Life Swap

More newspaper reporters are taking the leap to TV -- a move some print pros still see as consorting with the enemy.

Former Denver Post reporter Amy Herdy knows full well that many newspaper types look down upon their broadcast counterparts. After serving in behind-the-scenes capacities at a couple of Florida TV stations during the '90s, she joined the writing staff of the St. Petersburg Times, and she estimates that it took at least three years, and numerous awards, before she'd truly overcome her boob-tube stigma in the eyes of co-workers. This was a real achievement, given how deeply ingrained their prejudices were. According to Herdy, the only TV set in the Times newsroom when she first joined the staff -- the one everyone huddled around during newscasts in order to ridicule the anchors -- was placed near a sign that read "Television News is the Scourge of God."

Such views didn't prevent Herdy from bidding farewell to the Post last year in favor of an investigative-producer gig at Channel 9 -- and neither have they persuaded veteran Rocky Mountain News journo Charlie Brennan to reject an offer at Channel 31; he recently gave his notice at the Rocky and is slated to start at the Fox affiliate on March 5. By making these moves, they're taking the road less traveled -- and Channel 31 news director Brad Remington, who hired Brennan, is proof that the trip can be worth taking. Remington served as city editor of the Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner before being recruited to fill the managing-editor position at a Salt Lake City station, and he's stuck with television for more than twenty years since then. "The switch isn't for everyone," Remington acknowledges. "But there are times I'm so glad I'm in TV."

The same can be said of Herdy, whose return to the medium was spurred in large part by "convergence" -- a trendy term used to describe cross-promotional partnerships between television outlets and newspapers. The Post and Channel 9 are involved in just such an alliance, and when Herdy and Miles Moffeit were assembling "Betrayal in the Ranks," an excellent 2003 series about victims of rape and sexual abuse in the military, she was given the opportunity to create several TV packages designed to air in conjunction with the articles. Because she'd developed such a close relationship with many of the "Betrayal" sources and didn't want to hand them over to just anyone, she leapt at the chance. She sensed some negativity about the assignment from a few Posters, who "wondered why I was even bothering," she says, and received a baptism by fire, when, during a live newscast appearance, anchor Ward Lucas asked her questions about the story that she wasn't expecting -- a game jokingly referred to at 9News as "Stump the Chump." In the end, though, Herdy was pleased with the way the print and TV versions of "Betrayal" worked together.

Amy Herdy is happy with her switch from the Post to 9News.
Anthony Camera
Amy Herdy is happy with her switch from the Post to 9News.

Cut to 2006, when Herdy happened upon a 9News advertisement for an investigative reporter. "I called [Channel 9 news director] Patti Dennis and said, 'Why don't you change that to investigative producer and hire me?'" she recalls. Dennis took her advice, and Herdy came aboard in August, one day before the station told the world about false confessor John Mark Karr. In the months that followed, Herdy created her own blockbuster via one of the past year's most memorable pieces of videotape: a brief conversation with former New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard, who announced, while sitting in his car with his wife and children, that he'd gotten a massage and purchased meth from male prostitute Mike Jones. But she admits that her newspaper-honed training nearly scuttled the scoop.

In the hopes of landing such an interview, Herdy and 9News director of photography Eric Kehe staked out Haggard's well-fenced home. After lingering for a while alongside personnel from the Colorado Springs Gazette, Herdy decided she'd move toward the front door the next time the main gates opened -- and when one of Haggard's New Life associates drove up a moment later, she slipped onto the property behind him. The associate immediately asked her to split, leaving her with two options: She could continue toward the entrance and refuse to go until Haggard either spoke with her or demanded that she vacate the premises, or she could pass along the message that she wanted to talk with him, then return to her previous spot and keep waiting. Following a brief internal debate, she chose the latter option, to Kehe's relief. He hadn't cleared the gates, so he would have been unable to record a single syllable.

Herdy nearly made a similar mistake when Haggard subsequently pulled over to chat; Kehe had to nudge her to the side to get his microphone close enough to Haggard to pick up what he was saying. Making room for a boom "wasn't my first instinct," Herdy concedes. "But I had my notepad out."

Now Herdy realizes how fortunate she was that things worked out as they did. "Had I gone to the door and gotten an interview with Pastor Ted, it wouldn't have had nearly the impact," she maintains. "You wouldn't have had the impact of him saying, 'I did call him, but I threw the meth away' while he was nodding his head." This was a telling moment, she argues, because "the body doesn't know how to lie."

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