The fact that I am interested in this type of stuff and had covered facets of it, made me a much better anchor that night.
By FELICIA C. HANEY
Change. It’s what we all rally for, but are all reluctant to accept.
It’s what President Obama’s campaign was built on yet the same thing he’s having trouble implementing. It’s what Cleveland is going through, but is being met with resistance about. Some things are just more easily contrived in theory than acted out in reality.
But, the next time you turn your tube to Channel 3, be ready to embrace it.
Unless this is the first piece of news you’ve seen since coming out of winter hibernation, you’ve noticed the surplus of billboards around the city bearing Russ Mitchell’s face. Look familiar? That’s because that same face has been seen on CBS news for the last 20 years as the anchor of “The Early Show,” the “CBS Evening News” weekend editions and “CBS News Sunday Morning.”
Mitchell’s mug can now be spotted on our very own NBC local affiliate WKYC as the managing editor and evening anchor at the 6 and 11 p.m. spots replacing the previous long-term anchor Ramona Robinson.
After giving Mitchell some time to settle into his Cleveland digs, the Call & Post caught up with him at his new home base on Lakeside Ave. to ask the question so many have pondered… “Why Cleveland? To which he gives the best answer we could ask for… “Why not?”
“A few months into it, I’m happy I made this decision,” Mitchell said of his move from the national circuit back to local TV. “It’s been fun. It’s been challenging… I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my years at CBS and the challenges and excitement of a network role. But, I’ve been offered a unique opportunity to help create the next generation of local news in a great place and have a key role in trying to make a difference in a wonderful community. Coming here and having the chance to put what I’ve done over the years to use here is great for me. What I hear from people is that I bring something different to the table than some other folks have brought here and I hope that’s a good thing. And I hope this staff has enjoyed me being here as well.”
Making a perfect segway for the next question, it was becoming more apparent why Channel 3 had bagged this journalistic guru whose many hats obviously include a turban. But one doesn’t need the ability to look too far off into the future to see that Cleveland is going through a lot of transitions. And the same way we’ve seen his face plastered all over the city, he needs no crystal ball to clearly see all the construction that’s going on here.
But even the new structure over at the WKYC building that ushered out an old era following failed contract negotiations has created yet another transition for us in the form of Mitchell’s new position. So how has this change faired with Clevelanders in Mitchell’s eyes? Well, pretty square, according to him.
“I come from a different world. If you look at my history, I’ve done some pretty cool stuff [laughs]. So, it’s hard for me to be intimidated or let those things affect me. If I had grown up in Cleveland, and if I had had some perspective as to what was going on or it was part of my DNA that this was an issue, it probably would have been. But it wasn’t and it’s not. Usually when a new anchor comes in, especially an anchor who’s not from the city replacing someone who’s been there, it takes a while for things to get smooth. But, this has been incredible. People have been incredibly welcoming to me. I’m not from Cleveland, but I’m aware of its many transitions. It reminds me of my hometown St. Louis in that respect. A lot of starts and stops. A lot of people fighting, a lot of people who need to get together who didn’t get together and the hope is… eventually it all comes together. I think that people here are not opposed to change and are happy with what’s happening in this city. Just like any other city, it’s going to take time but I definitely think it’s moving in the right direction. And what I see in Cleveland right now is that happening. I had the really good fortune of having lunch with the mayor, just he and I, and getting a sense of what he wants to do and it’s really encouraging.
“In my old job I traveled a lot and I saw a lot of American cities and I can tell you that the problems that Cleveland has had are the same problems you see everywhere. The difference is that Cleveland is starting to turn around and things are happening here that probably should have happened many years ago.”
Quite naturally, the Call & Post was interested in knowing why after putting in his own many years of hard work, did he decide to return to smaller market news with an iffy forecast instead of taking a cakewalk job in a beach city with his feet up. So what made him leave his weekend anchor job on a major network to do the daily grind in Cleveland?
“Even though I was anchoring weekends, I was still working six or seven days. And I didn’t come here to retire. I came here to work hard. What I saw in 20 years at CBS and 10 years in local TV before that was how important it was for the anchor person to set the tone, pulling his weight as much as anybody else. I think what has happened in this business is you see a lot of people who are newsreaders. They come in, just sit at the desk and read news. I never want to be one of those people. When I talked to these folks [Channel 3] about coming here, one of the things they brought up was they were looking for someone who was going to come in and have a big voice in the editorial process. I said, that’s great, ‘cause that’s what I’m looking for. Coming here was a professional decision in that aspect and personal as well. It’s a great lifestyle here. New York is fantastic and we’ll always have a place there, but this is the lifestyle that I grew up with where you can drive your car and actually park places. My kids are in for quite a shock.”
A shocking revelation came to those outside of the industry during Robinson’s bidding war with the network when it was reported that she made somewhere in the margin of three quarters of a million dollars for anchoring the news and that she was unprepared to take a proposed pay cut from the station. Not commenting specifically on who he replaced, Mitchell did defend the fact that people discredit those who hold his position. “There’s a skill to communicating. I was reading something the other day where someone was saying ‘oh, they pay people to sit in front of the camera and deliver the news?’ There’s a skill to that. It aint brain surgery but there is a skill to it. And what separates the boys from the men, the girls from the women, is when the plane goes down, when something happens that’s not on that teleprompter and you have to rely on your own wits. I’m a reporter first and foremost. That’s why I got into this business. There are a lot of good presenters out there who aren’t reporters but I think the best people who sit at that desk and have a grasp of what’s going on are people who are really good reporters. An example for me of when that came in handy is the night Osama Bin Laden was killed. I was on the air for an hour and a half on CBS doing that special report and because I had covered those stories in the Middle East and I was in New York on 9-11 and covered 9-11 I had a perspective on that. That helped me out tremendously. The fact that I am interested in this type of stuff and had covered facets of it, made me a much better anchor that night.
So what is his vision for reporting Cleveland? How does he plan to bring that broad sense of reporting home to us every night? Simple.
“Journalistically, I’d like to see us cover the city more. Even though we’re a big part of the community now, I’d like for us to take that a step further. I would like to go out to community events as much as I can so that I can bring that in as part of the process here. I think I just want us to do great stories and provide that balance that you need between the reality of the world and the good news stories that are out there. In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been fortunate to be able to do profiles on some prominent African Americans. I want to do more stories like that. My parents both died of cancer. I would love to be involved in cancer awareness. And just getting out in the community and meeting people and also getting my sea legs here at Channel 3. I haven’t had a new job in a long time, but this has been an incredibly smooth transition. You will not find anybody more competitive than I am. If somebody is keeping score… I want to win! So, I try to do the best job I can.”