Although proud that WRTV-Channel 6 was named Station of the Year by the Indiana Broadcasters Association a year after she became news director, Terri Cope-Walton prefers gauging success by content.
“Did we tell good stories? Did we find stories that other media didn’t find? Did we tell it in a way that viewers knew instantly why they should care?” she asked. “Part of our job is making it clear why somebody should care. Are the stories beneficial to the viewer? That’s how I judge.”
Cope-Walton started at the station just over 16 years ago as a weekend morning associate producer. She had been producing her own shows in Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up, but was familiar with WRTV from her visits to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with her father, a retired art professor.
“I actually enjoyed working morning shifts,” she decided after being promoted to lead producer, running the Monday-Friday morning show. “My son was about 3 and I was there every morning when he woke and when he went to bed.”
Of course, she added, “it was a hustle in between, but he didn’t know that.”
The system stopped working when she had a second child. Getting four to five hours of sleep—not all at once—was no longer enough.
“That’s where luck came in,” she said.
A community affairs producer left and there was an opening. She convinced management that the position usually filled by someone with more of a public relations background was perfect for her. “I convinced them that, as a newswoman who has seen all of the PR materials, I knew how to push it out.”
She had worked with news producers, talent and engineers. The new position gave her a broader perspective on how the business worked and how the station could leverage opportunities.
One of her favorite tasks was giving tours of the station.
“I really got into it,” she said. “Normally, the person giving the tours never worked in the newsroom so you ended up getting a tour of the building and not the operations.
“My tours lasted a half-hour to an hour longer. What I always tell high school and college students is that it’s really important to get an internship or job-shadow and learn what people really do.”
She is proud that WRTV is committed to paid internships.
Cope-Walton said she now pays as much attention to online as she does the on-air product. Having the Indy Channel moniker “helps tremendously in terms of retention. People are very dyslexic when it comes to call letters. I try to answer every email that comes in and people will huff at me about something WISH aired or praising us as WTHR. The Indy Channel helps us break through that clutter.”
A former executive board member for the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists, she serves on the school commission for St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, where her daughter attends. And she’s on the advisory board for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
One thing that has changed during her tenure has been ownership of the company. She said it was a huge difference when the E.W. Scripps Co. bought the station from McGraw-Hill.
McGraw-Hill was “a really good company, but they just weren’t broadcasters,” she said. She prefers working for Scripps where “they understand the power of a good story.”•
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