Angela Tuell 0:05
Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we're talking with Mike DiGiorgio. He is the executive producer of Good Day Rochester on 13. WHAM TV in Rochester, New York. Mike is celebrating 30 years in the industry. He began as a producer, sidekick and entertainment critic on NewsRadio W. H. A. M 1180 and has spent the past 15 years as a producer of Rochester, his top morning TV news show. Welcome Mike.
Mike DiGiorgio 0:55
Angela, how are you?
Angela Tuell 0:56
Great, doing well. Yes, I'm going to jump right in. You have spent the last 30 years in the broadcast industry, which is super impressive. What has helped you stick with it that long?
Mike DiGiorgio 1:08
I think I've always liked having my hands in what's going on, and keeping very active. You know, every morning even though I've got a supervisory role, I'm very much in the thick of things as far as writing newscast and gathering contents, etc. I like the adrenaline very much. The idea for me of ever managing has not appealed to me in the sense of hiring, firing, scheduling folks. I'd much rather just be doing it.
Angela Tuell 1:39
And we see a lot of people that you know, stay in broadcast for many years and then eventually switch over to something else. What has kept you loving it?
Mike DiGiorgio 1:49
You know, one of my running jokes is the PR people locally probably beat me too much to ever make me an offer. To get out of it
Angela Tuell 2:00
would be a great offer, right?
Mike DiGiorgio 2:01
Yeah. I love, I love doing it. Like I say. Four hours a morning that we do on our Good Day Rochester is so time consuming and keeping me very busy. I love being part of things as they're happening.
Angela Tuell 2:16
Have you always been in Rochester?
Mike DiGiorgio 2:17
I have. I grew up in, around the Syracuse area. For anyone that doesn't know this probably an hour and a half from here. Then went to St. John Fisher College here in Rochester. Graduated in 1990 and have been in this market ever since. It's probably a rarity. Or at least...
Angela Tuell 2:36
Yes. Yes. As a morning show producer we'd love to hear how you plan the show and your thought process as it's coming together.
Mike DiGiorgio 2:45
It's, it's a little bit of half and half. You can prepare a lot in advance, which I do, in kind of a rough outline form. And at the same time I can't possibly predict the news of the day. When I leave for the day. I start about three in the morning and finish about noon. What I tend to do - our show, we do four hours between our two affiliates. We do two hours on 13 WHAM which is Rochester's powerhouse news station, ABC affiliate number one legacy station that two hours 5 to 7am is very news intensive. A lot of stories and from 7 to 9 we do two hours on our Fox affiliate. And that's a little later. That's your features, that's your live on the spot reports. It's a little more Today Show-y, Good Morning America-ish. So what I tend to do a day before and in some you know some cases days in advance, put together a rough outline, I leave the blanks for the news. Here's where top stories the day are going to go. Here's where interview A is going to go and interview B is gonna go. Interviews I schedule a day in advance and in some cases a couple of months in advance depending on when the pitches come to me. I'm working before I'm even out of bed. I've got a produce - each of those two hour chunks that I mentioned - each have their own producer who handle the actual news part of it and laying it out, writing it. 3am my alarm goes off and I'm looking at a rundown they email me while I'm still, you know hit snooze alarm mode, and making suggestions on what needs to go where and what we can do different or let them know you got it exactly right. And then also be looking at the big picture of how these two shows relate to each other. What news items that we're doing in the early part are going to translate over into the seven to nine, an ongoing story that we need to stay at. So a bit of preparation in advance and the other half is kind of instinct and see where we go. There are some mornings our top story at five in the morning, or, you know, top two, three stories of five in the morning, sometimes by nine o'clock, there are two or three entirely different stories.
Angela Tuell 5:09
Right, right. So how do you keep the show fresh each day? Obviously, the news part of it is, but especially with the feature type stories and those kind of segments, how do you how do you keep it all fresh?
Mike DiGiorgio 5:19
I try to look for segments that are useful to viewers, and entertaining at the same time. I look for things that aren't necessarily, they don't come off as commercials. I know anybody who's coming on the air with us is selling something one way or another, whether it's a product or a service or themselves. But if, if they can come on and be experts about something, and offer some useful advice, or, you know, ideas for what to do on the weekend, that kind of thing. As far as the news stories themselves go, it's a matter of looking ahead. The phrase that gets used around our newsroom a lot is new, now, next. If we're taking a story from the night before, and showing it to viewers again, because it's still very top of mind. Start with what's next for people: who's going to be in court later today, or what information we're still looking for, or what information is going to be revealed. And always pushing ahead.
Angela Tuell 6:17
What's it like working that early morning shift as you mentioned?
Mike DiGiorgio 6:21
The catchphrase is you don't get used to the hours, you just get used to feeling lousy. It's, it's awful getting - if we could move this to later in the day, that would be great. Yeah, unfortunately, the, the type of show we do is designed for people to start their day though. So we could we could obviously do that. An adrenaline rush takes over eventually. We're all by 9am sometimes a little punch drunk. You know the a...
Angela Tuell 6:50
I remember those days.
Mike DiGiorgio 6:52
The people who work the day side part of the news come in, and think we just had a lot of fun for the morning. And it looks that's way because we do some fun segments. And we're probably acting a little goofy when they get there at nine. But we're punch drunk at that point. You don't get used to it. Mondays and Tuesdays sleep pattern is entirely different than what it is later in the week. My Friday nap at home, my family knows I'm going to be gone for a while. Alright, bye, everybody. It's Friday nap time.
Angela Tuell 7:25
Preparing for the weekend, right?
Mike DiGiorgio 7:28
You really don't - I like the fact that in some cases, I'm working with just a smaller crew and can work closer with them. I like to go in when there's no traffic. I like that I leave when there's no traffic. I like that. I've got the day ahead of me to do some things if I'm not too tired. But it's also tough because half the world doesn't have my schedule. And I'm not going to get many messages returned to me at four in the morning.
Angela Tuell 7:54
Right. Yeah, that's tricky. You know, being a TV news producer takes a special kind of personality. Someone who can handle extreme stress, not let it faze them. How do you do it?
Mike DiGiorgio 8:07
I've had people call me The Iceman before. I think that's probably part of my...
Angela Tuell 8:12
It's a complement, right?
Mike DiGiorgio 8:13
Yeah, you know, I always say the viewers don't notice the mistakes as much as we do in house necessarily. Yeah, they'll see a misspelling or something. But they'll they'll forgive that. Keep the presentation in mind, not what should have happened, or even what you're picturing is going to hap - just stay in the moment, do the best you can with what you've got. The nice, we've got four hours to work with. So I always tell myself under pressure that if there was something we could do better at five, we actually do have, unlike some other newscasts, a second, third, fourth chance to do it. Cause the story's gonna keep evolving. As long as you finish on time.
Angela Tuell 9:01
Yes. That's always a must, right?
Mike DiGiorgio 9:03
That's your deadline. And as long as you start it, you know, the show's gonna start, whether you're ready or not. But I think people are very forgiving of little things on the air. So you don't I don't dwell on those.
Angela Tuell 9:18
Yeah. I always tell people that some of my best training ever, with journalism or being on TV is that you can't miss a deadline. I mean, it's, it's, it's - there's a time that you're live, whether you have a story, whatever it is. And that is that is such a great skill to have through life. And then in anything, you know.
Mike DiGiorgio 9:37
Yeah. I never think throwing a fit is going to solve anything. I think my co workers can think of very few instances where I've yelled. And then when I do they know it's serious.
Angela Tuell 9:50
Yes. Yeah. Who is your typical audience? And I'm sure it varies by hour and on both stations.
Mike DiGiorgio 9:56
Yeah. And obviously we're aiming for the 25 to 54 I think we've, we're big in all ages, target audience tends to be women for this kind of show. But yeah, we're reaching out to 25 to 54s, and I think we're hitting them pretty well. Families, parents, especially school is a is a big thing for us, things like school closings, education stories, what they need to know before they go out the door, are a big thing. So families very much or at least, head of households who can take what we do and apply it to their families.
Angela Tuell 10:35
Sure. I have to ask what it was like, even if we're tired of talking about this, you know. When the world shut down, and you had to still put on a newscast, how did you pivot and change to make that happen?
Mike DiGiorgio 10:47
I was one of the ones who had to keep coming in. We sent about half the staff home. I remember even sending our our poor intern home because she wasn't a central personnel anymore. Let her know that. Yeah, we're gonna give you your college credit for this. Thank you.
Angela Tuell 11:01
What an internship, right?
Mike DiGiorgio 11:03
Yeah, our our feature reporter at the time... We have somebody who goes out and covers, you know, a profile of business, profile an event, things like that. And suddenly, there were no events, he had to kind of become the COVID reporter. And it was a matter of standing outside a plaza and talking about how they're going to be closed today. There was always news of the day. But he had to change his focus from, from what he used to do. Our photographers weren't allowed in the building, for the most part. So everyone was working with remote equipment. Reporters were working from home or in the field. Just producers, an anchors were really the only ones in the building. And it's slowly evolved. We've got everybody back. But we know now we've got the technology and the capability to go remote again, if we have to. And we do as COVID, you know, somebody in the building tests positive, and we have to partially go back to shut down road again.
Angela Tuell 12:04
Yeah. Is there anything you I mean, obviously, some of these things, anything you learned or changes you made during the shutdown, and with COVID, you know, as ongoing that you will continue going forward?
Mike DiGiorgio 12:15
Zoom. I learned how good Zoom and Skype can be. Those used to be emergency backups. Before COVID, we had the technology to do what we did. Some people, some guests by Skype every once in a while, if you know, in advance, if they're coming into town, and so we could do an interview with them before that. And now it's standard. We, actually still aren't allowing, because of our company's protocols any guests into the building. So we're doing a talk show now almost entirely by Zoom. And it's - we've had to you know, coach everybody on the other side. Hey, you know, you're, you're muted. Try doing that on the air. That's, that's some pressure.
Angela Tuell 12:58
Yeah. What your background is, what your lighting's like...
Mike DiGiorgio 13:01
It's not their fault. They're not broadcasters. I had to learn a lot about Zoom as we went to. We even, when we started, the webcam for Zoom, because that routed to go through master control. I literally took the cord to the webcam before every interview and walked over to the anchors desk, and said to the person on the other side. Now you're not necessarily going to see them but you're gonna hear them. Just keep facing forward.
Angela Tuell 13:34
Yeah, no, there.
Mike DiGiorgio 13:36
I couldn't have the the anchor who was, you know, designated further away in the studio doing the interview because the cord wouldn't reach that far. We're not at that point.
Angela Tuell 13:45
That's good. Made advances from there.
Mike DiGiorgio 13:48
Yeah. But now I could I totally could see where Zoom stays with us and there's gonna be people - I hope people come back in person, but I know I've got some regulars who much prefer doing this from home. As opposed to coming in the studio. Yeah. Sitting on our couch and getting up at seven in the morning.
Angela Tuell 14:07
Right. What do you wish viewers knew about TV news that they likely do not?
Mike DiGiorgio 14:13
On the local level? I wish they knew that we don't have any kind of agenda. There's a lot of anti media sentiment out there. I'm not paid enough to be part of some vast conspiracy. I don't know what people are picturing us in this huddled room, clenching your fists and snickering that we've, you know, biased a story our way. We're wanting to tell people the truth and we want to tell people the truth as best we know it. Literally this morning. We had breaking news of a very sad story of pedestrian struck and killed by a police car. And this was unfolding as the morning's going on. The first headline we wrote on the web was what we knew, which was pedestrian killed in incident with police car. That was all we knew. The press conference hadn't happened yet. So we put that online and said, more to come as the morning unfolds. And instantly, there were comments from some folks about how we were covering up for the police. What's an incident with a police car, the car hit him. We didn't know that yet. Right. I had no reason to cover for the police. And as soon as we knew, what was the case, we change the headline, we change the story. We're trying to help people. You know, when, when there's only anti media sentiment when we're working all these extra hours to cover breaking news and riots and storms and everything else. I hope people know we're trying to help. We're not up to anything.
Angela Tuell 15:56
It's so disheartening and frustrating.
Mike DiGiorgio 15:59
Yes. I just want to get the newscast on the air. Make it as honest as as we know it to be.
Angela Tuell 16:07
Yep. And then go home to my family. Like everyone else. What have been some of your most memorable moments over the years? I know, I've seen a bunch on Twitter there.
Mike DiGiorgio 16:18
Oh, well, the big stories always stand out. The big tragedies that you cover that I won't dwell on too much. Because everyone saw people like after a big news day, people will give kind of the opposite what I just said about people saying we're having an agenda, there's also people who mean well, who say, Oh, this must have been rough on you. And it is and it was, but I was safe in a studio working on a newscast. I'm not out there suffering some of the tragedies personally. And the fun side for me, the beauty and I hope we get back to it, is when the entertainers come to town, they would come in to be part of the second half of our show. We've had some great Nationally known comedians in town, musicians. And for me being a music guy, that's been great.
Angela Tuell 17:10
Yeah. An added bonus, right? To make up for not - the pay.
Mike DiGiorgio 17:15
Yeah. And people will often say to me, you know which celebrities were the biggest jerks? The truth is, the celebrities who are willing to get up that early in the morning and come to the station by willing being willing to do that aren't jerks. So it's been almost always rewarding. The jerks are the ones who canceling in the last minute. And see they aren't coming. My most memorable story ever on the air. It's tight. This this would be the one I'd put in my book. I when I lived in my old apartment. Got up as usual, as I mentioned, you know, as I mentioned, you look at your phone and see what's coming up on the with the producers have scheduled and they had my street listed as like police presence there, we're looking into it. Okay, that's interesting. And I look out the window and I see the police car. So I go up to him. And I ask, you know what's going on? He couldn't tell me anything. Yeah, I started to drive to work. And I got about a block and I just thought I shouldn't leave this. So I actually went back I went back, called work and said I'm just gonna stay here and and see what happens. And sure enough, the street got blocked off. And it turns out that I live next door to a psychiatrist and an addictions specialist who was doing drugs with someone who turned out to be a missing person. That person overdosed, died and my neighbor buried him in the backyard. Now that all came out later but I could see all this unfolding literally from my attic as police are digging and looking. And the streets blocked off, and the other media are not allowed down the street. So I'm also watching and taking pictures and sending them to the station. And I know the other stations are how are they getting this? Where is this coming from? I literally at one point, one of my photographers came to like an adjacent yard with a camera and handed it over a fence to turn it on because I don't know how to shoot anything. Turned it on, handed me the camera and I went back upstairs to my attic, the camera rolling the whole time. Spray the scene went running back down gave him the camera. Brought coffee to my crew who were behind the - eventually the other stations realized when they saw me coming out bringing coffee to my crew.
Angela Tuell 19:44
Right? They knew they knew what was going on then.
Mike DiGiorgio 19:47
So I'd live - I spent two days working - this was early work from home. I spent two days working from home because I had access to nobody else did. I always say that story will be the intro to my book.
Angela Tuell 19:58
I love it. Or you could go on a True Crime podcast as well?
Mike DiGiorgio 20:02
Angela Tuell 20:04
I have to ask what's happened funny, or maybe not so funny behind the scenes that your viewers never knew about.
Mike DiGiorgio 20:11
There's tons of little things. You discover things where your traffic guy decides to go, you know, an hour away with your mobile vehicle, just because he thinks that's a good shot. And you discover at the last site, things like, things like, little things like that always stand out. Mornings are so strange because it's such a combination of the serious and the entertaining.
Angela Tuell 20:33
Yeah. And those are hard to mesh sometimes. I mean,
Mike Digiorgio 20:37
I always think - another example, and is when, I don't remember the the exact crash, there was a bad crash one morning, and when something like that happens, you have to ask your guests, you know, we're gonna have to reschedule it for another day. And Sesame Street Live was in the building to do a segment with us. I had to go tell them, you know, under the circumstances it won't be appropriate. We've got this serious story. The Sesame Street Live actors are only allowed to be entirely in costume. Or you can see them coming in as actors carrying their costume. But there could never be a moment where, you know, Elmo takes the mask off. So I had to have this very serious discussion with Elmo and Cookie Monster who are just looking at me and nodding, fearful for their jobs that they can't take their gear off, while I'm telling them this horror, you know, whatever, I don't remember the story. But I'm telling them is horrible story. And just, if you understand what I'm saying, Elmo, go ahead and nod.
Angela Tuell 21:17
Because they can't talk either. Or they would have to talk in...
Mike DiGiorgio 21:43
Yeah, it's this weird combination of news and show business that that happens all the time. You know, you get stuck doing things like holding the hair for someone who's playing Rapunzel in a play. They came to the station, if they're going to make it to the studio. I've had musicians play and at the last minute, I learned they're lip syncing. They hand me a CD. And I assumed it was a backing track. Play it. Then I realized ball. I didn't even tell you know, we put a microphone on 'em and everything. Why did? Why did I put a microphone on you there, buddy? Tons of things like that. I'm sure I'll think of after we've gotten off the air.
Angela Tuell 22:24
Well, what are some of your pet peeves that working with guests on the show or even with PR professionals? I hear the laugh - there's a lot, right?
Mike Digiorgio 22:35
With PR folks,and I work with great ones, I'd say understand the time difference that we're dealing with and I work three in the morning till noon. If you send me something afternoon, I'm probably not going to get to it right away. And it also means because of the nature of the show we're doing in the morning, I'm probably also not going to see it till after eight or nine in the morning. Like you get that occaisional, Hey, did you happen to see this from last night? I can only do so much when I sleep. I will look at that eventually. And I understand they've got clients who are demanding. Understand that while maybe you've got the one, I've got three or four guests coming on with me at any particular morning. So I got to take them one by one. And understand if you're booked already. We don't need to have a meeting. We're all set.
Angela Tuell 23:30
Right? You're good to go.
Mike DiGiorgio 23:32
You're good to go. And we don't do a lot of questions in advance. Because of the nature of the show we do I like it to be a laid back conversational things. So understand that I am not going to send you a list of questions ahead of time because we just want your natural reaction, nothing, nothing rehearsed. And make sure your client wants to do it. Every so often you get somebody on the air. You get a feeling somebody pushed him into this. They sound very rehearsed or not aware of what they're doing. Or they'll ask when does this air and actually, you know, just did. Somebody in the office thought this was a good idea, but make sure your expert and your spokesperson also thinks that. And it'll be much better.
Angela Tuell 24:27
Before we go, I have to ask you, you mentioned being a music lover and I saw through Twitter that you're also a Beatles fan. You have a beloved aunt who recently passed away and she was an extreme fan as well. And I haven't watched the new Disney + series yet. I'm not as much of a fan. So, should I?
Mike DiGiorgio 24:45
She would have loved it. I'm sorry to hear about her loss. I would recommend anybody who's not a Beatles fan. Pick an hour to have it to watch. It's eight hours long. It's fascinating to see the behind the scenes stuff and see stuff develop. Even for me, I'm glad it was in three parts. I needed to watch it with some breaks in there. It's great to watch the creative process and some history being made. And maybe you would get hooked on it. But I would not - don't start it thinking you're gonna watch all eight hours.
Angela Tuell 25:21
And start with the first one or two hours, or is there another part that's...best.
Mike DiGiorgio 25:25
You know - you can, you can jump in anywhere, honestly. I know it's on demand. You can start from wherever you want. Maybe watch Part Three, because that's has the famous performance of them up on the roof. So at least if you're not on the behind the scenes stuff, you do get the music.
Angela Tuell 25:43
Mike DiGiorgio 25:44
Yeah, that's what I'd do.
Angela Tuell 25:45
Thanks for that advice.
Mike DiGiorgio 25:46
Angela Tuell 25:47
It was wonderful having you on today and I hope to work with you in the future.
Mike DiGiorgio 25:51
Yeah, let me know Angela. So it's been a lot of fun.
Angela Tuell 25:54
Thank you. You can find Mike on Twitter at MikeDiGiorgio13, and check out his work at 13WHAM.com and live on Good Day Rochester. That's all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We'd love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I'm your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.
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