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Freda Ross, news director at WBAP in Dallas-Fort Worth, shares her passion for broadcasting, how she got her start and how WBAP continues its work in serving its local listeners and providing trusted news and information, along with advice for young broadcasters looking to break into the industry.
Edited and Paraphrased for Print
Welcome to Voices from the Field, Freda Ross. Freda is an award-winning journalist and news director for Newstalk WBAP in Dallas-Fort Worth. She was also formerly on the board of directors for the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters.
Thank you for inviting me. I'm very excited to be here.
You're from Sulphur Springs, Texas. And rumor has it that that's where you started in radio. So can you tell us about about that experience? Why broadcast journalism? And how'd you get your start in radio?
Sulphur Springs, Texas, is a small town that most people have not heard of. It is in east Texas. I got started with my love for news. I would have to say it came from my family. As a little girl (I'm the youngest of four girls), at 5:30 every evening, I had a standing date with my daddy. And we would watch the national news. My dad, I guess, was the original news junkie in my life. And of course at that age, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what I was watching. I just knew that that's time that I shared with my dad. And so that was very important to me. That's why I was going inside instead of playing outside. And as I grew older, of course, I realized that, oh, we know what's going on in current events. We're finding out what's going going on around the world. Oh my goodness, did you see what happened over here? What happened over there and, and it was just a way that and I'm sure that he didn't know that he was teaching me that or maybe he did - I don't know. But that's where my love for news and information and being up on current events and knowing what was going on around the world got started. And I knew I loved it. But I didn't realize until I went to college, that that's the field that I wanted to go into. So I didn't grow up saying, 'Oh, I want to be a journalist or want to be a reporter.' But when I got to college, and I went through several different majors like a lot of people do, radio, television, and film and journalism is where I landed. And I think it's because of those early years of sitting there and watching the national news. It was just in me, and I didn't even really know it was in me. I remember being in college and talking to friends about, again, current events, and then not knowing who the newsmakers were, and then not knowing what was going on in the world. And I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'how do you not know who Oliver North is?' 'How do you not know what's going on in Afghanistan?' 'How do you not know?' So it was just something - that in my household, we watch the news, we talked about the news, we were aware of what was going on all over. And so I guess it just kind of made sense for me to go into this field.
It sounds like it was a real calling for you. If you were to go back to your college today and talk to students about broadcast journalism, what would you tell them what they need to do to prepare for that kind of a career?
I do talk to a lot of students that go to my university, and with interns at the radio station, and I think, especially right now with social media and and the immediacy of everybody wanting to be first, and having a camera on my phone, and being able to record you at any time, it is important to get the story. But it's also important to get the story the right way. And it's also important to get the story professionally and with ethics. One thing that I tell my staff all the time talking about being first, I would rather us be second and correct, then first and incorrect, because the last thing we want to do is go on the air with misinformation. The last thing we want to do is mislead our listeners, because that hurts your credibility. And once your credibility is gone, people aren't going to trust you anymore. And it's not always that important to be first and you have to check your sources, you have to double check your facts before you put them out to the public. Because if you give them misinformation, in some instances, whatever the story is, it could be life or death. And so it's something that we have to take very seriously. People listen to us for information, people listen to us to help them make their decision about a certain topic. We don't make that decision for you. We give you the facts, we give you both sides of the issue. And then that person makes up their own mind. That's what we're supposed to do. We're not supposed to tell one side and only one side. Give people the information that they need. Make sure it's factual. Don't report something that if you haven't fact checked it, and don't report it just because some other television station is reporting it, or some other radio station is reporting it. That can get you in a lot of trouble really quickly.
Talk us through some of the steps that you and your team does to ensure breaking news is factual and correct.
One thing that I think is interesting, and I think is a phenomenon that I still have not been able to figure out, is when sometimes we'll get a phone call in the newsroom. And someone will say, 'there is a big fire at 635 and 75.' And people are jumping out of the building, and then they hang up. And I honestly think that they think that we're just going to get on the air and say that without checking into it. The first thing you do with breaking news is check your facts. And let me say that with social media, with Twitter, with Facebook, with being able to follow other news agencies like we are now, it does help with that, you know, but still, even if you see it on Twitter, even if you see it on Facebook, even if there's a local reporter who you know that that you follow, and you can typically trust. Even if they're reporting it, we stillpick up that telephone and call fire, police, school district, government office, wherever this breaking news is taking place. We make our phone calls, we do our due diligence, and while someone is at the station making a phone call or sending an email, I will already send a reporter in that direction. And we do not report it until my reporter is on the scene. Or we get that email back saying yes, this is going on. So we we are aware of it. We may go on the air and say we are getting reports of it or if, say, it's a fire, we see getting reports of smoke in a particular area, we are checking on it, we will get back to you when we have this confirmed. So there are people at the station who are trying to confirm it. And a reporter is en route to whatever the location is. And after that reporter gets there or we get that confirmation, then we can decide how the story is going to be covered.
So in terms of news coverage, you've been doing this for 27 years, I think, tell us about it a time maybe that a story impacted you personally.
I think that the pandemic has affected all of us personally. And I have told people this multiple times, because whether it was 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, even the July 7 police shooting in Dallas - those were stories that were horrific, and stories that we covered. But at the end of the day, we could go home, and we could breathe and you know, regroup and come back the next day. With the pandemic, We couldn't get away from it. We continue to go into the radio station, the news team continued to go into the radio station after everything shut down last March. And of course at that time, we still knew so little about COVID. We went in with a bit of hesitation and a bit of fear and wiping everything down and wearing our mask and staying away from one another. The reporters didn't go out as much as we have in the past and government agencies, police departments, fire departments, they understood that as well. So they started Zooming. They started putting their press conferences online. And so we were still able to do our jobs. But then when we went home, we're still dealing with the pandemic at home. Our children are not in school. We can't see our elderly parents. We're wiping everything, wiping our groceries down when we come from the grocery store. So this was a story where we couldn't remove ourselves from it and, you pride yourself on not getting involved with the story because you don't want to skew it one way or another. But this was a story that we could not get away from. And I think that every reporter across the world feels the same way.
Give us an idea of what a typical day is for a news director.
It never ends. And it's never typical. I guess the only typical thing I could say is that I'm always consuming information, and always consuming news. Because I want to make sure that we're not missing something. I wake up, probably like, mostly everybody else in the world, I check Twitter. I listen to our station as I'm getting dressed. In my car, going to work or the gym, I'm consuming information, making sure that we haven't missed something. When I arrive at the station, I go through the stories that have been covered during the morning drive to see what still has legs. What do we need to follow up on for the rest of the day? Is the story over? Or do we need to take a different angle with something and then chat with my with my morning producer or morning anchor, chat with the reporters. The day before, our reporters have a list of what they want to pursue the next day, so we go over that list to see if we are still going to do this today. Or do we need to change, because our job is dictated by whatever the news is of the day. So you can have all of these grand plans, and something happens and you never get to that the list gets moved to the next day and then sometimes the next day.
What are some of the community projects and initiatives you've been part of that you're most proud of?
Well, you know, everything. Everything goes back to 2020. Because we had to change our way of doing things just like the rest of the world. But we took what we did as far as food drives were concerned, and making sure people knew where they could go get their COVID tests, making sure that when the vaccines came out, where they needed to go to get their vaccinations. One thing that our local radio group did on our websites was to have a panel of this if you were in this county, this is where you need to go. This is the website that you need to go to to sign up for your COVID vaccine. This is where you can go when the North Texas Food Bank is giving away food at this location. One of the big fundraisers that we're involved in is for a school for special needs kids. And so we were usually those volunteers come to the radio station and they do this radiothon telethon. They're at the radio station not able to do that this year. So we did it remotely. But still, we were able to go on the air and talk about this fundraising and make sure that the the people who live in that facility get their Christmas gifts. We knew that we were there as a source of information and as a source for people to be able to come to us and we could give them what we needed. I got a phone call in the newsroom one day. A man he was looking for a food giveaway. He said, 'Ma'am, I don't have any food. I don't know where to go. So I just knew if I called you, you'd be able to tell me where to go. Or I can get some food to feed my family.' So sure, we had done the story, I Googled it and I gave him that information. And he's like, 'Thank you, ma'am. You just fed my kids.' And so it's those types of things that make us want to do what we did.
You mentioned that you've been with WBAP for 27 years. And I would imagine that things have changed considerably over the years, especially for women and women of color. Can you speak to that a little bit?
It's very interesting. Women have been on television a lot more than you see them in radio news. And when I first started there, there were not very many of us in radio news. And fortunately, that is changing. And we are also now seeing more women in managerial positions in radio and television. And that is so very important. Because everybody from their backgrounds, from where they came from, from how they grew up, from who they are, brings in a different perspective. And you can help make a change in many different areas. And it's been good to see that our industry is open to change. One thing that I'm really proud of in my career is the interns who we've had at the station throughout the years. Girls, young ladies, college interns, and I'm in touch still with so many of them. And they'll reach out to me when they get that first job, they'll call or email and say, 'My news director said the same thing that you told me!' They just had to hear it from someone else. I'm still in touch with a lot of them and they're they're working in radio and television all over the country. And it just warms my heart. Yeah, it's like being a mom because it just warms my heart to know that that those opportunities are out there. And when I'm working with people who are trying to get into the business, I tell them to take any position that you can, anything that gets you in the door. Because once you're inside, then you'll be able to prove your worth. So don't turn down anything, don't think you're too good to do a particular task, just do whatever it is they need you to do.
Where do you see local radio news, let's say specifically, five to 10 years from now.
That's hard to say. I think that it will definitely be around. I do know that. One thing that I've heard probably my entire career, and you've probably heard this too, "Radio's dead. Radio's going away. Radio's going to be replaced by this and that and whatever.' Radio is still here, radio evolves. And there are people out there who are way smarter than me. And they're going to figure out what the next wave of radio is. If we look at it throughout the years, the family sitting around the the radio station on Sunday evening to get their news, to terrestrial radio to podcasts to us now, also putting our stories on social media and adding the audio to that, I mean, it just evolves and evolves and evolves. And it will continue to do that. I don't know what it's going to look like in five or 10 years. I don't think anyone knows what it's going to look like in five or 10 years. But I'm 99.9% sure that it's still going to be here. People are going to always need local news People are going to always need to know what's happening up at City Hall. What's happening at your kids school, your local government, and even your fun, feature rich stuff. People are going to always need to know where they can go to get their entertainment, to see their movies, what festivals are coming up. So it might look different. It's going to look different, but it's not going anywhere. So I'm interested to see where it's going to be in five to 10 years from now as well. That local community connection is never going to go away. That's the basis of all of it.
Freda Ross has over 27 years of broadcast experience. Freda joined WBAP in 1994 as Assignments Editor and was soon promoted to the Assistant News Director position. She assumed the position of News Director in 2015. The multi-award-winning journalist is a graduate of The University of North Texas and started her radio career in her hometown of Sulphur Springs, Texas.
Before coming to WBAP she was News Director for KETR Radio Station on the campus of Texas A&M University in Commerce, Texas.
Freda has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and is involved with many non-profit organizations. Freda enjoys the theatre, reading, jazzercising and collecting stamps. The entrepreneur also has her own line of jewelry.
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