Tuesday, June 26, 2012

UNO Alumna Named New WWL-TV Traffic Reporter

Sheba Turk UNO Alumna Named New WWL-TV Traffic ReporterUNO alumna Sheba Turk, the newest member of the Eyewitness Morning News team at WWL-TV, provides an essential service, directing drivers and relaying traffic news as residents head to school, work and play.

New Orleans area residents rely on Sheba Turk, the newest member of the Eyewitness Morning News team at WWL-TV. Though she is just 23 years old, Turk provides an essential service, directing drivers and relaying traffic news as residents head to school, work and play.

Turk, who graduated last May from the University of New Orleans, started working in August at the station as an associate producer. She replaced Christina Leavenworth May 30 as the television station's new on-air traffic reporter. The quick career jump from associate producer to broadcast traffic reporter within nine months was quite a coup.

"I'm really excited...Some people don't care to learn new things," Turk said Thursday. "I love learning new things and I am naturally curious. I can never get bored."

Turk grew up in Gentilly and attended St. Mary's Dominican High School, where she enjoyed performing musical theatre. Following high school graduation in 2007, she moved to Manhattan to attend New York University. Two years into her studies, she still missed her hometown and transferred to UNO to complete her education, she said.

"I was still trying to decide what I really wanted to do and I knew I wanted to do something with writing," said Turk, who majored in English with concentrations in journalism and creative writing at UNO. "It wasn't until I took the class 'In the Newsroom' at UNO that I knew 100 percent that I wanted to do news."

Turk's academic counselor at UNO, Professor Ann Boyd Rioux, recommended the course taught by Kim Bondy, a former vice president and executive producer at CNN enrolled in UNO's Executive MBA program.

In a simulated newsroom environment, Bondy introduced her students to the basics of news gathering and reporting, requiring students to come to each class and pitch a news story idea for her to critique.
Students Skyped and met with journalists, including New Orleans television news anchors and print journalists. They also received classroom visits from Hoda Kotb, a former WWL-TV anchor and TV host who know co-hosts the fourth hour of MSNBC's Today with Kathie Lee Gifford, and famed television news anchor Soledad O'Brien.

Bondy taught her students the basics of news writing, including how to write a news lede, the gripping first line of a story designed to tell an audience the angle of a story.

But though she excelled at creative and nonfiction writing in college and had no problem writing essays or term papers, Turk found challenges as an intern hoping to get ahead in a local newsroom.

"At my internships, people told me 'Don't wait until you're being paid to learn how to write, to learn how to log tape,'" said Turk.

A friendly reporter and producer taught Turk the craft of broadcast writing by having her rewrite AP newswires, often on her own time.

"I would literally come in for three hours sometimes," she said. "And I would just write AP wires over and over again until they were ready for broadcast."

The newswriting skills she developed offline came in handy in May when she took a news writing test to get her first job as associate producer for the Eyewitness Morning News at WWL-TV, Turk said. As associate producer, Turk helped to write the run-down and scripts for a four-hour show.

"I learned to write fast," Turk said. "The morning show has two associate producers and two executive producers...I swear I would have five heart attacks a morning when I first started. I was like: 'How did they finish?'"

Before college graduation, Turk had enjoyed a summer internship working with Soledad O'Brien at CNN in New York and an internship at WDSU-TV in New Orleans. Still, her success attaining a top reporting job in the local journalism market did not come easily.

She took a full-time job in May at a special events firm to pay the bills, then Turk added a part-time job working as an intern at WWL-TV, for $10 an hour. The newsroom job ran from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Each morning, Turk left WWL-TV's office on Rampart Street, crossed the street to Basin Street and worked at the special events firm until at least noon. By then, she was working as an event coordinator for the 38th Annual Bayou Classic, an annual event held the last Saturday in November at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The annual game, where the Southern University Jaguars battle it out with the Grambling State University Tigers, is billed by organizers as one of the most exciting events in college football.

"I pulled 24 hours sometimes. I mean, it was just long," said Turk, who was struggling both to save money and to get ahead in her career. "I figured that it was worth the sacrifice."

By September, Turk realized that she was not cut out to be a news producer.

"It's really stressful and you have to be 100 percent in control all the time," said Turk, who gravitated to journalism through a love of writing. "I started telling anyone who asked that I wanted to be a reporter...I started learning that everyone is watching what you're doing even when you don't know it. All eyes are on you all the time."

Turk shadowed reporters and created her own broadcast reels. When the position opened, a WWL-TV station executive offered her the role of traffic reporter. The job would again require Turk to hit the ground running.

"I naturally am really terrible with directions, so when he tells me I'm going to be traffic reporter, I'm like 'Hmmm...That's really interesting'," said Turk, three weeks into her new position. "I don't tell them that I'm not good with directions. I go home and start studying maps of the town I've lived in my whole life...Of course, once I looked at a map I realized that I wasn't 'not good at directions.' I just never had to explain them to anyone."

She studied her maps, spent one month training with Leavenworth and, as soon as possible, Turk got up on television and started explaining directions and traffic impacts to residents.

"I haven't fallen on anything yet," laughed Turk. "So I would call it a success so far."