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Diedra Rodriguez, digital content creator with WTVT - FOX 13 News Tampa, Florida shares her personal journey in broadcasting, discusses how digital content is conceived and crafted and the myriad of ways it serves local communities.
Edited and Paraphrased for Print
Welcome to another installment of Voices from the Field where today we're joined by WTVT - Fox 13 News Tampa's digital content creator Deirdra Rodriguez. Diedra, welcome.
Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
I'm excited. I love this series, because we get to talk to people from all different aspects of the sphere, all different broadcast types, all different job titles and everything. So, to start, tell us what a digital content creator does, and what your day to day is like.
Well, there's lots of writing. So I work the morning shift for my job and the whole purpose is really to start the day right, making sure the latest information is on the website. And that could be anything from overnight news based off of media alerts, press releases, asking the morning reporters for web scripts, etc. We have to pay attention to the morning commute, and report any major traffic accidents, then we have to look at what's ahead for the day and write those stories also. So, for instance, we had the governor in our coverage area yesterday, but we didn't know exactly what he would be saying; it wasn't clear in the press release. But locally, we assumed that it would be to sign the anti-riot bill into law that that made national news. So part of my job is to kind of put back on into that web script, just in case people are wondering what that bill was in case that was going to happen, which it did. So that was a positive. And as those stories are being added to the website, I have to translate that somehow for Twitter, Facebook, push alerts, and also look out for streaming opportunities, such as when NASA was awaiting data from its first flight on Mars this week. So there are a lot of layers and on for what I do. So on top of that, there's also social videos, just to find something that our community engages in, especially if there's a local Florida tie to it. Our morning show talent are local celebrities so when something funny happens to them on air, I try to turn it around quickly. A while ago, our feature reporter Charlie Belcher got slobbered on by a giraffe and it was so gross. And the whole news room was gasping and we all felt bad for him. So you can imagine that the viewers are probably reacting in the same way. So I clipped it and I posted it on Facebook and Twitter and our followers loved it. But in addition to that, I think within one week recently, we had viral video showing two alligators fighting, a manatee giving birth, an iguana that broke into a house and a baby alligator that broke into a house, you know, very "only in Florida" videos. And I think with everything the world has experienced this past year, it's important to find the good and some kind of distraction for people, you know, showing the fun that's still going on in their community or their state.
You said you work the morning shift. What are your hours?
It's 4:30 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon.
So that's, that's up before the rooster crows or I guess in Florida, the alligator yawns?
Yes. Ha ha.
Before we go into some of the great work that you talked about, and see everything that goes into building everything you worrk on, how did you pick this career path? When did you first decide you wanted to go to journalism? What drew you to it?
Growing up, I loved reading and I was that kid in kindergarten, that when it was playtime, I would go read a book. I just liked being on the receiving end of storytelling. But I think once I got into high school, it's when I really zoned in that journalism was what I wanted to do. I was getting closer to the voting age. So there was a presidential election going on. We were also in a recession. So I was paying more attention to current events and trying to stay up to date with that. And my three English teachers that I had, were amazing. They wanted to make sure our writing skills were on point by the end of semester and also to make sure we passed the AP test. But one of them suggested for me to join the yearbook staff, which was very competitive to get into but luckily I got in for my junior year. And that advisor was a woman who you didn't want to disappoint; she made you want to excel, she told it like it is and you knew where you stood with her. I knew I could learn a lot from her. And I did and as a group for a lot of us it was our first time getting something published, even though it wouldn't have our byline on it. It was the final product that made us sit back and say, "Wow, we did this together" and know that piece of our school history binded us together. Which is kind of what journalism is: documenting the current events at your school, and then it becomes history the next day. I think that was my first taste as far as writing and publishing a product like that. So it was just what led up to me realizing I wanted to do newspaper journalism. So that was the major I did when I got to University of South Florida. But through all my internships, I realized newspaper just wasn't for me. I just didn't see myself doing it long term. But I realized that during my senior year, and I thought it was too late to switch majors. But luckily, that year, I decided to venture out to anything that my degree could possibly be used for, and that included broadcast journalism. So I volunteered with 'For the Focus,' which was a newscast put together by USF students. It was too late for me to get class credit, but the teacher said I could still participate, which was awesome of her. And there when I walked in all those was like a smaller version of a newsroom, there was still so many moving parts going on behind the scenes to bring out the 30 minute broadcasts that the students put together. And I was more fascinated with the behind the scenes stuff and I wanted to learn more. But just in case, I didn't get its journalism, I interned with a local hospitals' internal communications department. And I also interned with WFTS - ABC Action News here in Tampa. And the listing for the internship was for the assignment desk, but at the time, I had no idea when assignment desk was so it's kind of funny that ended up being my first job. What I learned from my peers was it was it was just amazing to watch the assignment editors in an instant know what to do by instinct. When there's a breaking news situation and mobilizing field crews and being on top of the news of the day and asking the right questions on their phone with the PIO. It was it was amazing to learn from them. And between both internships. I'm glad that internship at W FTS led to a job but and I am very lucky that I get to tell stories in the community that I was born in. So it's a blessing that it worked out for me in this market.
A lot of times people wind up having to go elsewhere. They don't get to do what they love in their hometown, just because in our industry, there's ...hey're so limited. You know, there's only so many stations in a city. I love that you interned at a newsrooms when you were in college. But one of the things I want to get to is you also interned at the Tampa Bay Times, in print newsroom. How do you find a print newsroom and a broadcast television newsroom? How do they differ?
I mean, the essence of journalism is still the same, right? But the medium to share the stories in your community just comes out in different ways. The way you craft a story is different in both and between both newsrooms. So I did intern on one of the bureaus for the Tampa Bay Times, and this was over a decade ago now. But with them, there were physical offices for the bureaus located within the county, those reporters, photographers and editors were assigned to. And by the time I got to WTFS, and WTVT, for the most part, those field crews or NMJ's either lived in or near the county they were assigned to. So I thought that was one interesting distinction between both. But I think the most noticeable was the noise levels between print and broadcast. Even at the Oracle, the student run newspaper at USF, it was pretty quiet in there, which is good because you needed to really focus on the story, make sure there's no typos or holes in the story before your deadline. But in broadcast, I just remember during my internship at ABC Action News, there was just so much more going on. Which makes sense because it's a whole production to create the product. You have all these TV screens with the live feeds - from the network, from around the world, from your field crews and you have more people with different job positions in one room all communicating with each other. And one of the things that they drilled into me when I was an assignment desk intern was make sure your voice carries throughout the newsroom when you're yelling update, so there was a lot more noise in that newsroom.
So you've got yourself a booming voice - don't worry about the mic. Can you show it to us? Can you give me a little what you would yell across a newsroom if something came through?
Producers we have a fatal crash on the Skyway Bridge. Copy? Copy? Good.
I love it. Thank you for doing that. Okay. So you transition, you get your first job. You're going to be an assignment editor. I know you mentioned a little bit earlier. It's learning the right questions to ask and things like that. How long did it take you to get comfortable in that position and know what those questions were and how did you figure that out?
I think it really came from the supervisors and the peers I had in that newsroom. Just also learning to translate from newspaper to broadcast, but I will say, and when it comes to, you know, creating your craft, yes, it's words. But when you're creating your craft in newspaper print, you are the artist and you see what holes are missing, you see what needs to be completed, what needs to be completed to have the whole picture, right? And in some way that translates to broadcast because you're still asking the same questions. But instead, you're probably asking for follow up questions for visuals, like, "Is there going to be a mug shot available before the noon show?" "Is there going to be a press conference that we could carry live?" So there's those things I had to learn as far as the visual components and broadcast.
So after doing that, you become a digital content creator? And that's where you're at now. And we're going to talk about some of your stories. Is it...is it fun, though, it sounds like everything kind of prepared you for doing that. But it's certainly a job five or six years ago, we wouldn't have necessarily 100% foreseen, like we are definitely getting there. But it's a newer position. Are you liking it?
I do, because one thing I missed when I was an assignment editor was writing. So I was grateful to get back into that. And it was a little rocky at first. But once again, I think it's so important to have the right superiors above you to help guide you to be successful. So I mean, I did, I was so excited to get into the digital side of journalism, because I'm not planning to leave journalism anytime soon, I still think there's a lot that I could learn. I've only, I mean, I say only been in it for a decade, which sounds like a lot. But it really isn't when you think about the veterans and how long they've been in the industry. So I felt like I needed to learn about digital journalism, because that's the direction that's going and it's still morphing into whatever it ends up being in the future. But I still think it's a growing platform. And I still think there's a lot of experimenting, we can do and I was excited to learn about that.
So talk to me about how what you do benefits the community. And if there's certain ways that as you're building a story you do so to really draw in a few more people from a local specific area, if it's a very hyper local story.
I think there's multiple answers to this, I think what digital news...when it benefits our local viewers or readers, I think it does so whenever we could put a smile on their face, give them the warm fuzzy feeling with a positive story or a viral video from their community, or even when we help a reader by providing information to make an informed decision, which we do most of the time. For us in Tampa, I think hurricanes are a good example for that. And the same thing goes for the pandemic, there has just been such an overwhelming amount of information in the past year. So we have to figure out okay, how can we neatly organize that information for locals and keep details concise, without all the jargon? So one of the one of the examples that we did with the vaccine rollout, very early on, there wasn't really one place for viewers to look up information. Eventually, we had county operated vaccine sites, state operated, federal operated, and they offer different vaccines. So how do you communicate that properly, to the viewer? So early on one of my brilliant co-workers just thought of creating one web story that we just kept updating, and we're still updating and leave it on our front page. And it's just a breakdown, county by county with the links to the government pages, anything else you may need the latest information on who qualifies where the vaccine sites are located, what they offer and our broadcasts. Thanks to them, they would also pitch it, pitch the website, so viewers would know too and they still do that to this day. And one of the great things is getting the viewer responses saying thank you for having information like that easily accessible in one place. It just wouldn't make sense to keep writing a new story as new information came in. Because what if someone comes across one of our outdated stories through a Google search? So I think it'll be really interesting in a few years from now to see the lessons on how the media handled reporting the pandemic, just the good, the bad, and the ugly and what what worked and what didn't.
Yeah, I think it'll definitely help as other stories - I don't know if any of weeks that magnitude where it touches everybody across the country or there but - definitely bonuses coming out of it. I mean, that's what you always do, right? And that's a very elegant solution that you guys came up with to have just the continuous updates on the same page. So I applaud you guys for that. Congratulations.
I know you've done some long form articles. Talk about one or two that you're most proud of.
I think the first one just because it kind of set this idea in my head that I could do this, um, the very first one was about a murderer who escaped a state prison in our market. And for the 29th anniversary, I pitched it to broadcast, but it didn't really bite. So when the 30th anniversary came around, I was like, "Okay, I'll just do it, why not just do it on our website?" And we had some visuals. And I think that was part of the problem as far as translating it to broadcast. So we only had his original mug shot public records, a tattoo that he may or may not still have, and his age progression photo, but I pitched it to my boss, he liked it. And then after that, it just became a thing. I've only done four, but on each one I've learned something new about my about where I grew up. And I appreciate the people who also learn from it to whenever they read it.
So is that part of your process? Kind of looking for, since you're lucky enough to be in the market that you grew up in, to really focus hyper locally on those stories and things that, you know, people that have been in the market their whole lives, like you would find interesting and find value in?
I think so. I think as a local, if I find something of interest locally, maybe other people will to. The most recent one was we hosted WrestleMania in the city. And through conversations with other wrestling fans, apparently Tampa has this deep history when it comes to wrestling. And I wanted to put that all in one place. And I did and it was a lot of work. And I think it's part of our job to tell this type of history about you know, where you live. And I think that's still important. So I, again, I appreciate the viewers who took the time to read it because they're incredibly long, and actually learn something from it or found some appreciation with it.
Well, and that that jumps onto a topic I want to spend a minute or two on and that's, the benefit of this at a local- as a local broadcast television station speak to the benefits of having, you know, unique tailored and digital only content. Why is that beneficial to the viewers, the viewing area?
With broadcasts, you know, you only have a certain amount of time to tell a story where as the website, you have all this space. And I think why not use it, you know, why not give an option, an alternative option for viewers to go elsewhere and learn more about their community? I think it's so important to know your history, especially if it's a place that you spend the rest of your life with.
I think so too. And I also think it's, you know, you are in many ways, the experts in your market as far as news and as newspapers change their models, or some of them go away, you can be one of the main outlets. So having that digital component to it if that's what we need. We always need print media in some capacity, print journalism in some capacity. So if it's a digital journalism that you're doing, I'm all for it. We've got a couple of minutes left, I need to know, how has the pandemic affected your job? How are you working? Is it different? Are you working from home now? Or were you for time?
So I've been from working from home for over a year now. The strangest part is not having human interaction. I used to be able to just turn around, talk to my coworkers for advice on a headline, brainstorm how we're going to handle a certain situation. Communication is so important in the newsroom. So I think that was one of the biggest hurdles. But I mean, we have these [phones], we have Slack, we have zoom, we have I news. So I mean, that's been the filler for now.
Last two questions I have for you is what do you like most about being in broadcasting? And then the follow up to that is, where do you think your broadcasting career is gonna take you?
I love the fact that I'm still learning. I mean, like you said earlier, sometimes you become the expert on a topic. And sometimes you have to become an expert really quickly. And there's a lot of responsibility and that and I think constantly learning and getting good, a good grasp not just on the topic you're writing about but also using digital platforms to communicate those facts to the viewers and their readers are so important. And I love that I can do that for my community. Like there's a satisfaction not just with long form stories, but like the quick things like the traffic alerts, you know, if I can help one person be informed for a moment whether it's for their morning commute, I I love that I can do that for someone.
Very cool. And then the follow up what do you want to what do you want to be when you grow up? You're, you said you're young. You're only a decade in the business so once you're your seasoned veteran, where do you want yourself at see yourself?
I don't think I'll be done with journalism in a decade, I still think I'll be on local news. And I still think it'll be vital. People still need to know when it's going to rain, they still need to know, I keep going to major accidents, because that's part of my morning duties, but they need to know when there's an accident on one of those bridges or the latest during a pandemic. I think one of the biggest struggles and I hope it kind of goes away in a decade is being called fake news when there's actual misinformation out there. But you know, among us, avoiding typos, factual errors, that never has changed in our industry, and I still feel like we're still trying to do that and trying our best to do it. But I do think within the past year, the scrutiny has been felt across the board. But you know, I hope that dies down in a decade or sooner, I still think there are people who do appreciate what we do, and there's still going to always be a market for news.
What's been your proudest moment working at the stations down in Tampa?
So I did recently get an award for Fox from my long form pieces. But I didn't really tell anyone when I received my plaque in the mail back in March, I did post it on my Instagram. And I was just so shocked and overwhelmed with the amount of love and congratulations from my friends, people haven't talked to in years and especially my co-workers. One of my morning anchors, posted it on her social media. But she did ask me first. And even from that, viewers who I don't even know, are congratulating me on Twitter. But it was just validating and I was proud to make my co-workers proud. These are people I used to spend 40 hours a week with and haven't seen them in over a year. And it was just validating to hear from viewers who read those stories that led to the award and know they appreciate learning about the history of the community.
Well, excellent. Congratulations and tell us a little bit more about the award. Can you?
Yes, so I actually have it here. The name of the award is OG Content Creator of the Year.
Nice! That's awesome.
So yeah, it was cool. It was awesome.
Well, I love that we saved the best for last but if I knew I would have introduced you as the OG Content Creator.
It's okay, we got it in there.
Yes, we did. Diedra, thank you so much, and have a great day.
Diedra Rodriguez is currently a Digital Content Creator for WTVT - FOX 13 News. During college at the University of South Florida, she interned at four newspapers, a hospital foundation and WFTS, where she was hired full time after graduation as an assignment editor. After four years with ABC Action News, she moved on to learn more about producing digital content.
Since then, she has gained experience in social media, managing web content, and broadcast news. During her time at FOX 13, she has written long-form stories focusing on parts of the Tampa Bay community, and received the first "OG Content Creator of the Year" award from FOX Television Stations in 2020.
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