For Nexstar Corporate News Director Susana Schuler, the profound national tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, will be forever mixed with a profound personal joy.
But for a difficult pregnancy, she would have been among the Radio-Television News Directors Association leadership scrambling to return home following their Nashville conference's quick cancellation on Sept. 11. While her peers were struggling to direct their newsrooms from afar, Schuler went into labor and delivered, five weeks early, daughter Monica. She remained in the hospital another two days herself and was with her daughter, in intensive care, most of the next week.
"My memories of that day have little to do with what I saw on television," she recalls. "My perspective is very skewed. I can't believe I wasn't there to cover the biggest day ever for news, but I look at her, and it doesn't matter. I'm not a very spiritual person, but I firmly believe that we have a little miracle to show for that day."
Still, it's unlikely that she would have been micromanaging news at Nexstar stations anyway. Although she admits to being a control freak, during major news events, she says, "I try to stay out of our stations' way. They do better without the corporate news director staring over their shoulder.
"Most of our news directors have been in their jobs two years or more," she adds. "Nexstar has strong central management and strong managers. That's why we can operate with such a small staff. We run a tight ship, and we ask a lot, but we're not unrealistic. You don't have to be the No. 1 station in news in a market to be a strong station. But we want to be competitive everywhere. This is a very competitive business. As I've said in a lot of newsroom speeches, this is war."
Even at the stations where news resources are shared, like the WYOU(TV)/WBRE-TV operations in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pa., which have dedicated staffs but a common news director, "there's still competition among the stations. You have to learn to balance " the shared resources and competitive positions of the stations, she says.
"What we've learned is how to allow each station to have its own identity, to break its own stories and enterprise stories without sharing. That doesn't jeopardize what's done in partnership. It's easy to muddy the waters; it's harder to keep that competition going without eating each other."
Schuler has been a board member of RTNDA, but her recent move from the Midwest region in Indiana to company headquarters in Irving, Texas, will require her to give up the position. She may run for an at-large seat.
"Susana has done a tremendous job of being an advocate for the journalistic interests within our company," says Nexstar President Perry Sook, "and she's done a tremendous job of expressing the company's view across our newsrooms. She's done a great job of balancing those interests."
Says Nexstar Chief Financial Officer Duane Lammers, who has been a friend and mentor for more than a dozen years, "She is a consummate professional. My nickname is 'the hammer.' Hers is 'nails.' She has high expectations, and she holds people accountable. But there are a lot of good people in this business because of Susana. I don't know anybody more diligent or harder-working. She's a tremendous asset to our company."
While he believes she would be a great general manager, network or group executive in a different capacity, Lammers can't imagine Schuler working outside of the news. "She's already had general-manager opportunities," he says. "But her passion for news has been her focus."
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