, Washington, to Fresno, to Seattle, to ktvu-2 in Oakland.
"After graduating college, I was hired as a reporter at a Univision station in Miami. After a year, I got a call from a CBS affiliate, asking, “Can you speak English?” I said, “Aren’t we speaking English right now?"
On Air: NBC BAY AREA.
Lives in: Pleasanton.
Career Path: Miami, to Los Angeles, to KGOTV/ABC-7 in San Francisco, to NBC BAY AREA in San Jose.
"When I was in the fourth grade, I heard that Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. I thought that sounded so cool, that a job required a sense of trust. From that point on, I wanted to be a journalist."
On Air: KPIX-5/KBCW.
Lives in: Concord.
Career Path: Washington, D.C., to Flint, Michigan, to Fresno, to KPIX-5/KPCW in San Francisco.
DIABLO: There are 103 years of news reporting experience between the four of you. Why is that an asset to you and your viewers?
Ann Notarangelo: When there is breaking news, and you know the area and the region, its history, or an incident that may be similar to the story—that is invaluable. Schools are notorious; they don’t want to talk to reporters. But we’ve all covered Contra Costa County long enough that if we show up, they go, “Oh, it’s Ann, or Diane, or Julie.”
Julie Haener: You also form a connection with people; they learn to trust you. You can shed light on the changes you have seen in the area. People like to know that you know the neighborhoods and the area that you are covering.
Diane Dwyer: When the Asiana plane crashed [on July 6, 2013], Jessica Aguirre and I were in the newsroom. We got information that there were 70 people unaccounted for, which made us think that there were still 70 people on that plane.
Well, I have the number of the San Mateo coroner in my cell phone, and I have known him since 1990. I called him up, and he answered his cell phone—while he was standing on the tarmac. He explained, “Those may be unaccounted for, but we have cleared the plane, and there are no other bodies on the plane.”
So we were able to get that information out very quickly: “There are still 70 people unaccounted for, but they are not terribly concerned that those people have died.”
Jessica Aguirre: [Because we have covered so many breaking stories,] we can see how events are going to unfold as we are covering a story. As we are explaining this information to the public, there is great value to that experience. We are leading the viewers through a process that we understand, which is more important than ever in this age of immediacy.
Q: The media is changing dramatically. Let’s talk about what it was like when you were starting out and how it has changed.
Aguirre: We used stone tablets. [Laughs.]
Dwyer: We used carbon paper and typewriters, and we ripped information from the wires. The amount of access we have now, with Google and everything else—I almost can’t remember how we gathered the information to the level we did.
Haener: The evening news crew used to only work on the the 10 O’Clock News. Now, it’s multiple newscasts as well as other mediums. We’re being pushed to do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and not just when you’re at the station on your shift. It’s 24/7.
Aguirre: The one thing that has not changed—and will not change—is that a good story is still a good story. It’s about people; it’s about something that is impacting their lives; and it’s about something that has meaning to the greater community. Those elements have not changed, even if the bells and whistles changed.
Dwyer: And you still need human beings to tell the story.
Aguirre: Thank God!
Q: You each have two children. How is their media use different than yours was growing up?
Notarangelo: My kids are in kindergarten and second grade, and they already make their own videos.
Haener: They’re so good on computers, just through osmosis. I’m asking my kids technology questions every day: How did you do that? Where did you find that app? Can you show me how it works?
Aguirre: One issue I have with my kids is that if something happens, and they don’t take a picture and post it on Instagram the moment it happens, it seems like it didn’t really happen. I keep telling them to experience real life and not just photograph it.
Q: Will your kids have local news anchors when they grow up?
Notarangelo: Ten years from now, if my kids want to get into the news business, it won’t have changed that much. You need to read, read, read, and write, write, write, and be a good storyteller. You need to be curious.
Dwyer: There are still going to have to be people to tell the stories. Now, is it all going to be through a computer, where you choose the stories that go first, second, or third? Maybe. But I also think there is value sometimes in having someone else tell you what the most important story is, not just what you are interested in.
I had [former San Francisco Chronicle Executive Editor] Phil Bronstein speak in my [media consulting] class two years ago, and he said, “Ten years ago, I predicted that all news would be online by now, and it isn’t. We really haven’t changed all that much.”
Q: How have cable TV and the Internet changed your business?
Notarangelo: When I started in the news business, I was never asked my opinion on an issue because it was assumed that I was objective. I still, to this day, do not give my opinion. But these days, I get asked that all the time: “What do you think? Who do you believe? Who is telling the truth?”
I do think people tend to tune into the TV programs and networks and Facebook and Twitter based upon their own convictions—because that is what has become fact. We have gotten away from listening to opposing views.
Aguirre: This is something that Diane and I are always reaffirming to the younger reporters and producers in our newsroom. Just because someone told you something doesn’t make it true. You need to go search for the truth. Just because I tell you the sky is green doesn’t mean it’s green.
Dwyer: One of my biggest complaints on that front is where news did not understand what unbiased reporting was. [Reporters thought] unbiased was, “Republicans say the building collapsed, and the Democrats say it’s still standing. Back to you.” That is not unbiased. You need to go outside and see if it collapsed or if it is still standing.
That concept of repeating lies on both sides because that’s the easiest way to do it, instead of saying, “No, they are actually telling you something that’s a lie.” Reporters get skittish about that because they think they are showing bias, when they are ferreting out fact from fiction, which is a huge problem.
I think it’s getting better. I hate to say it, but I credit Jon Stewart for some of that. He has been the most aggressive about putting clips of politicians back-to-back, showing them saying opposite things. It is funny, but as a newsperson, you say, “Holy cow, we need to hold these people accountable.”
Q: There used to be just one evening newscast, and you spent all day reporting for that. Now, you have two or three newscasts per night, plus round the clock web coverage. Does that constant output of content affect the accuracy of reporting?
Haener: There is more news to cover but fewer people to do the work. So that presents another challenge. You’re turning out more content, and there’s more chance for human error.
I’ve found that the audience can be pretty forgiving. I’m never going to say I’m perfect, but you always need to be honest. If we make a mistake, we fess up and say we made a mistake.
Aguirre: Viewers have so much more access to you now; they call you on mistakes all the time. You can report something at the desk, and in the next 30 seconds, you’re getting an e-mail. Or they’re tweeting it out. Or sending you a message that says that your hair is a mess.
If you make a mistake, the best thing to do is say, “Yeah, I made a mistake.” Or “Yeah, I am having a really bad hair day.” And they’ll say, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Julie mentioned something important about more content and less time. I used to feel like we were on a fast train to put the news together each evening, but now it feels like we are on a bullet train—and there are no stops.
Q: Is that exciting or terrifying?
Dwyer: As technology is evolving, this is all changing so fast. You asked us where news will be in 10 years: That’s what we would like to know. If we had it figured out, the four of us would be running one terrific news station. No one has figured out where we will be in 10 years.
Q: Let’s shift to a lighter topic. I found a blog about reporters dedicated to “the appreciation of booted newswomen.”
Aguirre: Is this women wearing boots, or women who have been fired? [Laughs.]
Q: It’s a national website that posts photos of newscasters who wear boots. Two of you—Jessica Aguirre and Julie Haener—are featured on the site. It made me wonder, what are some of the more unusual ways that your viewers interact with you?
Aguirre: I forget that people recognize me. I wander around Costco in my slippers, and they will wave at me, and I’m waving back, thinking that I know them. I try to be in the moment with my family, with my kids. I don’t think about being Jessica Aguirre who is on TV. I was just at Disneyland, and someone came up and said hello.
Haener [to the group]: What is the strangest place that people have recognized you?
Aguirre: I was in Italy.
Haener: I was in Greece, and someone said, “Channel 2! We’re from Marin!” It’s always nice; you want to make sure they know you appreciate that. People really feel like they know us.
Aguirre: They do know us. Those days where you’re not allowed to be yourself on TV do not exist. When we first started in the business, we all had to be super serious and wear power suits. But the news business has evolved to a place where the nature of the work and the quality of the work are not dependent on whether you are wearing shoulder pads. We’re all
seasoned journalists, and we know how to tell a story. We’re allowed to be who we are, and people have a sense of who we are.
Q: What do you keep under the news desk that we don’t see on TV?
Haener: I always have my Starbucks cup full of ice water.
Notarangelo: I have my glasses. I need them to read anything besides the teleprompter.
Dwyer: I have my Uggs on; I’m wearing sweatpants; and I have an electric blanket. But I wear a nice top.
Aguirre: I wear shoes at 6 p.m. and bedroom slippers at 11.
Q: Finally, each of you has taken a different path to the Bay Area. Describe why you have anchored your careers and families here in the East Bay.
Dwyer: I grew up here, and all six of my brothers and sisters grew up here. I have a relative in every county in the Bay Area. They hold me accountable.
Haener: I just love living in the Bay Area. It’s such a culturally diverse area. I love living in the East Bay and raising my family here because of all the open space, Mount Diablo, and the parks. I feel like I have space around me, and I can breathe.
Aguirre: I worked in Los Angeles and Miami before this, and for me, the Bay Area is such a great news market. Miami was gritty and had a lot of international news, and the news had a focus on crime. Los Angeles was very entertainment and Hollywood focused. What I like about being an anchor and reporter here is that people take their news seriously and expect a level of professionalism from you.
Notarangelo: I was nine years old, watching Channel 5, and delivering the Contra Costa Times, when I decided I wanted to be a television reporter. That was my focus from nine until now. I always wanted to be on Channel 5 because that was Walter Cronkite and Dave McElhatton’s station.
The news is personal to me. I recently did a story about a classmate of mine died from the flu. Her brothers knew that we had been friends in high school, and they asked me to tell her story. I get to cover things that are important to me, things that have history. This is where I want to raise my family. My mom is still here, and she gets to watch TV and tell me if I’m doing a good job.