Program #0163 for Monday, October 24, 2011: Greg Wayland

October 24, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Greg Wayland, reporter for New England Cable News (NECN)

Today’s topics: Greg Wayland, local reporter and practicing Catholic

Summary of today’s show: Greg Wayland joins Scot to talk about his two decades of experience as a print and broadcast journalism, including reporting at several local Boston news outlets, as well as how he brings his Catholic faith into his reporting as well as the newsroom, not to present a bias in favor of the Church, but to ensure accurate reporting.

1st segment: Scot said today we will hear from a Catholic who works in secular media. Greg Wayland will be familiar to our listeners, having worked in television news in New England for two decades. His work at NECN allows him to work on longer stories on diverse topics.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Greg to the show. Greg said he’s been at New England Cable News (NECN) since May, 1998. He’s moved around a lot. Prior to that he was at 7, 4, and 12 in Providence. He’s also worked in Florida, starting in Fort Myers in 1979. There are a lot of Boston retirees in that area. At the time he arrived there it was among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. The television market was small, but now it’s a large and glitzy market. Boston is still among the biggest local TV markets, ranked number 6. New York’s local TV market is a little more national in focus. People come to work in Boston TV to stay as a destination.

He began his career at the Boston Globe in print journalism. He had been in the Army during the Korean War, and when he came out he was interested in journalism and could write, so he got a job running copy at 25 years old. That worked into the possibility of doing freelance stories and then he moved to the Dedham Daily Transcript as a reporter.

Greg grew up in St. Anne’s in Dorchester and won an award for oratory throughout the archdiocese in high school. Meanwhile his brothers all worked in broadcast journalism, mostly in sales and behind the scenes, and when he was in his early 30’s he decided to take the jump. At the time it seemed a little more glamorous, but later found out it was just as challenging as print.

Scot asked the difference between print journalism and TV journalism. Greg said although newspapers are facing tough times, they’re still the medium of record and set the direction of the news for the day. When a reporter covers an event, all he has is his notebook and sits through the event without worrying about images. He’s usually writing for a later edition. TV news has images and words to worry about with shorter deadlines. It’s also a different type of writing: fewer words, but using the pictures to tell the story. But now newspaper reporters are carrying photos and video cameras for the web, plus writing shorter versions of their long stories for web use too. And TV reporters are now writing for their websites too. It’s called convergence.

Scot asked Greg how much of the final story is him shaping the final version of the story. Does he shape the visuals and words? How much are other people involved in the newsroom? Greg said it’s a collaborative effort. He does have a considerable amount of say in the visuals. The camera man can take direction, but they usually know what they need to get too. Greg may ask for a specific shot for something he will write about later. When they get back, some reporters have to shoot, write, and edit. Greg doesn’t have to do that; he sits with an editor, logs everything he hopes to put in the story, and they drop in the soundbites. They meld it together in collaboration under tight deadlines.

Scot asked how much of his assignments come from the assignment desk versus generating the stories himself. Greg said every station has editorial meetings in the morning and afternoon. They are asked for their ideas, but there’s always a certain group of stories that need to be covered, from stuff that happened overnight or showed up in the Globe or Herald. Ninety percent is dictated by the exigencies of the daily news, but the reporter is always expected to give input, to say whether it will work or not, or to suggest stories. There’s also heavy emphasis on breaking news or spot news, which TV news covers faster than newspapers. It’s very competitive and can be things like fires or bank robberies.

Scot has seen changes in emphases in local news, including more breaking news and more weather news. He’s see more entertainment news, which drives higher ratings. NECN is in a slightly different spot than the network affiliates in Boston. Greg said there’s always been a tension in news, including in newspapers, between the sensational and trendy versus the solid, institutional news. A newscast has to be a mix of both, because people demand both. Regarding weather, Greg said in the 24 hour news cycle, people do watch weather. The ratings always spike during the weather. Weather coverage is more sophisticated as well as are the people covering it. As for entertainment, we’ve grown into a celebrity culture where the foibles of celebrities are in demand. News directors think it’s what people want and there’s evidence it is what people want. However, Greg said NECN has remained a serious news source. They’ve undergone an ownership change but they remain solid.

Greg said he has a light-hearted feature on Thursday nights, so he’s happy to get a chance to break from the news.

Scot noted his wife who grew up in Mexico thinks New Englanders are wimpy when it comes to the weather because of the perception based on how sensational weather coverage is. Scot said it also tells him how news coverage shapes the culture. The way we think about life, what we value, what we think is important is often shaped in newsrooms that decide what is relevant in the news.

3rd segment: Scot asked Greg, as a Catholic journalist, how we hear the media is biased against Catholicism, what are his reflections on that idea. Greg said every reporter brings to the job his own values and principles. He said he’s often perceived in the broad media an anti-Catholic bias, but among his own colleagues he encounters a great curiosity about Catholicism as well as a benign ignorance. It often leaves him relying on his own formation in the faith to answer these questions. There’s a regrettable lack of understanding of the Church about what the Church is all about, even including his Catholic colleagues. Often they have negative impressions of their own faith because of their experiences. All through the sex abuse crisis in Boston, he wouldn’t have been anyplace else as a reporter. He wanted to make sure that his reporting was balanced and to influence others reporting.

He was told that when his reporting was reviewed that they didn’t see any bias against or in favor of the Church. He did have one circumstance where he made a mistake in his reporting that led to one of the lawyers accusing him of bias. But it was the lack of true understanding of what the Church is about. People have lost an understanding of the Church as mystical body of Christ and have reduced the Church to an institution that serves the poor. Scot said it’s wonderful to have someone who understands this can have a voice in the newsroom, to make sure that the stories are right.

Greg pointed out that bias can be conscious or unconscious, so you just strive for objectivity on the surface. He also strives to avoiding simple errors that lead to accusations of bias.

Scot said in his own experience, giving interviews to the media, is a wonderful tool to get the word out to Catholics who might not be attending Mass. It’s a powerful tool to tell our story.

Greg said he proposed a story once on the anniversary of Humanae Vitae, on human life, including birth control and abortion and other life issues. He had the time and leeway to make the Church’s position crystal clear, including things people would not necessarily know. He even brought in topics like natural family planning.

Scot asked him about some his other favorite stories he’s covered. Greg said he likes stories about people. He once covered the US bishops’ conference in DC after the sex abuse scandal broke. He got a sit-down interview with Cardinal Law at the time, as well as Cardinal George of Chicago. After that he was sent to cover the Pope in 2008 in New York City. One of the greatest stories he covered was when Pope John Paul II was dying. He was sent at the last-minute to cover the death and funeral. As soon as they arrived, they got news that the Pope had died. They did live-shots through the night, going 17 hours straight.

He covered 9/11, days after the event happened. It was both horrible and memorable, but also inspirational to see the people pulling together in New York.

4th segment: Scot asked Greg about the way people responded to John Paul’s death in Rome. People stood in a line more than a mile long to see the body of the Pope lying in state. He talked to many people in line, including people who’d come by bus and train from across Europe, sleeping in the streets, even whole families. When he came back, his colleagues told him that they understood better now. Of course, as life returns to normal, you still see those old biases and that’s where you have to continue to be a witness.

Scot said when the archdiocese launched The Light Is On For You, the only local reporter to cover the opening Mass was Greg. He was able to explain the sacrament of reconciliation and its context in addition to interviewing Cardinal Sean. Scot said he has no doubt that story helped Catholics realize their need to go confession.

Scot said we’re blessed to have someone who’s informed in the faith to tell that story. Greg said well before the crisis here in Boston, he wanted to cover the story of the decline in the Church, people not going to Mass, the teaching of the faith drying up. The most influential institution in the world losing its grip in the US. He never got a chance to do that story before the scandal broke, but in the end he was able to do the stories on John Paul’s death and the visit of Pope Benedict.

One of the biggest crises in the Church is the low participation of Catholics in their faith and the decline of religion and faith generally. Scot asked Greg how he sees the diminishment and what prescription he might offer as something to think about. When he was working in Tampa, he and a Jewish colleague went into the morning meeting and the colleague suggested that covering the introduction of the new Catechism is an important story. It can seem consequential to cover the Church for people outside the Church.

He said it’s important to sanctify your daily work and be a good example in your own life. By those means, you can turn people around one at a time. He had an acquaintance who was a lifelong Catholic ask him it was required to go to Mass every Sunday. There’s been a huge dropoff in knowledge of the faith since Vatican II.

Scot said we haven’t done the job as the Church to explain what is expected of Catholics with regard to going to Mass. We haven’t shown the joy that comes from regular practice of the faith.

Greg did a story on the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass in Boston and he found great interest in the story among his colleagues and viewers. He’s found that celebration of the Mass since Vatican II has not been as consistent in many places and it even drove him away for a time. Scot said as we pray, we believe and so how we celebrate the Mass is key to how we live our faith.

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