Frank Guzman started his journalism career before he started his journalism classes. In late 2003, Guzman was just starting out as a freshman at the University of Miami when he began working for WSVN. Nowadays, he’s the Broward Bureau Chief, responsible for the day-to-day newsgathering in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
By Dori Zinn
While anchors may get some of his credit, Guzman sifts through hundreds of pitches every day in hopes of discovering great stories. Everything from shootings to school board meetings, Guzman finds and develops stories for reporters to cover. While he admits some embarrassing Twitter moments, you can still follow him here.
SPJ South Florida: What’s one part of your job that most people don’t realize you do?
Frank Guzman: Most people seem to think that reporters develop and “turn” their own stories. In my experience, however, it seems that the majority of the time, they are assigned their stories. Developing and assigning is my job. I have to filter through literally hundreds – if not thousands – of daily emails and phone calls from viewers, public officials, and public relations professionals all pitching one possible story or another. Once we pick out the “newsworthy” ones from among those, it’s time to do the nitty-gritty background work: find mug shots and do background checks; check for file video; make calls to the different parties involved; set up interviews, etc. Then, when the day’s done, file important dates away so we can do follow-up stories.
What’s the least glamorous part of your job?
See above: setting up stories everyday and having an on-air reporter get all the credit!
Career highlight and lowlight?
It’s not really a highlight, but one story I always tell comes from those summers a few years ago when Florida was hammered by hurricane after hurricane after hurricane. During those days, I spent more hours at the station than I can count. One particular morning when I arrived at the station (after walking through the storm, mind you) from a nearby hotel, I walked into a maelstrom of activity in the newsroom. That was at the height of Hurricane Wilma. The rest of the day was a blur. The station lost power and we had to scramble to stay on the air. We were frantically dispatching crews to damage reports as they flooded in while trying to deal with our field crews’ signals constantly going out due to the weather. I probably worked three days straight with little rest, but what kept me going was the fact that what we were reporting was important information that people needed during a very difficult time.
I’m embarrassed to talk about it, but the lowlight would definitely be when I fell into a fake Twitter account trap. I passed along a phony tweet as fact and the producers rushed the information on air from my tip. I missed the fact that the twitter handle was wrong and the information being reported even more wrong! Very embarrassing! This did serve as a heck of a teaching moment. In the rush to report things quickly, we need to do a better job at verifying facts! Twitter might be fast, but it’s not always right!
What’s the most frustrating part of your job?
Getting a hold of the right people, right when you need to talk to them! My day is spent on the phone and in my email inbox. Success or failure is so often based on getting the right person on the phone or getting them to read and answer your email. It always seems easy to get a hold of someone when you don’t necessarily need to talk with them, but when the proverbial crap is hitting the fan, it’s all-too-often impossible! So frustrating!
What’s the most fun part about your job?
I don’t have the luxury of going out and experiencing all the cool and unusual things (parachuting with the military, scuba diving with researchers, etc) that a lot of journalists get to experience because I’m practically chained to my desk. However, one thing that makes this job fun is never knowing what a particular day will bring. No two days are the same in this business and that keeps things fun.
Do you remember a point in your career that you feel you wouldn’t be who you were today without it?
The very beginning of it. As a freshman at the University of Miami, I had the opportunity to interview for an entry-level job at WSVN. I could’ve chosen to focus strictly on school and not take the job, but I chose to interview. That’s how I got my foot in the door at the station almost 10 years ago. Had that not happened, I probably would’ve gone through my college career with no clear vision of what my future in the business would be. Instead, I graduated with four years of actual work experience under my belt.
If you had to do your career over, what would you do different? What’s your biggest regret?
Wow. This is a tough one. The jaded part of me regrets going into this field to begin with, but it’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. My biggest regret is probably taking a full-time job while at the University of Miami. While it gave me a great advantage upon graduating, I did miss out on the “college experience.” That being said, I try to live my life without regret.
Who did you admire or look up to when you started out?
This is embarrassing, but growing up, I wanted to be like one of the local news anchors that I won’t name. At the time, I thought that the way he presented the news was the best thing since sliced bread. Looking back, it was foolish, but that’s what sparked my interest.
What piece of advice would you give to young people who are just starting out their careers?
In college, you are taught what journalism is. In reality, it’s nothing like those grandiose lessons. I would tell young people to be as adaptable as possible. This business is changing faster than most can keep up. Be open to change and to new ways of doing things and don’t be afraid to learn something new. Odds are that you won’t be doing just one thing while working on a story. Don’t ever have the mentality that “it’s not my job” to do x, y, or z.
What’s the future of local TV news stations as you see it?
I wish I knew. Naysayers will say that the future is bleak. I think local news will always be around. People will always want their traffic, weather, local headlines, etc. presented in an entertaining and informational format. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that as technology advances, it requires fewer and fewer skilled workers to put that product on the air. So the future of local TV news probably looks a lot like today, but with much emptier newsrooms.
Throughout March, April, May and June, SPJ South Florida Pro will feature Q&As every Friday with South Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to join SPJ? Email us.
Dori Zinn is Vice President of Membership for SPJ South Florida Pro. Follow her on Twitter.