Jennifer was the News Director at WLS when I interviewed her last year, but was part of the recent cutbacks there. She landed on her feet quickly, and is now working at Fox News Radio.
Rick: Were you a little surprised that WLS made such severe cuts to their news department?
Jennifer: Yes, I was surprised that the WLS newsroom was cut in half. Before the decision was announced, there were indications that news was supported by the higher-ups. Bill, Jim, John, Ryan, David and I were making great progress in covering more news; we started a fantastic public affairs show and had just secured media space in the state capitol.
Jim, John, and Ryan have been in a difficult spot and are doing a great job.
Rick: Tell us about your new job and where we can hear you now.
Jennifer: I have been hired by Fox News Radio as their midwest correspondent. It is a great opportunity to cover big stories across the midwest while maintaining my ties to Chicago. I can be heard on WIND-AM in Chicago and hundreds of other stations across the country. My family in Pennsylvania jokes that, after 18 years in the business, they'll finally be able to hear me.
Now here's the original interview...
Jennifer Keiper is the news director of WLS-AM 890.
I thought that I was going to go the TV route but realized, in college, that radio was for me. I worked at Northern Illinois University's student station as a DJ in 1988. I was the Operations Manager of WCRX at Columbia College 1989 to 1992. I also worked at B96 as the morning news producer and eventually became the morning anchor fill-in. I left B96 in 1992 to work as an anchor/reporter on WXLC-FM /WKRS-AM in Waukegan. A year later I came back to Chicago to get my Masters Degree and was offered my old News Producer job at B96. I went on to became the B96 Community Relations Director and also did some production work at WBBM-AM. In 1994, I worked as a traffic reporter on WBBM-AM and moved up to reporting and anchoring duties in 1997. In 2003, my friend Susan Carlson suggested that I apply to WLS-AM because she was heading to TV. I did and have had a fantastic time working at WLS.
Rick: You have been a reporter in Chicago for a long time now. Over those years, you have won just about every reporting award there is. Are there any stories you've covered that really stand out to you, and do you have stories about covering those stories?
Jennifer: A story that really stands out that I DIDN'T cover on the day it happened was 9-11. I was off and although I offered to come in, they were covered. I spent the entire day (and night) glued to the TV. As a reporter, you wonder what YOU would do standing in the middle of such a catastrophic event. When I went back to work everyone was busy but it wasn't the same place. The atmosphere was different.
Any story that involves children who have been hurt bothers me. Years ago, I was on the police beat and walked by a man who was in police custody. A short time later I was shown some autopsy photos of a child and told that the man who just walked by me was the person believed to have committed the murder.
The 2005 Elmwood Park train crash was just amazing. I was one of the first reporters on the scene and couldn't believe the wreckage before my eyes. More than a dozen cars were trashed and one was still on the tracks about 2 blocks away from the initial point of impact. What was truly amazing to me was that no one died.
On the lighter side, one of the most pleasant interviews I did was with actor, director, producer Lord Richard Attenborough. He was in town and I weaseled my way into a sit-down with him. I plopped down a microphone and we had a great conversation.
Rick: After that long reporting career, you were recently named the news director at WLS. Has it gone about the way you thought it would, or have there been some surprises or challenges that you hadn't expected?
Jennifer: The biggest surprise, to me, is that I even applied for the position. I had just come back to work after suffering a brain hemorrhage. A few weeks later, Steve Scott who was the News Director told me that he was leaving and my jaw dropped. A minute later, when our reporter Cisco Cotto told me that he was leaving, my eyes bulged. We lost a big chunk of our news staff in less than five minutes! My immediate thought was how we'd make it through until we found replacements. I applied for the position only after receiving the encouragement of my family and co-workers. I enjoy coming to work everyday because I have that support. The biggest challenge was hiring the morning anchor and morning reporter. I'm happy to say that those hires: John Dempsey and Ryan Hermes are just great!
Rick: WLS, of course, has a lineup of conservative talk show hosts and pundits. Do you try to keep in mind that your audience is predominantly conservative when you choose which stories will be covered and how they are covered, or is the newsroom at WLS essentially run the same way as your previous employer WBBM?
Jennifer: Any anchor or reporter knows that when considering a story you always ask yourself, "does my audience care about this story?" When it comes to how we cover it the answer is simple: regardless of what happens on the other side of the glass we, in the newsroom, remain objective.
Rick: In this age of media consolidation, the five or six conglomerates that own most of the radio and television outlets have famously downsized their employee rolls. Unfortunately, this has really been felt in radio news departments across the country. How do you feel about the current state of radio journalism?
Jennifer: I worked at WBBM when all-news WMAQ went away. You might think that I'd be happy to see the competitor shutdown. However, that's not the case. Competition is fun and it makes for creative ideas and perseverance. I'm fortunate to work at a station that is very supportive of the news department. I know there are other News Directors, anchors and reporters who can't say the same thing.
Rick: You're going to hate this one. You've been teaching a Writing for Radio course at Columbia College. I know that writing for radio requires you to be concise, so let's put that to the test. The top story tonight is Jennifer Keiper's general philosophy of news writing. Write that story.
Jennifer: Here's a twist:...
WLS News Director Jennifer Keiper has found herself struggling to finish a questionnaire by master blogger, Rick Kaempfer.
The reason: he has asked her to do a homework assignment, something she swore she'd never do again when she received her college diploma.
In other news...
-- Do Rick Kaempfer's readers care? Yes, because they have to get through this answer in order to read the other.
-- Did I KISS (keep it short and simple)? Yes, 13-seconds.
-- Is it written in the present or present perfect tense? Yes.
Uh, I'd like that grade as a pass/fail, please.
Rick: I read that you took part in the Radio Television News Director Foundation's German/American Journalist Exchange Program. That's a mouthful. What does that entail?
Jennifer: Twice a year the Radio Television News Director Foundation co-sponsors a program that sends a group of 10 American journalists to Germany and vice versa. It gives journalists the opportunity to learn about each nation's culture, politics and journalism.
I met with a radio journalist who travels with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (think White House correspondent) and another journalist who writes for a German news magazine that is similar to TIME or Newsweek magazines. I toured radio and television stations, had daily meetings with members of the German Parliament, local politicians and the head of the labor union. We then traveled to Brussels where we spent a day in meetings at the EU and NATO. I made some great contacts and it was a fantastic learning experience! I also plan to use some of the material in my writing class.
Rick: You didn't grow up in Chicago, but you've been living here now for 25 years. Over that 25 years, who are some of the journalists in town that you have the most admiration for, and why?
Jennifer: I attended high school in Oak Park (go Huskies!) and have been watching/listening/reading great work, in this area, for quite some time.
Bill Cameron has great knowledge of politics.
Jim Johnson knows a good story and would kill me if I didn't put his name on this list (just joking - about the killing me thing, that is).
John Cody can make a story out of just about anything.
Paul Meinke can explain even the most difficult story like no other.
Carol Marin is smooth and asks great questions.
Pam Zeckman never gives up.
And a special mention: Karen Hand because she taught me (almost everything) that she knows and made sure that I never made the same mistake twice.
Rick: There have to be times when you get sick of the news. When you've just seen or heard one too many hard news stories, what are some of your guilty pleasure entertainment outlets (radio, television, film, books, magazines, etc.)?
Jennifer: Sick of the news? Are you kidding. I live it, I breathe it, I love it. There's nothing like it. I always need my news fix. (Think the bosses have stopped reading this yet?) I loved underwater basket weaving but found that it wasn't very challenging. So, instead, I am trying to create the perfect MySpace page. So far I have a background color but my BFF keeps IM'ing me, which, OMG, is such a distraction. LOL. :-)