By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 24, 2012 at 9:02 AM

In just a few years, Channel 12 anchor and reporter Jason Newton has become a familiar and respected face in local news thanks especially to his commanding and high-profile presence on one of the top-rated 10 p.m. newscasts.

While some think he's been here longer – as you'll read below, he was often mistaken for his predecessor at the station – Newton arrived with his wife April and then-infant son Jonas from Jason's native Maryland in 2007.

Since then, a second son has arrived, and the Newtons have sunk roots deep into Cream City soil. That connection to Milwaukee means Newton is less receptive than many of his colleagues to job offers from outside the city.

In this latest installment of Milwaukee Talks, Newton tells us about how he came to love Milwaukee and what his days (and nights) are like here now.

OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about when you got started here?

Jason Newton: I came in 2007 and started doing weekend mornings with Portia (Young) and Lyra (O'Brien), and then it shuffled up after that. It was weird coming into that position, because the guy before me – DeMarco (Morgan) – was so loved. So, out in the community people would say, "Hey DeMarco." I'm like, "no I'm Jason." "Oh, DeMarco I saw you this morning with Portia." "No, it wasn't DeMarco."

OMC: I know that this is the kind of job in which you have to move around to an extent, but is it more tempting to stay put now that you have kids?

JS: Definitely. You become more comfortable because of them. My first thought when it comes to moving to a different job now is, alright, so that means Jonas will have to change schools and then they have to get used to new friends; they've made all these friends in the neighborhood. So that becomes a new factor now. As a single guy, you're like, "I'll go to Hawaii if I want to and report there." But it's a whole new way of thinking. As with everything in life now with kids.

OMC: Do you still think about it?

JN: It would have to be something really, really good for me to decide we'll move, and I feel like it would have to happen before the kids were old enough to have those really tight friends like where, you know, you go to games together and all that kind of stuff. I think my dream would be to be in a city where family could see us; where my mother is able to see me on a nightly basis.

OMC: Are they still in Baltimore? Would that be a place you'd consider, then?

JN: They're still in Baltimore. If there was any call I would take it definitely would be Baltimore.

OMC: So, how did you get to Milwaukee? You were working in Maryland before, weren't you?

JN: I knew nothing about Milwaukee. I knew "Happy Days" and that was about it. When my agent first told me about the job, I had gotten out of television. I had worked in Salisbury, Md., for seven, eight years. And I figured, it's close to home, I'll stay here and make a career out of it. And then there were changes within that company. A guy came in and began anchoring the show that I was anchoring. So, I got shuffled to another position. I said, alright, well maybe this is a sign, and so I went to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and taught kids how to use cameras and report and that kind of thing and then still had the itch.

OMC: So you went looking for a job?

JN: I hired an agent. I wasn't out that long, but long enough that I wasn't sure what to do. I said to him the only stipulation is I want to be on the East Coast. I'm an East Coast guy. So he calls back and is like, "Great, I've got something. Milwaukee!"

And I had no idea. The first day I flew in for the interview, it started to remind me of Baltimore a lot. And people always talk about the nice Midwestern people.

OMC: Did you find that to be the case?

JN: Oh, yeah! But I didn't believe it. I was like, you don't have to sell me on it, I'll figure it out on my own. It was weird at first.

OMC: When you came to Milwaukee the first time were you sold on it right away?

JN: Yeah, the interview I was sold on. I think the best thing I did, I rented a car. I was just going to take a cab. I was staying at the Ambassador. I figured, you know, I'm just going to drive around and see what this is about because my vision was farm fields and dairy cows and that stuff. (Laughs.) But I drove 794 up the lakefront, went up by Bayshore and then circled back. It was summer. If I'd have come in a blizzard, you'd have never seen me. (Laughs).

OMC: If you came here in winter, even if it wasn't terrible, you might think there's not a whole lot going on. But in summer there's so much going on. It's more obvious.

JN: Oh yeah, and everyone is outside. You have to find stuff in the winter. In the summer people are outside and not just cruising. They're working out, they've got the kids out, they're walking the dog. Even when we go down to the air show – and we've gone every year – it becomes like this big family reunion thing. And I think that's the whole Midwestern "your family is my family" thing. I don't know why that doesn't happen other places but I think that's what we enjoy.

OMC: Were you married at the time?

JN: Yeah, we were married at the time but only had one child.

OMC: Your wife is from Marquette (Mich.), isn't she?

JN: She's from the UP. That was a big part. I think that she knew about how cold it got in the winter. She was prepared. I knew East Coast snow, but I didn't know this kind of thing. It was good to know that she had an idea what we were in for but it was also good to know we had a safety valve so that when things got a little bit too unfamiliar we could always drive up to her parents' place and just sorta relax and cool out. There's family there. That first year we did that more often than I thought we would. As years have progressed it's sort of fallen off. Because of the comfort level and now we have two kids.

OMC: How does your schedule work with having two little kids?

JN: I'm 2 'til 11 now. Once the show's over I go home. We've been lucky that (my wife) has had morning shifts teaching. It's a tag-team thing.

OMC: And when (younger son) Augie was still in the up all night screaming phase?

JN: You know, I give my wife credit because I'm a strong sleeper. At least I tell myself that. (Laughs) He didn't cry a whole lot. He did cry and we'd trade off. It was more with Jonas before. He was a bigger crier, I think. But now, April is a trooper. She went in, said OK everyone, she knew my day was going to be long. And then we'd trade off some days. It was this weird partnership where no word was spoken, no like "Hey, get up." I give her 150 percent of the credit.

But for our day schedules it's just worked out perfectly and I know that at some point it's going to end. At some point she's going to have a job where we won't be able to trade off. Hopefully it'll come at a point when the kids are in school all day. But, it's tough. There are days when you're dead tired.

OMC: How long have you been on the desk?

JN: In my first job I started to anchor two or three years in. It was the noon show. Here, out of the box I was doing weekend mornings  and then reporting during the week. So, it's two days of anchoring and three days reporting.

OMC: Is there a hierarchy tied to that? Like if you come in and start anchoring right away are you doing a little better than, say, someone who comes in strictly as a reporter?

JN: I think there might be a public perception. In the office, I think you're just doing the job. Someone's got to do it, so it's you, new guy.

OMC: Do some people prefer to do one over the other?

JN: I think there are some people who enjoy the reporting aspect more than the anchoring aspect and I can totally get it. There's something about being out of the office and meeting people and talking to people. You're there. (On the desk) you're missing the excitement. The excitement is out there. You don't see the flames, you don't see the kid doing something amazing. You're more pitching to a guy who got to see the whole thing from beginning to end. You're not at the Packers game with people going crazy. So you do feel, not left out, but, (you think) "man, I want to be part of the fun out there."

OMC: Do you miss that part?

JN: There are moments, yeah. But I'm still reporting. I report before anchoring at 10. So I still get a taste of it.

OMC: What's your day like?

JN: I come in at 2 o'clock, we have an afternoon meeting and decide who is going to do what for the day. I'll usually do something that's closer in town, that doesn't have to be live because I'll be back earlier and read through scripts and that kind of thing. Do the show, reading through scripts beforehand and sort of helping to write. On a day that's slow or if I've written my story early I'll help the producer write the show. It's an all hands on deck thing.

OMC: You go out about once a day, then?

JN: Yeah, once a day I'll go out and gather whatever needs to be gathered. Usually what's left. Sort of nearby and something I know I can accomplish without being out until 10 to get it done. That can be challenging at times. Some nights are more exciting than others, with more breaking news or an election night.

Luckily we've been in a cycle where there are a lot of things that can't be ignored. So you walk in some days and you know exactly what your story is that day.

OMC: How do you face the challenge of having so much going on, like this year, when you still have 22 minutes?

JN: I think the challenge is the fair part. I think the challenge is making sure that if you're going to do, you know, "there are tons of guys out there getting petitions (signed)," I think the challenge is making sure you have the Republican side telling you, "you can get all the petitions you want but we're going to put up a fight."

Also, we're blessed with having a number of reporters, so we're able to divide and conquer and find a way to get everything we want on the air.

We have an assignment desk that's great at night. They know our strengths, they know where everyone is. They have a good idea who can get where the fastest. They know what resources we have available. She is the architect and has it totally down to what needs to be done. For us, it's listening for the phone call.

OMC: What do you love most about Milwaukee? If you were leaving, what would you miss most?

JN: It's a combination of things. The people have really impressed me. I'm not saying to make sure that readers will watch. When we go back to Baltimore – Baltimore's always been home, will always be home to me – there's definitely a notable difference from East Coast folks and then being here. Our lives are different, nothing against them. There's something about the air in the Midwest. There's this friendly thing where I feel like I could walk by a coffee shop where a guy is drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and I could sit down next to him and I don't think I'd get a dirty look like, "hey, this is my table."

That's No. 1  for me. We've been able to make friends with people that I don't think I would have approached back home. They're approachable, they're a wealth of information, they'll give you directions even if you don't really need them. (Laughs.) That's what's made the impression on me.

OMC: What do you miss most about Baltimore?

JN: Family. Easily family and friends. Probably three times a year we end up going back. We'll do a holiday, we'll do early in the year and then we'll do one of the boys' birthday. We try to get home as much as we can, and call. And Skype is a powerful thing. The (kids) love it. We could Skype every day. The kids ask for it.

It's only two cousins out of a whole farm of cousins that have moved away. One is moving to Dubai and I live in Wisconsin. So, I told her this Christmas, as long as you stay in Dubai I'm in good shape. They can get to me for $69.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.