I met Mary Katherine in 1995 at Middle Tennessee State University where we shared a sorority, a major and an astrological sign, #TeamTaurus. We've been friends for 20 years, and in that time I've watched her work her way up from intern to producer, all at the same station, which is not only difficult, but incredibly rare.
Mary Katherine and I share a degree and a sliver of work experience, and I still have only a slight grasp on what she does all day. Producing a news show is a big, multi-faceted job that includes some stuff you probably know about and a lot of stuff you don't. Welcome today's bitch, Mary Katherine Rooker!
What is your job title and where do you work?
I am a producer at WSMV Channel 4, the NBC affiliate in Nashville.
When did you first learn about this field of work?
I first learned about the role of a producer in one of my electronic media journalism classes in college, when we delved into how much it takes to get a show on the air.
How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I didn’t know this was what I wanted to do. Like many in my field, I started down this path wanting to be a reporter. Katie Couric was in her heyday at the Today show and I aspired to sit in that same seat. However, when I interned at Channel 4 and saw all the producers in action, I thought, “Wow, they’re cool! They’re doing everything and the entire show is theirs.”
What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?
I graduated college thinking I was going to be a reporter. I sent resume tapes everywhere (including Alaska) and got nowhere. After three months of looking, my parents said, “We love you and we support you, but you have to get a job doing something.” I worked administrative jobs through a temp agency for a couple of months and then Channel 4 had a position for a part-time associate producer. Remembering how much I loved working with the producers, I applied and got the job.
When I started, I worked a 13 hour shift on Saturdays (4:30am - 5:30pm) and on Sundays I worked 7:30am - 3:30pm. During the week, I was considered “on call” and got called in whenever I was needed. I worked my way up to full-time associate producer, then weekend producer and finally a Monday - Friday show producer.
I’ve been at Channel 4 for 16 years; it’s the only station where I’ve worked, which is extremely rare in this field. Every boss who’s come in since I’ve been hired has always said, “You’ve been here how long????”. That’s when I have to explain that when I was growing up, Channel 4 was the ONLY station in town, as far as my family was concerned. When I was hired, I couldn’t believe I was working at the same place as Dan Miller, Demetria Kalodimos, Rudy Kalis and Bill Hall. The first time Demetria complimented me on my writing, I almost fell out of my chair. For as long as I could remember, Channel 4 was the station of record and I was grateful to work at a place with such a distinguished reputation. Also, I love Nashville! My family is here. I see my mama every Sunday. Nashville is the best, which a lot of us knew long before it became an "It City".
Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?
“It’s not that deep” and “Don’t cry because of insert-person’s-name”. The best advice I’ve received is not really advice, per se, but a strong work ethic I learned from my parents. I was raised to work hard and do my best, and your word is everything. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?
It’s not really a failure, but something that goes back to the “don’t cry…” statement above. News is a brutal business. I’ve encountered some nasty people over the years. I’ve learned that I can’t be responsible for the happiness of others. All I can do is my best work. I'm fortunate to have an incredible network of family and friends in my corner.
What would you do with 2 more hours a day?
I would read more, get a good work-out schedule going again (provided I can get rid of this plantar fasciitis) and my house would be spotless!
What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?
Every time there’s a kick-ass show, it’s exhilarating! I’m really proud of the times I’ve been able to field produce special coverage for the station. I like being challenged and it’s fun to get outside the station, envision how you want the content to look and then help gather all the elements to bring the stories to life.
What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?
How do you decompress at the end of the work day?
Barre class and wine!
What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?
What’s not obvious to most people is how much goes into getting a show on the air. We begin our day with our morning meeting, where we go over the big news of the day. This is also the meeting where reporters and producers pitch story ideas. Then, we decide on what stories we’re going to cover and assign reporters. After that, we begin working on our shows. There is communication throughout the day about how the reporters’ stories are turning out. Of course, there may be a lot of changes. A reporter and photojournalist may start on a story and by the 6pm news, they may be on their third story of the day. You can work on a show all day and it can go by the wayside in a matter of minutes if there’s breaking news. It takes a small village to get product on the air: assignment managers, producers, reporters, photojournalists, show editors, live truck operators, graphic artists, directors, anchors, studio crew. And then for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or three hours, it’s go!, go!, go!. It’s not always pretty, but it’s never boring.
What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?
People don’t know what I do, so they get a lot wrong. When you tell someone you work for a news station, their first questions is, “When can we see you?” They assume I’m on TV. They also assume the anchors write everything (“What time do they come in to write all that news?”). Wrong! That’s the producer. The best way I’ve found to explain it is the producer is responsible for the whole show, start to finish - the good, the bad and the ugly. The reporters write their stories, and the producers write everything else. We select sound bites, put in graphics and are in the control room timing out the shows.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
Sex and the City!!!! I love that show and will forever defend it from its detractors.
Snack: I don’t really snack a lot. I take a snack for mid-morning, but it’s nothing consistent. I guess my “snack” is my never-ending almond milk latte. Thanks to my Yeti cup for keeping it warm all day!
All photos courtesy of Mary Katherine Rooker