After almost 40 years in the business, Kathy Mykleby is Milwaukee’s matriarch of broadcast news. But how relevant is a TV news anchor these days?
Is Milwaukee a good news town?
Absolutely. And that’s probably because we’ve had the benefit of being at the center of the news of the nation. We have continued to matter even though our market has shrunk. I always think there can be a Wisconsin connection to any story, and I’m hardly ever wrong.
In your early days in Milwaukee, you got passed up for promotions repeatedly. Has it been frustrating, trying to find your niche in the news world?
I never feel under-acknowledged. My co-workers think of it as the “Kathy Mykleby station.” I have become part of the woodwork, and you can’t do anything without the woodwork. I’ve been the one who’s plugged along. I like the role I have – my co-workers listen to me, they take my opinion into account. They respect me. And I respect them.
What’s happened to journalism since you started 40 years ago?
In some ways, it’s exploded. More eyes are on the world and that’s a good thing. But we still need the editors and the gatekeepers, and I worry that we don’t value that. There always needs to be someone to scrutinize what gets to be called news. Twitter is now part of my routine for breaking and daily news. But for analysis and in-depth storytelling, you still need a great magazine article. Don’t just read what pops up in your news feed or agrees with your beliefs. If we could broaden out of our ruts, things could be so much different than they are now. That needs to change, and it can.
In 2007, you told Milwaukee Magazine, “I’ve got 27 years with WISN-12. Thirty sounds like a nice number.” But 2015 will mark 35 years with the station.
I’m 60. I’m going to stay in it as long as I relish coming in every day and telling people what’s going on. When I said that in 2007, maybe I thought that would be the point of view of my employers. But so far, they’re failing to see that I should stop working there, and I have the same failure.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, billions of dollars in airtime has been purchased to influence voters. How effective is broadcast news at countering paid-for bias?
I yell at my television when I see things that fall into that category. But it does get certain messages out there, which makes me, as a journalist, look even harder into what is the truth. At the end of the day, our job is to look at everything and ask the same six questions: who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why? We need to fight the talking points, not just ask the questions that have been dictated to us.
How much do you think the average TV viewer cares about the news?
I think most people are curious. So news should be a part of their lives. The reality is that, so often, the news is going to be about some tragic thing that’s happened to someone else. Just when you think you’ve built an amazing newscast for the day, something horrible happens, like a car falls into a sinkhole, or there’s a homicide or a fire. All of a sudden, the stories you planned to tell get pushed back into a very small space. I think people get tired of seeing crime stories all the time, but at the same time, I don’t know how we’re going to solve crime without putting more eyes on it. Locally, at least, news organizations can make a huge difference.
You’ve won an Edward R. Murrow Award, a top prize in broadcast journalism. What do you still want to achieve?
I’d love to see bigger audiences for all of the newscasts in our city. I want to see people value watching at least one newscast a day. That would mean that people are better informed, that they can make a difference. I try to do that every day, by leveling with people. Not preaching at them, but by being blunt about what’s happening in the world, while at the same time trying to find community in a story that could interest people.
If you could never do the news again, what would be your dream job?
I would seriously consider becoming a teacher, and I probably will be a mentor one day. I would love to join a think tank, [where we would] figure out how to fix everything from potholes to the problems of the world. I’d like to be in one that has people from all walks of life, because there is so much wisdom and common sense that goes untapped. But it’s out there.
Condensed and edited from a longer interview.