Fox News' First Class of 'Ailes Junior Reporters Program' Finds Industry Footing

The inaugural class of Fox News' "Ailes Junior Reporter Program" has graduated into the world of TV news, and the second group of students has been enrolled in the two-year training program that aims to help aspirants break into the industry.

Developed by Roger Ailes, president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, the Ailes Junior Reporter Program aims to cultivate candidates and give them the necessary skills to make a career in broadcast journalism.

In many respects, entering the business is a case of chicken and egg.

”Fox News hires plenty of technical workers and producers out of college,” said Sharri Berg, senior vice president of news operation and services at Fox News, who has worked closely with Ailes in developing and implementing the program. “Roger recognized there wasn’t any real network pathway for aspiring on-air journalists. You see the talents’ applications and you interview them, but there is no substitute for on-air experience.”

The Ailes Junior Reporter Program was launched in 2011. Berg said the Alpha group of five students, participated in an extensive orientation, training sessions and various field work assignments in areas -- Fresno, Calif., El Paso, Tex., Jackson, Miss., Columbia, S.C. and Las Vegas -- where Fox  News needed staffing or to bolster its coverage. 

They were paid as they gained real-life and professional experiences, working on on-air stories running the gamut to politics, weather catastrophes and features. In the field, they continued to receive guidance in every step of the reporting process from management as well as FNC’s top talent, including Bill Hemmer and Harris Faulkner.  They also worked hand-in-hand with local FNC bureaus and affiliates, including Fox Business Network, 

“This is not about just putting someone out there to do a web cam report,” said Berg, noting that all of the Alphas have broadcast journalism gigs.

When a position opened up in Chicago, Berg said Ailes identified Garrett Tenney as being the most ready of the Alphas. Tenney worked in Jackson, Miss., throughout the program and covered a range of news stories, including the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the destruction left behind from tornadoes in Mississippi and Alabama, the flooding of the Mississippi River and the economic impact of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Sweet 16. Tenney has been serving as general assignment reporter for Fox News Chicago bureau since March.

His classmates have also quickly gained their industry footing. Michelle Macaluso started her job as a general assignment reports for Fox News’s Washington, D.C. bureau earlier this month, while Patrick Manning has been working as an associate producer in the organization’s Northeast Bureau since July. Mary Quinn O’Connor is now a digital reporter for Fox-owned station, Fox 46 Carolinas, in Charlotte. For his part, Pete Suratos serves as a multimedia journalist with ABC affiliate KNXV-TV in Phoenix.

Berg said the Bravo class, which started their curriculum earlier this month, was culled from an initial base of 500, who responded to ads and/or the website, and then sent resumes and DVDs of their on-air performances. Narrowed to 20, that group came to Fox News headquarters in New York, where they were involved in a series of meetings, discussed various parts of the business, conducted interviews and engaged in breaking news drills.

From there, five were selected for the second class of the Ailes Junior Reporter Program: Aalia Shaheed in Tuscon; Matt Finn in Las Vegas; Lauren Blanchard in Des Moines, Iowa; Kyle Rothenberg in Jackson; and Hillary Vaughn in Manchester, N.H.

Like their Alpha predecessors, the Bravos will benefit from hands-on mentoring and feedback from Ailes, as well as Fox News on-air talent and other executives. Berg said along the way they will receive advice and assessments about their appearance, diction, voice, writing, story pitching and story-telling, as well as learn how to establish field shots and edit.

“You ask most people coming up, and they’ll say they didn’t get enough input along the way. That’s certainly not the case here,” said Berg.

Given the pace of the TV news world, a two-year training program, it would seem to some, is too long. Berg believes it’s actually well-timed. “They’re moving to new cities so they have to find their way around personally,” she said. “It takes time acclimate to Fox’s system, to build up contacts at the police department or statehouse before they really can start to hit their stride with assignments and building quality reports.”

The payoff comes in the newsroom and in the field. “We make no guarantees, but the goal is after two years, that there will be the right opportunity for each,” Berg explained. “We’d like to keep them in-house. But if we can help launch a career in the business somewhere else, we’re proud of them, too.”