By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 16, 2011 at 11:06 AM

A native of Chicago's South Side, Brendan Conway doesn't hide his loyalty to the Bears and White Sox despite seven years reporting the news on Channel 12.

Conway, who just recently became a father, has spent much of the last month in Madison, covering all sides of the state budget battle. He took some time away from the madness to talk about his career, his love for sports and his experience in Madison. Tell us the "Brendan Conway Story;" where are you from? How did you get to Channel 12 and Milwaukee?

Brendan Conway: I'm born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. I still keep my allegiances to the White Sox and the Bears. In this business, you start small and work your way up. I went to college at Loras in Dubuque, Iowa. I started there, in Dubuque, went to Peoria, Ill., the Fresno, Calif., and now, here I am.

OMC: When did you come to Milwaukee?

BC: In 2003. September 2003. It was kind of a gradual build up to bigger stations.

OMC: Do you like it here? Are you happy in Milwaukee -- even though you're right in the middle of Packers country?

BC: Oh yeah. I love Milwaukee. It's my home now. I'm married and have a kid -- five weeks ago, actually. We have a house in Tosa. I really like Milwaukee. It's close to home for me. I have a big family -- seven brothers and sisters and they're all in Chicago. My youngest sister is a senior at Marquette. Four of my brothers and sisters went to Marquette. Two of my in-laws and my uncle.

OMC: What about Milwaukee is so likable to you?

BC: It just has everything I would want in a city. I'm a sports guy, so I love that it has all the sports. There's plenty of nightlife, restaurants and bars -- though I obviously don't get out as much as I used to anymore. It's so livable. It's not super expensive. Outside of construction, traffic is pretty good. I have a good job. And part of it is how close it is to home. I like being two hours from my family and home.

OMC: Some look at Milwaukee as a stepping-stone job to a bigger market but you seem pretty happy here. Is the eye still on the "bigger prize," especially now that you've settled down and started a family?

BC: I am very, very happy in Milwaukee. And if you look at the people at our station, there are a lot of people who feel like that. I've been there seven and a half years and I'm still one of the newer people, which is amazing.

OMC: You're right. There doesn't seem to be as much turnover as at some stations.

BC: There are people like Mike Anderson who have been there 30 years. Kathy Mykleby has been there 20-some years. Kent Wainscott and Colleen Henry have been there nearly 20 years, I think. Nick Bohr has been there 10 or 15 years and he's the next-closest to me. At other stations, especially when I was working in smaller markets, if you were there two or three years, you were one of the most experienced people. It really says a lot about Channel 12.

OMC: Did you want to go into TV, specifically, when you started to take an interest in journalism?

BC: I worked at the paper in high school and, in college, I worked at the newspaper and the TV station. I was really interested in the production side of things. I did corporate videos and stuff in college. I don't want to say I fell into it but I did the TV news and wasn't sure what I was going to do.

The day before I graduated, I got offered a job at the FOX affiliate in Dubuque. I had applied like a week earlier. It worked out. It was what I wanted to do. I'd always been interested in journalism and telling stories. There's obviously different ways to do it in different mediums and I liked TV and merging pictures and sound.

OMC: Did you ever envision a day where you would be reporting with your phone?

BC: At my first station, we didn't even have cellphones. It was 1998 so they were out there, but we didn't get them until about a year later. We had a radio and a phone book. It's amazing how far it's come. Forget about '98, though. Look at even 2008. That was, really, before Twitter. It's changed so much. And in another two years, there will probably something completely new.

OMC: Twitter has changed the game for all of us, no matter what medium we're in. You watch TV and think, oh they're just doing their segment but really, your whole shift is spent reporting.

BC: That's one of the things that adds to these big stories now, like in Madison. We're able to send back pictures, videos and updates. Or we can e-mail stuff back to the station to put up on our Web site. It's not just the newscasts anymore. It's really like micro-reporting.

OMC: Social media has changed the way we gather the news, too.

BC: It has. Out in Madison, where things were developing so quickly, it was almost impossible to keep up. There was stuff happening in court. There was stuff happening in the Assembly. There was stuff happening in the Senate. And then you had the protests. We didn't have people to cover each of the different elements so, yeah, Twitter was definitely one way for us to keep up on everything.

I asked some of the other reporters there, like Mary Spicuzza, who has been doing a amazing job covering the story for the Wisconsin State Journal. She said the same thing, she follows lots of people. That's how we all kind of keep in touch because at any time, you could be talking to a state senator and he doesn't know what's going on. Five minutes later, he could talk to another reporter and he's learned something.

OMC: Let's stick with the Madison story for a bit. When you first went out there, did you have any idea that this was going to become as big of a story as it did?

BC: Even when it was announced, there wasn't a lot of buzz. It was announced on a Friday and I worked that first Sunday. There were talks about protests. There were some teachers and others and some small protests outside Walker's house. Then we heard there would be a couple thousand people in Madison the next day. Any time you hear numbers like that, you're a little skeptical but it just grew from there.

I remember those first few days, there were thousands of people. And then there were tens of thousands of people. It just kind of kept growing. It's been incredible. And every day there is something different happening. Every day, some significant thing went on that just added to the story.

OMC: Is it hard, and I'm not trying to get you to reveal a position on the issue, but is it hard to keep your opinion out of the broadcast when you're there that much and in the midst of such a crowd or people?

BC: No, it's not. It's what we, as journalists, are trained to do. The problem, though, is especially with Twitter, being perceived as being one way or the other. It almost makes you think twice, which is unfortunate. But, and I've talked with other co-workers about this, I think we must be doing something right because on Twitter and in e-mails, we're constantly getting it from both sides. That's when you know you're doing a good job.

OMC: What was it like? Obviously, you weren't putting in simple, eight-hour days.

BC: Nick (Bohr) was there a lot. He practically lived there. He was coming and going but he spent more time then me there, I think. I was putting in 12-hour days, too, but a lot of times he was there the entire time the legislature was open.

OMC: How did you divide up the work, for lack of a better term. With so much going on.

BC: Those first few days, I mostly focused on the governor, so I was at all the press conferences, then doing some of the protester stuff. The past few days, though, it's pretty much been everyone going everywhere.

OMC: Was it fun?

BC: It was an incredible experience. I don't know if "fun" is the right word, but for a news person, as into politics and the news as I am, and covering one of if not the biggest story in the country -- until everything that's happened in Japan which, rightfully, has kind of pushed things off the map for the moment.

For three weeks, though, it was the lead story everywhere. We were spending as much as 10 minutes a newscast on the story which is, outside of weather or Packers ... I can't think of any other time we've done that.

OMC: What stood out for you during your time in Madison?

BC: I think maybe the way it changed. It was constantly changing. Usually, you cover something for a month, like a court case, and there are days when nothing happens. But it seemed like something was happening every day. The initial burst of "what's going on?" Then you had the senators leaving, which was amazing. Then the call for them to come back. Then the prank phone call which really fed fuel to the fire. The 60-hour debate in the Assembly which ended in the middle of the night. It was so amazing.

Every day, there was something happening. Then there was how many people went. I talked to a lot of those people -- they were just normal people who showed up. The weather helped, too. And the other thing that really surprised me, honestly and truthfully, was how kind everyone was. Even on an average day with, say, 5,000 people there.

Everyone was so accommodating and nice. There was no fighting or shoving to get through. The police handled it so well. There could have been some tense situations but they kind of just let the crowds run out of steam. If you would have told me there would be 4,000 people in the Capitol and the police were told to shut it down, what would you think would happen?

OMC: It is surprising that nobody got hurt or that nobody was arrested. On television, it was kind of surreal to watch.

BC: Towards the end, the last few days, you could sense things were changing. There definitely seemed to be more frustration from the protesters. That's when you saw people going through windows. Think about it, though, this went on for a month.

OMC: When you're in a situation like that, is there a lot of working together with other reporters? Obviously, you're all in competition, but what's it like when you're all camped out together?

BC: It depends. If you get something no one else has, you obviously hold onto it. You always take pride in being the first one to get it out there. Nick was the first one to talk to Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville who told him that the (Democratic senators) were going to Illinois and he put it out there right away.

It was a source of pride because he was the first one to get that story. That was a big story. At the same time, if there's a press conference and somebody needs space, or help carrying stuff ... or you'll hear about something that's going on 10 minutes from now. So yeah, there's a lot of working together in the field but you never want to give up a good, exclusive story. It's not like in "Anchorman" when they fight to the death in the middle of a street.

OMC: Now I have an image of you and Ted Perry fighting in an alley somewhere.

BC: I play basketball against Ted so I don't know. He might beat me in a fight!

OMC: Madison was a big story but what are some of the other memorable ones that stand out during your career?

BC: I get asked that all the time and I never know how to answer. I got to fly with the Thunderbirds a few summers ago. That was pretty cool, being up there for an hour and a half. How cool is that? I think we pulled nine Gs. I didn't pass out, I didn't throw up ... I had a lot of fun. That was probably the most fun I've gotten to experience.

But there's always something different. You get to see and do so much that sometimes, you forget about it. I've met some fascinating people, even if they're not famous. In fact, shortly after I got here in 2004 or '05, there was a football player in Lomira who passed out on the field and died. I remember his parents mentioned shortly after that they donated a lot of his organs.

I kept it in the back of my mind and about six months later, we were able to follow up and working with the transplant people, because it's all anonymous, we were able to set it up so a couple of the people who got his organs ... they all got to meet. I think there was a 23-year-old who got his lungs, an older man who got his liver. We got them all together to meet on the football field in Lomira. It was such a big part of his life. That story still sticks with me.

Stuff like that ... I got to spend days on that story. Sometimes, you only get a few hours to work on a story.

OMC: What changes do you see on the horizon for TV news?

BC: If I had an answer to that, I'd be a billionaire. It seems, though, like people are still watching the news. Our numbers are good. People still want trustworthy sources of news, not just things they see on Facebook or Twitter. I think most people are still interested in knowing "is that true?"

The next few years, things might not change a lot. But 10, 20 years from now ... will it be more Internet, more on-demand? Maybe. At the same time, I think people sometimes get overloaded by Twitter. I think maybe that's why TV news, with everything all at once a few times a days, still works. You look at what happened in Madison, newspapers have done a great job covering it, but the best way to see that is through video. It's not going away.

OMC: Away from work, what do you like to do?

BC: I like to run. I ran in college and I still like to get out and do it when I can. I'm certainly not as competitive as I once was. Now that I am a father, that takes up more of my time than even I thought it might. My wife goes back to work next week so I'll be watching him during the day. I watch television when I can. I really like watching good TV. I watch a little of everything. And I like sports.

OMC: Do you have to "adopt" the Packers when you're doing Packers stories?

BC: Oh no. I'm not a Packers fan. I don't have anything against the Packers or Packers fans but I'm a Bears fan. People in Chicago ask me how I can cover the Packers. First of all, I don't cover the Packers. As a news person, with the exception of the Brett Favre story, I've never had to cover the Packers as a team. But I do get to talk to the fans and that's easy. I don't care who you root for, it's not hard at all to get people to talk about how they're celebrating. It's not that I root for the Packers to lose.

OMC: And as a White Sox fan, you can go to Miller Park and bond over Brewers fans while rooting against the Cubs.

BC: The Brewers are my second-favorite team and not just because I'm in Milwaukee. I like baseball, I like the Brewers, I like Miller Park. I think they're going to have a really good year this year. But the one thing we can all agree on, Brewers fans and White Sox fans, is we all hate the Cubs. Nobody hates the Cubs more than White Sox fans.