Milwaukee Talks: Channel 12 anchor Craig McKee
There's a new face at 10 o'clock on Channel 12 news. Kathy Mykleby's new partner Craig McKee arrives from San Diego, but he's quite literally been around the world and back.
Born and raised in Joplin, Mo., McKee spent nearly a decade in the Air Force, stationed in Europe. After earning a degree in criminal justice back home, it was in Europe – while stationed in Germany – that he learned the ropes in journalism and broadcasting, covering the Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo and Operation Task Force Hawk in Albania, among other things.
Later, he worked as a reporter, editor and photojournalist at KPNX-TV in Phoenix. While anchoring weekday mornings at WOWK-TV in West Virginia, he also contributed live weather updates for the national Weather Channel.
Losing his job at the height of the recession, McKee landed a gig at KFMB-TV in San Diego, where he anchored the weekend news.
Now, living in Pewaukee with his wife and their children, McKee has landed the high-profile 10 p.m. co-anchor slot on WISN. We caught up with him to ask about his experience in journalism and his early experiences here in Milwaukee.
OnMilwaukee.com: You've been here just under a month. How are things going?
Craig McKee: This job so far has been like starting a new school two days before the final exam. We jumped right in with politics right off the top, and now of course we have the recall election. I literally had to to just sit there and scour the internet and everything I could to get as much information on who the players are, who does it effect, and what are the policies and why is it happening this way. I had to figure it out in a very short time. I still don't have it all down.
But every day I'm reading, and doing the homework, and doing everything I can. Fortunately, again, we have such a great staff that I can ask Mike Gousha and Kent Wainscott and say, "explain this a little bit more to me, why is this so important." Because I can compare this to California, and the policy makers in California or the policy makers in Ohio, in other states that I've lived or worked in. But Wisconsin is its own beast.
OMC: It must be very helpful to have the veterans (like Gousha and Wainscott) around to help.
CM: The people at WISN, I found people that have been there 20-plus years, nearly 30 years. You have photographers that have been on the ground, so they understand the pulse of the city. There are so many markets where you have such a high turnover. In this business there can be a lot of turnover because there are young up-and-comers who are looking for that next jump, they are looking for the number one market.
Market size is something I try to express to these young people; in this business market size doesn't matter, and if you're single, you look at your career path a lot differently obviously than if you're married with children. So market size doesn't play as big as a role. It's the operation itself. When you have people that know the politics in such a political environment here, you know we have people on our staff that when some little thing flickers over here somebody maybe in another market or younger might go, "oh that's just nothing," but we have people here who will say no, that's huge, something big is about to happen and they have the knowledge to tackle it.
OMC: Do you do any reporting as well? Do they have you specialized in anything?
CM: As of right now no. I mean we're not focusing in one on franchise so to speak. But one thing that I really liked about this position as well in Milwaukee, I wasn't just coming in to read glass, as we like to say, reading the teleprompter. This position is about getting out, and coming Downtown, and going to the State Capitol or going up and covering the Packers. I mean where ever the news is happening, I get to be a part of that. Which is also important because I get to get out and learn the community, talk face-to-face with people, and really see their concerns are. You know it's one thing to sit there, and your intro story and your outro story, and you have 15-20 seconds. Well, 15-20 seconds doesn't really sum up sometimes the true impact.
So being able to be out on the ground, and boots on the ground so to speak, to use military term, when we have those stories that are little blurbs that come across when I am anchoring, I can say, "shouldn't can't we expand on this because I heard this, this, this, and this." I think it really helps across the board with our operation because you have Terry Sader and Jason Newton who anchor their shows, which means they, in turn, can help. It's woven together uniquely here.
OMC: As a viewer I always thought that being an anchor was sort of a goal. I was surprised to hear Jason Newton say basically the same thing, that he loved the fact that he came in, you guys had your meeting and then he would go out and cover something. He wants to be out there; that's where the excitement is. People aren't always aiming to get into the anchor chair.
CM: It makes you a better journalist. I guess to that, for me, it makes me a more rounded journalist, because I understand the issues and that plays out with knowledge whenever I'm talking about issues or when we have breaking news on a particular instance when a political candidate initiates something, we can immediately start talking about the background on it.
The other side of that, this business has changed dramatically since the recession. Stations are having to have to do more with less. People who used to just come in and they turn one package and then they would go home, now they are turning in two or three, or they are doing a few extra pieces here and there. And that's just what's happened. Newspapers have seen that same effect.
OMC: Has the anchor role changed in that sense? Was it more like you said in the past where they would come in and just read the glass?
CM: Within certain markets, absolutely. And not to say that they're aren't still some anchors that are like that. There are still some main anchors where they come in and they read a half-hour and they read a half-hour and then they read a half-hour and they go home. And that is this business in some areas, but a lot of that has gone away because they realize we need to have more content. This is a content driven business and with the internet, social media, there's so much material out there, you have to be able to create enough content to satisfy the new viewer. Because the new viewer isn't your old viewer where they come home, they sit down, they watch that 5 o'clock cast. By the time 5 o'clock comes around, they've already had all the headlines on their Twitter apps and on their social media apps. So you really have to make sure you're diving deeper and say, "well, here is a little bit more than 140 characters."
OMC: Does it make the anchor more apart of the news team as well because you're not just sitting there waiting for the news to come to you?
CM: I think so. You're more interactive in the sense that you're not just reading the 10 or 15 seconds that you have to read on air. You are talking with the producers. And again bringing any knowledge you have from the streets and working on a daily basis anyways. Bringing that in to make sure that the show is as well-rounded as possible, as in-depth as we can get and making sure that the viewer leaves satisfied and not with more questions.
OMC: I would think it would be key for somebody like you, for anyone who's coming to town too, to go out and do that stuff because if you're just sitting in the news room you aren't going to figure out the lay of the land. You're not going to meet people.
CM: Even coming down here to sit down with you, I mean I'm traveling through a section of town that my photographers have driven through with me in the passenger seat. But actually driving around in town you get more of the lay of the land, like you said. But it is absolutely critical because to look at somebody's in their eyes when they are telling you about their hardships, losing their house or they can't find work, or whatever the case may be, or they are really just passionate about something it is a lot different than getting it through an email for phone call.
OMC: So now that you've been here almost a month, do you have places you like to go?
CM: I wish I could say I have a favorite restaurant. I know I plan to go to many. I am a foodie, my wife is a foodie, once we get a babysitter and that taken care of. We haven't really had a lot of time because of the transitional stuff we've been doing though. We did find a nice Mexican restaurant near where we are staying in Brookfield. And that was kind of nice you know, coming from the southwest, I can't find a taco stand of course on the sidewalk. No fish tacos (available on the street).
OMC: I went to San Diego to do a story and my cousins took me to a Padres game and said you have to try the fish tacos. They are so good.
CM: Every part of of our country has that sub-culture and that is one thing that makes our country so great. And I've had an opportunity to work in a bunch of different environments and of course around the world when I was in the military. Our country and our world is such a dynamic place.
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