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Bob Levey
Bob Levey
(Barbara Tyroler)
NBC4 Web site
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Column: Bob Levey
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Q&A With Bob Levey
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, May 22, 2001; Noon EDT

"Levey Live" appears Tuesdays at noon EDT. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey. This hour is your chance to talk directly to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Today, Bob’s guest is Doreen Gentzler, co-anchor of WRC-TV’s News4 in Washington, D.C.

Doreen Gentzler
Doreen Gentzler

Gentzler is co-anchor of News4 at 6 and 11. She also reports on cutting edge health issues several times a week during the news segment "News 4 Your Health." Gentzler is also spokesperson on the station’s health-related community outreach activities including the annual 4 Your Health Fitness Expo.

Gentzler joined News4 in July 1989 from WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, Pa. Her career has also included stints in Chattanooga, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C. and Cleveland, Ohio. She has filled in for various news anchors on "The Today Show" and "NBC at Sunrise."

Gentzler has won three local Emmy awards for reporting and anchoring and three other Emmys for news writing and reporting while in Cleveland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism form the University of Georgia.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Bob Levey: Good afternoon, Doreen, and thanks very much for joining us today. You are quite the rarity in TV news. Not only have you worked at one station for 12 years, but that station has soared in the ratings ever since you sat down in the co-anchor's chair. What is the secret of Doreen Gentzler's success?

Doreen Gentzler: Good afternoon! I worked at four other TV stations before coming home to Washington. I work with a terrific team and I think our chemistry is the secret to why we've done well in the ratings.

Alexandria, Va.: My family ALWAYS tunes into News4 exclusively. We love the chemistry between you and Jim Vance. Are you really having as much fun as it seems?

Doreen Gentzler: Yes. It's a pleasure to work with Jim and Bob and George. All are strong personalities, very different, and we all feel comfortable teasing each other on the air. We're also watching out for each other when things go wrong. That team is the biggest reason why I'm happy to continue working at NBC 4. Thanks for your compliments!

Washington, D.C.: Hi Doreen! I'd like your opinion on the "Naked News" Web site that started up recently. Basically, the premise is that anchor women strip while they read the news.

I have to say I was shocked when I heard about this. I think it reflects how far we women still have to overcome in our professional lives. Do you think endeavors such as this make it even harder for women to be taken seriously as journalists? Or are we finally nearing a point where a person's work can stand for itself?

Doreen Gentzler: I don't think you can call the Naked News people journalists! And I don't think anyone takes them seriously.

Former Clevelander, now in Washington, D.C.: Hi Doreen,

I notice that many of Washington's current news people were in Cleveland at one time -- you, Dale Solly, Mike Landess -- and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Is the Cleveland market a stepping stone for bigger things?

Doreen Gentzler: I spent four years working in Cleveland. It was a great experience and I am back there often, after marrying a man from Cleveland. For a lot of people in TV news, it is a stepping stone to larger TV markets. But a lot of people are very happy to cover the news in Cleveland for a whole career, as you probably know.

Washington, D.C.: (News) anchors seem to just read the news straight from some kind of an electronic board, and it makes it seem to be so easy to be an anchor (just sit there and read). Is that true? (Although I know that not everyone who can read can be an anchor.)

Doreen Gentzler: Yes, we do read copy off of an electronic board called a teleprompter -- it's a mirror contraption that's right in front of the camera lens. And it does make it easier.

However, the teleprompter doesn't always work. And it doesn't help at all when there is breaking news and no script! Any TV anchor who relies too much on a teleprompter is in a dangerous position!

Bob Levey: At WRC, Doreen Gentzler has been in the chair for 12 years, Jim Vance for more than 30, Bob Ryan for more than 20, George Michael for nearly 20. In the D.C. market, only Gordon Peterson comes close to such longevity. Is staying with the same lineup the key to success in the TV news biz?

Doreen Gentzler: I certainly think it has helped at WRC-TV. But then, no TV station management will stay with a news team that doesn't attract viewers!

Washington, D.C.: Hi Doreen,

Do you get depressed when covering tragic stories night after night? How do you handle talking about murders and then go right on to the weather or sports?


Doreen Gentzler: The same way a lot of people in different jobs handle stress and tragedy. We try to keep a sense of humor. Every once in a while, though, a story will really get to you and make it difficult to regain composure. All the recent school shootings have been awfully hard to cover.

Falls Church, Va.: OK, tell the truth -- is Jim Vance wearing gym shorts under that desk? Blue Jeans? Boxers?

Doreen Gentzler: I try not to notice.

Actually he's usually wearing regular old business clothing, except occasionally he might show up in jeans.

I am more likely to change to blue jeans after going home to put two children to bed in the evening!

Bethesda, Md.: Do the Channel 4 news anchors play a role in writing or editing the news you report?

Doreen Gentzler: Yes. We all participate in the story planning meetings that happen throughout the day. And share in the planning of which stories we cover.

We don't get the opportunity to write as much news copy as we once did. Mostly because we're putting so many hours of news on the air today. But we usually get the opportunity to edit almost all of the copy we read before air time.

All of our anchors also report from time to time. I cover health and medical stories. And in that case, I get to write all of my copy, as do my colleagues.

Arlington, Va.: If the Today Show came calling (for a major role), would you go? Or do you prefer the pace of a local market like D.C.?

Doreen Gentzler: Hi Arlington. I have filled in for vacationing news anchors on the Today Show and had fun doing it temporarily. But I'm not an early riser, after nearly 20 years of working nights!

I am very happy with my current job and happy to be settled in my hometown!

And it seems like the Today Show is doing great with another Arlington native at the helm!

Arlington, Va.: You have a few kids if I remember correctly, right? How do juggle your career and motherhood? It must be especially difficult given your hours.

Doreen Gentzler: Thanks for asking. I have two children. My son Christopher is 9 and my daughter Carson is 6 and they are terrific. I usually get to run home between the 6 and 11 news to spend a little time with them before I have to go back. It's a tough schedule in some ways. But I was able to spend lots of time with them in the mornings when they were little. Now that we're getting into homework -- it's a little more hectic! I'll just take it one day at a time!

Laurel, Md.: There was a lot of criticism this winter about local news teasers that greatly exaggerated the amount of snow that ultimately fell. "Possibly the storm of the century" was about three inches and "what could be a major, major storm" missed us entirely.

The big winner was the local news shows who drew big ratings every time there was a threat of snow. From the viewpoint of the local news shows is this a problem or are they perfectly happy to draw an audience on a threat that doesn't pan out?

Doreen Gentzler: You have hit on a problem that makes a lot of us in tv news uncomfortable. We tend to over-promote -- not just the weather stories, but lots of other stuff we do. I sometimes think my medical stories are over-promoted!

My job is to cover the news. Bob Ryan's job is to forecast the weather. The promotion department's job is to attract the most number of viewers. We don't always agree on the best way to do all three!

Washington, D.C.: What advice do you have for aspiring anchors? I do want to break into the field but I am not sure how or if I'm qualified.

Doreen Gentzler: Get a good education. I wouldn't recommend focusing totally on journalism classes. Get a broad education in history, literature, economics. And I would try to get experience working on things like school newspapers and internships at television stations.

There are so many more opportunities now with cable and the internet, than there were when I was starting out a long time ago!

And get plenty of experience as a reporter covering the news in the field. That was very important to me and that experience has served me well in the anchor desk. There's no substitute for field reporting experience!

Reston, Va., 20190: I grew up watching channel 4 and I remember when Jim Vance had, well, BIG, hair. Ever look through the archives for a good laugh?

[edited for space]

Doreen Gentzler: Absolutely. I have seen all of Vance's old hairdos -- not to mention his former teeth and wardrobe! We love to tease him about that, and never miss an opportunity to put some of those old pictures on the air.

However, the archives now also include some fairly awful "big" hairdos of my own, I 'm sorry to say.

Bob Levey: TV news lives and dies by ratings -- but those ratings are measured by diaries that plain old citizens keep, not by science and not by machine. Doesn't it worry you that an entire multimillion-dollar business depends on whether someone remembers to write "WRC" in red crayon on a piece of paper?

Doreen Gentzler: YES.

Washington, D.C.: So how often does George Michael get asked to sing "Relax" and "Careless Whisper"?

Doreen Gentzler: If you had ever heard George try to sing, you would know that the answer is "never."

Bob Levey: A consultant I once knew said that a local TV news team is like a family. The anchorman is Daddy. The anchorwoman is Mommy. The sports guy is the goofy younger cousin. The weather guy is the wise old uncle. And so on. Any truth to it?

Doreen Gentzler: Consultants were very popular (and over-used, I think) in local television news in the '70s and '80s. I think my industry has moved beyond the stage where we are trying to put people into rigid categories. Now we emphasize diversity and skill a little more -- and silly personality a little less. I think it's partly because our viewers are so much more sophisticated today.

Washington, D.C.: I understand your husband is a reporter at The Post. How do the two of you handle talking about your jobs without revealing possible scoops to your rival news organizations?

Doreen Gentzler: Very good question. We are competitors, and have been ever since we married almost 15 years ago. It has led to some sticky situations. For example, sometimes I know about a story he's working on that my news desk is unaware of. And that also happens to him. When it does, I know I can't say anything to my team -- and he knows the same. It gets a little tricky from time to time, but we both know the rules and we've managed to stay married and employed -- so we must be working it out. This situation has produced some funny stories that I don't really have time for here!

Bob Levey: Doreen Gentzler is your real name. Have you ever been tempted to come up with an "air name?" Have you ever used one in another market?

Doreen Gentzler: No one has ever asked me to change my name -- although my mother was keen on my using her maiden name -- O'Flinn. She thought an Irish name would help my career!

Washington, D.C.: Doreen --

Who has been the best person you've ever interviewed/met during your career? Do you ever get awestruck by some of the people you meet/interview? What story/interview are you most proud of?

Doreen Gentzler: Dear D.C.:

I have interviewed lots of famous people, but the people I remember the most are not famous, they're people who are struggling against really difficult problems. I've interviewed a lot of people for my health and medical stories who were very moving. Those are the people I remember the most.

The story I am most proud of is probably something I covered almost 15 years ago. The tv station where I worked in Cleveland sent me to Israel to cover the last Nazi War Crimes trial -- of a man named John Demjanjuk who was living in Cleveland and was facing trial in Israel. It was challenging to research the story, and then to cover a trial in another country, with several languages and cultures and World War II history involved.

Rockville, Md.: Doreen,

I am in my 20s and am really interested in media and journalism. I recently graduated with honors from college, and though I have a good job in research, I pine away for working in the journalism world. My strength is writing. Though you're in broadcast journalism, can you recommend how someone might get started in writing in the field journalism without any experience at all?

Doreen Gentzler: My best advice is to try to get a "daily hire" or temporary writing job. I'm not sure about print media -- but I know that the broadcast stations have cut back on full-time staffs and are always hiring temporary writers to fill in the gaps. This might be a good place to get started. You would probably need a broadcast writing class to get you started, though. But that shouldn't be too hard to find. And if you're a researchers, I would suggest trying to get a job or an internship doing what you do best for a TV station or newspaper, learning the business, and moving up to writing from there.

Washington, D.C.: Do you have control over your wardrobe and hairstyle? Or do they have "consultants" who try to dictate these things?

Doreen Gentzler: Yes. I buy my clothes and do my own hair.

It's been many years since a consultant has told me how to dress or look. As I said earlier, consultants have less of a presence in tv newsrooms now, than they once did.

Fairfax, Va.: During one snow storm, I once saw Jim Vance do the sports report. George Michael said something like "Never Again!" after it, although Mr. Vance looked like he was having the time of his life. Any chance Doreen Gentzler might get that chance sometime?

Doreen Gentzler: I think I could forecast the weather before I could take a crack at sports! And George would probably get up from a hospital bed and come to work, before he'd let me read the sports! Vance had way too much fun doing it -- and I think George won't be too thrilled to give him another chance! He doesn't want anyone to see how easy his job really is!

Georgetown, D.C.: One thing I'm sick of is all the scare stories -- not just the snow, but all sorts of "this popular product can kill you -- tune in at 11" kind of teasers that seem based on junk science, hype, and fear and not news. Don't you worry that you're polluting the culture by discouraging critical thinking in favor of fear-mongering? What about covering real news, instead of this sort of thing?

Doreen Gentzler: In a word, YES. I and a lot of my colleagues worry about this all the time. We wonder why people keep watching this stuff!

Every time someone across the country tries to change the tone of a TV newscast and cover "real" news in a different, less "hyped" way -- the ratings sink to the floor.

I wish I knew what the solution is!

Bob Levey: What's the future of over-the-air local TV news in a world full of satellite dishes and four zillion channels on cable?

Doreen Gentzler: Bob -- I hope you and I will both have jobs in the future! The Internet was supposed to kill all the newspapers a few years ago, right?

And all the options on TV should be the death of my line of work, too.

Except that I think there will always be a role for people who cover local news and really try to understand the communities where they live. In fact, with so many choices -- it's a relief to see and read some familiar faces, in my opinion.

Alexandria, Va.: Have you ever seen the movie "Broadcast News?" If so, what do think about it?

Doreen Gentzler: I loved the movie "Broadcast News." I have seen it several times and people in my business love to quote from it.

Lots of aspects in the movie were close to reality.

But I have to tell you, I'm still waiting for someone in the control room to say something really useful into my earpiece! Remember when Holly Hunt was telling William Hurt all the right things to say? In reality -- what comes over the earpiece is more likely to be "The live shot has died! Fill time! Fill time!"

Bob Levey: "If It Bleeds, It Leads" has become a cliche. Yet many local TV news operations adore crime stories, even if they aren't very bloody, very interesting or very local. Does TV news overdo crime? Does it under-do other kinds of news as a result?

Doreen Gentzler: Most of us who work in TV news believe we cover too many crime stories. There are lots of reasons why. But one of the biggest is that crime is easy to cover. It takes fewer people to head to the nearest crime scene, or fire scene (we love those, too) -- than it takes to research trends in crime -- why people are being killed in a particular community.

Today, TV stations are cutting back even more personnel for economic reasons, so I don't expect to see much of a change in this area.

Manassas, Va.: Doreen: Love News 4! It's the only one I watch. My question is how do you balance your personal life with what must be a very hectic and different schedule, what with doing two news reports a night five nights a week, and everything else that you do! Thanks for doing such a great job! Keep it up!

Doreen Gentzler: Wow! Thanks Manassas!

I balance my schedule the same way a lot of other working parents do -- one day at a time. My children are still pretty young and so far, they think everyone's mother goes back to the office at 9 p.m.

I'm not sure what I'll do when they wise up.

Wiredog: Ever heard something from the control room that was so funny that you lost it on the air?

Doreen Gentzler: Dear Wiredog,

Yes. several times, in fact.

We have some real comedians in our control room.

Bob Levey: Does it drive you crazy when people meet you and tell you that you look just the way you look on TV?

Doreen Gentzler: People say all kinds of things when I see them in person. My favorite is "you look so much heavier/older on TV than you do in person." And I never know what to say. My other favorite is when people say "do people ever tell you that you look just like Doreen Gentzler on Channel 4?"

Bob Levey: Rush hour has become longer and longer, yet local TV news continues to assume (hope?) that people will tune in to their 6 o'clock shows. Hard to do that if you're still marooned on the Beltway. Any thought being given to a local show at 7 p.m., when more people will be at home?

Doreen Gentzler: Bob, we tried a 7 or maybe it was a 7:30 newscast on channel 50 I believe, a few years back. Wendy Rieger anchored it, but I don't think there were enough viewers to justify. With cable TV news on around the clock now, it seems unlikely that we would try again during prime time.

The early morning and the daytime is where you might see local news expand in the future.

Northern Virginia: Dear Ms. Gentzler,

Let people say all they want about "chemistry" (you included).


Doreen Gentzler: Dear Mom,

Thanks for writing in!

You're the best!

Bob Levey: Many thanks to our guest, Doreen Gentzler. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, May 29, when our guest will be Bob Edwards, host of "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio. That discussion will begin (as "Levey Live" always does) at noon Eastern time.


Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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