It’s not easy staffing a new newscast during a pandemic.
And yet, Nexstar Media Group’s WGN America has hired the anchors and correspondents for News Nation, the national primetime newscast expected to launch Sept. 1.
News Nation will feature weekday anchors Joe Donlon from Nexstar’s WGN-TV, Chicago, and Marni Hughes, from WCPQ-TV, Seattle, along with breaking news anchor Rob Nelson, most recently with WABC-TV, New York. They’ll be joined by meteorologist Albert Ramon, from WVUE-TV, Austin, Texas
The weekend anchors are Rudabeh Shahbazi of WFOR-TV, Miami, and Nichole Berlie from WCVB-TV, Boston, with breaking news anchor Aaron Nolan from KARK-TV, LIttle Rock, Ark., and meteorologist Gerard Jebaily from KSHB-TV.
The newscast also hired regional correspondents Tom Negovan. who will be in New York after 15 years with WGN in Chicago; Nancy Loo, Los Angeles Bureau, also from WGN; Markie Martin, Dallas Bureau from KOCO-TV, Oklahoma City; and Brian Entin in the Miami Bureau from WSVN-TV Miami.
John Potratz, who has been with WABC-TV, New York; Fox News and WFLD-TV, Chicago, will be the executive producer.
While several of the newscasters are from WGN and other Nexstar stations, “we cast our net far and wide,” said Jennifer Lyons, who spent many years at WGN before being named VP of News for WGN America.
“From the very beginning we decided that we wanted good, solid, local journalists who are well respected in their markets who would be able to go to the national level,” Lyons said.
Assembling the team during a pandemic was a bit of a challenge. Hughes was hired before the coronavirus kept people apart. For the rest, it was a bit like speed dating, Lyons said.
“Usually you bring the anchor in, you take them to dinner, you put them on the set with the person you’re going to seat them with. We could’t do any of that,” she said.
On the other hand in some ways, with Zoom calls you got to see a bit of the candidates’ personalities and priorities by watching them from their homes. “You did get a window into people's lives,” Lyons said. “It was a unique way of hiring people, but in the end we got so comfortable with the way we were doing it and we developed a good feel for people over video calls.”
Lyons had plenty of people to pick from. She reviewed between 200 and 300 reels from on-air talent and had more than a thousand candidates for behind the scenes jobs. The work was helped by the fact that so many stations stream their local newscasts, enabling Lyons to see their body of work, not just edited highlights.
“I’m pretty impressed with the team that we have pulled together. Until this week they’ve never been to the stations and they are coming to work on their project that they all believe deeply in,” Lyons said.
News Nation will air daily from 8 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET. It plans to draw on Nexstar’s 5,400 journalists in 110 local newsrooms. WGN America, the cable network Nexstar got when it bought Tribune Media, reaches 75 million TV households.
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