'Stardom 101': Some Coaching for News Peeps from Acclaimed TV Producer/Agent John Ferriter (& Commentary from Famed Anchorwoman Courtney Friel)

I would have failed as a journalism major in the 90’s. And I’m not sure I could even meet the pre-requisites to enroll in a collegiate journalism program today, should there be any prior coursework required.

I can’t stay current with broadcast news or print media, forget maintaining a grasp of where it all comes from. Today’s news consumer can choose from so many options. From mainstream outlets to “biased” sources and among fake or real news depending on just how entertained or depressed one wants to be.

We can choose from among seemingly infinite offerings of digital media webcasts and traditional print media to radio and televised broadcasts. Regardless, by the time one chooses the source and medium, the volume of news has multiplied immeasurably.

To further complicate, today’s news consumer can choose from traditional mainstream newspapers and newsmagazines to “legacy-native” digital news (news sourced from “traditional” radio or television broadcasts. If that’s not enough, consumers can choose from a countless number of cable and satellite sources or from digital-native news, that originates from ‘cyber’ media.

But still, the most demanding news consumer may prefers news curated and delivered by professional journalists (e.g., TV correspondents/reporters and anchors) via telecasts. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio in the 70’s and 80’s, I had basically three options to choose from following network affiliate newscasts— Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and the late Peter Jennings.

For millennials, such a paucity of options could be underwhelming. The structure, formatting and dissemination of news content across the television media landscape back then was so limited, younger generations would consider it cruel and unusual punishment.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study indicates that dating back a decade or so, telecasts were actually more variable across the networks and their local affiliates, as well as for cable news outlets.

More recently, the format and structure of the way content is covered has returned with quite a bit of commonality across networks and their local stations. According to Pew, the three traditional rival networks (i.e. ABC, NBC, and CBS) now produce a comparable proportion of interviews, packaged piece segments and live coverage.

Whether you are a fan of pundits, commentators or other news personalities, people are increasingly more interested in who is delivering the news as much as the content of news itself. And this may explain the discrepancy in compensation for TV anchors and reporters, meteorologists, commentators and personalities across the telecasting landscape.

Although, some people think that TV journalists making a transition from networks back to network affiliates stations are taking demotions, KTLA anchor Courtney Friel said, “People assume you're demoted if you leave network [news] to go back to local [news] and that's not always the case.”  

Friel said, “LA is a great market to work in because there is a lot of variety---You can be reporting [from] the desert, in the snow [from] the mountains, or at the beach!”   Can you argue with her?  

While it is impolite to ask anyone about wages, in larger markets, news anchors, if anything, outshine news directors when comes to compensation, according to this July 2017 Radio Television Digital News Association’s Salary Survey.

Friel joined Fox News Channel in 2007 where she was a New York City-based correspondent and anchor (headline), as well as a ‘fill-in’ host for Fox & Friends.

She launched an illustrious career beginning as a student reporter for Channel One News. After working as a Fox newscaster and contributing to Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld, she returned to the West Coast where she had spent her college years and joined the Fox affiliate. She currently anchors the news for KTLA.

Whether or not it is preferred to be a “bigger fish in a smaller pond’ or a “smaller fish in a bigger pond” is somewhat difficult to ascertain. There is no formula. While some “ponds” may superficially seem small viewerships for urban centers like Los Angeles are probably much more comparable to national markets than they are to other local markets. Friel also alluded to cultural and political differences between networks and affiliate industries.

I reached out to my friend John Ferriter, an expert in the wide arena of on-camera talent. The former EVP and board member of William Morris Endeavor was Worldwide Head of WME’s Non-Scripted television division and went on to become Managing Director of Octagon Entertainment, a division of Interpublic Group. He’s also an accomplished musician performing as a member of the Tearaways.

Currently, Ferriter is Chairman and CEO of The Alternative. As a Hollywood agent, he has represented local and national/syndicated cable news anchors, program hosts and personalities. His clients include Piers Morgan who was selected to replace Larry King at CNN and Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell.

He also packaged and helped build the careers of Ryan SeacrestCarson DalyJimmy KimmelAdam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky, making all of them internationally celebrated television personalities.

The Alternative
The Alternative

Interview with John Ferriter:

Jordan Schaul: Is it more influential to hold a news position as a ‘big fish in a smaller pond or a smaller fish in a bigger pond?” Can you be a big fish in a big pond in a local or regional market?

John Ferriter: “You can be either. Whether you are in a small or large market or are ‘National’, the key is to be seen as credible and to have gravitas. I have found that over time, it’s also important to work in the place that provides the most stability for your family. That being said, if you really want to be a news star you want the widest reach you can possibly get.

Jordan Schaul: What essentially makes a burgeoning or established TV journalist a celebrated TV personality? Do TV journalists just deliver the news or do they really make the news while delivering it?

John Ferriter: To be successful as a television journalist, one has to have likability, credibility and gravitas. It helps to have all of those traits simultaneously. Anchors are paid more than reporters and correspondents and are always treated better. Hence, everyone wants to anchor.

Jordan Schaul: Is there any rough metric that indicates that someone has been elevated from news reporter and/or news anchor to TV personality? When does a news personality brand really take on celebrity status?

John Ferriter: There are different types and levels of celebrity status. Newscasters in Chicago are huge celebs. Most local anchors and reporters are celebrities in their markets. When you do news in Los Angeles you are competing against the Hollywood star system.

Courtney Friel has worked locally, nationally, in ‘entertainment’ and in hard news. I am proud of how she has advanced her career through hard work, persistence and dedication and has fought the “blonde” stereotypes to prove she is a smart, tenacious journalist who is also well liked.

Jordan Schaul: Do you agree with my sentiment that once you reach recognized ‘on- camera celebrity’ at a network that you really can take your celebrity anywhere in this era, particularly when social media outlets can sustain wide growing reputations in a worldwide market?

John Ferriter: I think this is on a case by case basis. Yes, you have to network, and you have to market yourself, but it’s not about being a celebrity. Your celebrity status can actually diminish your credibility, which in turn can limit or kill your career.

Jillian Barberie is a perfect example of a talented person whose celebrity status and need for celebrity recognition actually killed her once burgeoning career. And leave no doubt about it, Jillian has talent.

Jordan Schaul: I would think LA, NYC, Chicago and South Florida markets are examples where celebrity statuses rival working for a network or cable entity. Without much awareness of the political/cultural landscape within local and national news markets, I d guess urban centers offer established news people an opportunity to be just as big of a ‘fish in a big pond’ as if they were still with a network or cable channel.

John Ferriter: Chicago and New York and South Florida yes. Los Angeles, no. In Los Angeles you have to compete with movie stars, TV stars, rock stars and sports stars. It’s tough. You would think that local LA news stations would have the best people and the best personnel , but they don’t. Most of the station staff are either on their way up and out, or they are dearly hanging on.

A couple stations have strong staff, but multiple stations in this market could be improved with better personnel. Also, LA does not pay well compared to some of the other markets. I would say there are less than four real news stars in the LA local market.

KTLA’s Sam Rubin, KCAL’s Pat Harvey, FOXLA’s Steve Edwards. Maybe one or two more. Fritz Coleman and Dallas Raines are well-known personalities, but both have seen better days. Fred Roggin and Jim Hill had their moments, but they have also passed and both are now really ‘legacy’ guys. I think the local stations are afraid to hire real news stars because they know they have to pay them. The next LA news stars and personalities will be home grown and expect a Latin anchor to break big.

Jordan Schaul: Similarly, if you are reporting on entertainment, you may chose to work with an affiliate in LA over cable or satellite stations or the networks. Obviously, financial and family considerations help dictate what to choose, but is there any formula for choosing between networks and working for local affiliates? Are there just too many variables to determine what is best for a career? Or would you say this is an era when reality TV and social media can propel someone to fame via other avenues such that TV journalists have other means to build their brands?

John Ferriter: It is important to be seen and to be on TV on a regular basis. If you can cement yourself on one of the LA stations five days a week, you can help the viewers create a “habit’ for watching you. Los Angeles should have the best anchors and reporters in the business. Sadly, it doesn’t. Each career is different. I ask all clients to tell me “Who is living their life?” “Who has the career you want?” If you know where you want to go, you can engineer it.

Next up: Jordan and Elina Shaffy, Miss USA/Miss Universe contestant (2014) and Beverly Hills native, talk celebrity fitness training and what its like to manage fitness regimens of a ‘Dream Team’ clients, which include Jon Peters, Elliot Mintz and Robert Shapiro.

Jordan’s contributions to popular culture publications have covered a range of topics from lifestyle branding to matchmaking and celebrity news, in addition to environmental and social topics.

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