Mar. 29, 2013  

We The Journalists: Steve Wasserman

Steve Wasserman is no stranger to the television news business and has a long journalism history in Florida. Currently he serves as the vice president and general manager of WPTV NewsChannel 5. Wasserman has been working at the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Florida since 2008.

By Lynn Walsh

SteveWassermanSteve Wasserman has led television stations across the country, including affiliates in Detroit, Houston, New York, Jacksonville and Miami. Under his leadership, stations have been awarded with a Peabody, a duPont-Columbia Award and many other distinguished journalism honors.

This GM is hands-on and is no stranger to the newsrooms he leads. Wasserman is actively involved in the community, serving on several local and national boards including: The University of Texas/M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the United Way of Palm Beach County and the American Red Cross of Palm Beach County. As a student at the University of Miami, Wasserman was an SPJ Sigma Delta Chi scholarship winner.

SPJ South Florida: What is the number one misconception about your job?

Steve Wasserman: That local TV news is superficial and too cosmetically oriented. True, there is a show biz element to TV news but the best TV news organizations know how to balance excellent content with sharp production skills and attractive people. Those are the stations that win.

What made you want to become a GM?

I never really wanted to become a general manager, it wasn’t my life’s goal. I always wanted a career in television news. In my senior year at the University of Miami, I began interning at WPLG Channel 10 in Miami. I learned what a newscast producer did and I jumped on that track. It took me to the executive producer level, then the news director level.

I had a mentor named Bill Ryan who was WPLG’s general manager at the time. He believed I had the skill set to make the transition. Another proponent of that move was my wife Sally, a broadcaster herself. I have now been a GM for more than 24 years vs. 16 years on the news side.

What are some career highlights you can remember?

Highlights include successfully covering and owning big stories… Events such as the 1972 Eastern Airlines jumbo jet crash in the Everglades, the Dolphins’ perfect season that same year, Hurricane David in 1976, multiple political conventions especially the 1980 GOP convention in Detroit when I was working for a station there, the 1986 re-opening of the Statue of Liberty when I was a news director in New York, riots in Miami, devastating Tropical Storm Allison in Houston… I could go on.

That’s when local TV news really rises to the occasion and when it is the most fun. (Oh, I cannot forget getting the Silver Circle award last year from NATAS).

What about a lowlight?

The economic recessions, ratings problems, getting beat on stories… They are all downers but I have been fortunate…no real sad stories.

What is the most fun part of your  job?

Hiring and mentoring good people and watching them flourish.

Any advice for young people?

This is not a business for the faint of heart. You need tremendous passion and extraordinary basic skills. Don’t enter the business if you cannot write, cannot tell a good story, or only want to work from 9 to 5.

What do you think the future of TV news will look like?

The future is bright. TV stations remain the sole provider of quality local news coverage and people really depend upon us. With our expansion into the digital space, we have the potential of not only maintaining that franchise but extending it to a whole new level. It will take hard work and a lot of commitment on the part of companies and people… Competition has never been tougher or more wide ranging.

Throughout March, April, May and June, SPJ South Florida Pro will feature Q&As every Friday with South Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to join SPJ? Email us.Lynn Walsh is the Vice President of Programs for SPJ South Florida Pro. Follow her on Twitter.

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