As a VP/news director in the Bay Area, Amber Eikel, of KTVU San Francisco and KICU San Jose (branded as KTVU Plus), knows that worrying about employee safety can take on many forms. There are stories to be covered in rough neighborhoods but also out in wildfires. To the latter point, Eikel’s supplies already included masks, when the pandemic, the most serious safety concern in living memory, exploded this spring.
Station Group of the Year: ABC Owned Television Stations
GM of the Year, Markets 1-25: Claudia Puig, Univision Miami
GM of the Year, Markets 26-50: Joel Vilmenay, WDSU New Orleans
GM of the Year, Markets 51+: John Ware, KPLC, Lake Charles, La.
News Director of the Year: Amber Eikel, KTVU San Francisco
Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year: Tegna
Eikel, who was promoted from assistant news director to her current role at the Fox-owned duopoly in San Francisco in 2017, strived to stay ahead of the worsening situation in mid-March. Even before a corporate directive was announced, Eikel was in action, creating a remote news department with people working from home.
Eikel credits both a stable company culture and a city where people work and travel internationally for the head start. “I was getting the sense from friends and neighbors that it was going to be bad, and we’d better get ready for it,” she said. “And once you start ripping the Band-Aid off, it’s all or nothing. You can’t send 20% of your workforce home.
“I wanted to do it early and quick,” Eikel continued, “and I’m very lucky, because there are a lot of folks who have been here a long time, so we feel like a team and had the knowledge to pull off doing 12 ½ hours of news remotely each day.”
High Marks for Collaboration
Eikel began her career as a producer, executive producer and interim news director for KMIR Palm Springs, California. Prior to joining KTVU, she also had been executive producer at KIRO Seattle and before that at KTNV Las Vegas. She also was a senior producer for WTMJ Milwaukee.
She talks a lot in terms of “we,” which colleagues said is just her style, so don’t undervalue how much of what made the station’s handling of the pandemic came down to her. “She’s the most collaborative news director I’ve seen in,” KTVU senior VP, general manager Mellynda Hartel said. “She has strong communications skills working with her department, but also with me and with the other department heads. But she also has a can-do attitude, so when we had to go remote in three days, she just said, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ ”
Eikel’s focus on the work never wavered. When Fox Television Stations launched CoronavirusNOW.COM, bringing viewers the most updated pandemic information, she lobbied for her squad to lead the way. When the site launched days later, KTVU delivered an original, two-hour live newscast in addition to its regular TV programming and they kept going with teams of an anchor, producer and director creating a new outlet for news.
“We knew viewers wanted that information,” Eikel said, adding that her teams had to change their mindset from traditional TV news. “This is not a newscast. Sometimes, you can overthink the need for production and you can just put this out there and it’s OK if it’s an interview for seven minutes. We produced something that was easy for other Fox stations to replicate.”
Campaign Coverage in a Pandemic
She also led KTVU’s 2020 presidential election coverage, including a new graphic package, which she tested in advance. The station’s coverage was virtually flawless on-air and technically, her Fox colleagues said.
After KTVU had left the building, Eikel routinely checked in on staff to see how they were faring mentally and physically in their remote work. (For those in the field or the few who had to be in the building she ensured they had the necessary safety resources.) Eikel said she retrained herself to make sure she checked in on anyone she hadn’t seen for a while. She also scheduled weekly open Zoom meetings where people could say hi; kept an open Zoom portal to replicate the newsroom, where people could break news or crack a joke; and had smaller staff meetings so no one felt left out.
“She’s super-approachable,” assistant news director Shareef Abul-Ela said. “She never works from on high.”
“Professionally, as news director, Amber is a terrific partner, and personally, I’m proud to say she is my friend,” Abul-Ela said.
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