UNO Alumna Sheba Turk Gives the 411 on "The 504"
At 24, Sheba Turk hosts her own television news show.
"It's still definitely unfolding but...from the start I said I wanted it to be a show where you hear the voices of everyday people," said the recent UNO alumna. "With 'The 504,' we thought it would be really cool to talk to people on the street, people who wouldn't really necessarily be the news story of the day but they have some cool stories...We wanted to talk to everyone."
As a morning news anchor for CBS affiliate WWL-TV, Turk covers straight, hard news: official announcements, breaking news, crime stories and the occasional feature. For the most part, her morning news coverage addresses stories and facts that the public needs to know and know now. But as the new host of "The 504," a news interview show that airs at 9 p.m. weeknights on WUPL, Turk has full creative license. She works daily with 20-something co-producer Caegan Moore to conceive the show's story lines, book and host interviews, obtain background footage and live shots and edit nightly stories before they air.
The interview show was only several episodes into development in July when host Melanie Hebert, who then served as both host of "The 504" and morning news anchor for WWL-TV Eyewitness Morning news, announced her departure from the station and producers decided that Turk would fit both positions. By mid-August, she was working double duty.
"I've always wanted a TV show. That was my thing. It was my dream," said Turk, marveling at her recent career leap. "So I was like, 'Wait, what?! Already?!'"
A Voice for All
On her nightly show, Turk aims to be "a voice for everyone, especially though the underserved and children," she said. She and Moore work around the clock to brainstorm and develop episodes that balance light-hearted and serious content, she said.
"We kind of wanted it to be a different voice than what we usually do on WWL because I already cover that on WWL in the morning," said Turk, who steers clear of press releases, talking heads and official announcements for her nightly show. "Maybe it's the story you've heard before but it's from the voice of the person actually going through it."
One of her first news features focused on four-year-old Anala Beevers, who recently joined MENSA, a society for people who score in the 98th percentile or higher on the standardized intelligence test. The child, who lives on New Orleans' West Bank, scored in the 99th percentile on the standardized IQ test and taught Turk a thing or two during her interview, Turk said.
Another news segment focused on human sex trafficking featured an interview with Clemmie Greenlee, a woman who said she had been forced to prostitute from age 12 to 42. She described her pain and plight and her struggle for survival.
"The Missing," a new regular feature of "The 504," was inspired by the summertime disappearance of teacher Terrilyn Monette, whose body was later found in her submerged vehicle in Bayou St. John, Turk said. The story received so much coverage that Turk was forced to wonder what might happen if other missing person cases received similar attention.
In addition to interviewing friends and families of missing persons from Louisiana, Turk has hosted forensic artists from the LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) laboratory, which creates facial reconstruction drawings of people who have been missing for some time.
She has also zeroed in on "crazy facts, like N.O.P.D. lost all its missing persons files after Katrina and never did anything about it. They just kind of left it where it was," Turk said. "And so this LSU FACES lab was working to recover those files and saying: 'Hey, if you have a missing relative, you need to refile all that information.'"
With the show, she and Moore aim to appeal to a wide demographic, including their own 20-something crowd, Turk said. She's done fashion segments, had a life coach help her organize her life with a to-do list and addressed voter registration through the eyes of young people. She's instituted "Money Mondays" to help young people understand budgeting and start addressing financial issues. She receives regular Thursday visits from radio personalities Stevie-G and Teapot of local radio station B97 FM's "The Afternoon SWIRL."
When it comes to talking about the economy, she does student loan stories, delving deep.
Social media also plays a key role, said Turk, who uses Twitter, facebook and other social media venues to gather feedback and generate suggestions, as well as creative interactive fun.
A Liberal Arts Background
Turk's speedy rise in broadcasting has roots at the University of New Orleans, where she cobbled together her own broadcast journalism preparation before graduating in May 2011 from the College of Liberal Arts.
"I keep tripping in the right spots," Turk shrugged, describing her upward career trajectory.
An Introduction to Journalism course taught by Kim Bondy, a New Orleans native and former CNN and NBC News producer who now works as senior executive producer of America Tonight, the Al-Jazeera channel's flagship news magazine program, got her hooked on the news, Turk said.
"She just really showed me what writing stories was about, and what journalism really was," said Turk. "And she definitely was my inspiration for: I'm definitely going to be a journalist: I'm going to try this thing out.'"
Turk, a 2007 St. Mary's Dominican High School graduate and Gentilly native who majored in English and creative writing, pursued filmmaking and film editing classes to learn to produce her own news reel and use the Avid Editing software used in newsrooms, she said.
"I couldn't air anything that I edited. But could I put it together and somebody has to touch it up to make it look pretty for TV? Definitely," said Turk. "I got some useful skills there. You just have to piece them together."
As a UNO senior, Turk began interning at a local news station. Unsure whether she wanted to report the news or produce, she worked with producers to write and develop newsroom copy and behind the scenes, three to four times a week, she shadowed a morning news reporter.
"It was amazing. It's great interning because you get to do all of that stuff you'd never get a chance to do," said Turk, highlighting mentors she has had along the way. "In between her breaks, I would pretend to be her and do live shots. So no one was ever seeing that but I was practicing all along."
Upon graduation in May 2011, Turk joined WWL-TV as an associate producer. Writing copy for on-air newscasts strengthened her writing skills and scrambling to help producers helped her learn to put together a show, said Turk. Ultimately the experience also helped her realize that she really wanted to be a reporter.
On weekends, she continued shadowing reporters and creating her own news packages, Turk said. One day, she got up the nerve to show a superior -- and he hired her in September 2012 as the station's traffic reporter.
Turk, who jokes that she knew nothing about traffic and did not truly understand the city's topography until she got that gig, held that job for eight months. In April 2013, Turk received a promotion that made her a WWL-TV Eyewitness Morning News reporter.
These days, she still works the same demanding shift and in between takes and during off hours, she pulls together scripts for "The 504."
A Long Haul
Turk rises daily at 2:30 a.m. to get to the station and start taping at 4 a.m., she said. Her morning anchor job calls for covering the news from 4 a.m. to noon -- and appearing live every half hour between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.
By 10 a.m. she is taping interviews for "The 504." By 11:30 a.m. she begins taping segments to be used the following morning on the news.
While Turk is filming her morning news clips, Moore books interviews, organizes shots, creates the schedule, handles logistics and assures the show moves full steam ahead.
The two 20-somethings are in constant contact and always charging forward.
"I really charged them to come up with a fresh way to tell stories you wouldn't see in other places and to advocate for people who don't have a voice. I don't see anybody else doing a half-hour on human trafficking...I think they're really going to pull it out. We have a different creative voice," said Bill Siegel, executive news director at WWL-TV. "They're trying to take a different approach to storytelling that we're not doing with any of our other programming. I think it's a really positive thing for our newsroom."
Endorsements aside, Turk still shakes her head and laughs sometimes when she considers her success and the all-consuming passion with which she mothers her new show.
"This is not a talk show, but it is my own show and just the idea of getting to come up with an idea and see it all the way through, it's still surreal," said Turk. "I go home at night -- Caegan and I just literally will brainstorm sometimes all day -- and I literally will wake up at like 2 a.m. or she'll text me at midnight and go 'Oh my gosh, I just got this idea!'" Turk laughed. "So it's been really cool."