After 25 years on the air, she still loves the newsroom.
by Rachel Stowe Master '91 Photo by Glen E. Ellman
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Topics: Alumni Profile
by Rachel Stowe Master '91
Photo by Glen E. Ellman
Growing up reading the morning newspaper with her father, NBC5 Today anchor Deborah Ferguson ’87 knew she wanted to be a news reporter by third or fourth grade.
“I thought it was so cool to get information and then be able to tell people what was going on,” she said, noting that her newspaper aspirations shifted to broadcast news after her family moved to Fort Worth. “It was the first time I remember seeing a woman of color on TV doing the news. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Maybe I could do that.’”
“You don’t do it for the money; you do it because you love it and you can’t see yourself doing anything else.”Ferguson on a career in television news
Two internships while at TCU helped the broadcast journalism major get her foot in the TV news door. Ferguson started with a daytime internship in the Channel 5 newsroom. “I was kind of shy, and I was having trouble putting myself out there and being the one to go out with reporters,” she said. “I realized I might do better in a shift with not so many people, where I didn’t have to fight for space with a reporter.”
The solution was to intern with the overnight team — which was tricky since Ferguson didn’t have a car.
“In the middle of the night my mom would pick me up from my dorm and drive me to the station,” she said with a laugh. “That’s how determined I was. I don’t think I told her thank you enough for giving up sleep for that semester.”
Ferguson’s next internship was at WBAP Radio, where she learned broadcast writing, chasing stories and the newsroom environment. (She also met Steve Lamb, her husband of 22 years, although they didn’t start dating until later. Lamb is on air 5-9 a.m. as part of the WBAP Morning News team.)
When Ferguson graduated, she sat back and waited for the offers to roll in. “This is where I totally failed at networking,” she said, noting she thought TV stations were checking with colleges for new broadcast journalism grads. “I thought they would come for me versus the other way around — I needed to go to them.”
Six months into a data-entry job — which she tried to convince herself was still journalism because she was writing —the WBAP radio news director for whom Ferguson interned called with a job offer. The news director told her “you will be in your salad days” — meaning if she went out to eat, she could only afford a salad. She worked 4 a.m. to noon for $12,000 a year but also kept a part-time job at Target to help pay the bills.
“I was in the profession and I didn’t care what I was making — I was doing it.”
“I love what I do, and along the way there’s a lot of coffee.”
Three years later, a Channel 5 news director called offering a shot at television news. “My pay went up from $12,000 a year to about $18,000 a year — I was living the good life,” she said. “I think what’s interesting is 25 years later, there are still people coming out of college and getting those first jobs and earning that kind of pay — $18,000. So you don’t do it for the money; you do it because you love it and you can’t see yourself doing anything else.”
Switching to television required a lot of on-the-job training. “[Fort Worth-Dallas] is the No. 5 market in the country,” Ferguson said. “By the time people get here, they already have a few years of TV experience under them, and I came with no TV experience.
“I had to learn real quickly and that was a challenge,” she said. “I had to ask questions and not be afraid to look like I didn’t know what I was doing — because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Now 25 years later, the schedule remains a challenge. “Your family has to understand,” she said. “I can’t be there for Christmas. I can’t be there for Thanksgiving. What we do is not 9 to 5. What we do is a lifestyle. You have to be willing to accept that.”
Ferguson gets up at 1:15 a.m. and leaves her house by 2:15 a.m. While doing her hair and makeup, she watches CNN and gets the overnight news. At 3:30 a.m., there’s an editorial meeting in the newsroom, and afterward she into the day’s scripts. She is on air from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.
After a post-production meeting, the morning team has a planning meeting before doing news drops every 30 minutes until 10 a.m. In between, Ferguson keeps updated with social media, and she might write an article for the web before leaving for emcee duties at a luncheon or to shoot a story. She returns home around 3 p.m.
“I thought they would come for me versus the other way around — I needed to go to them.”Deborah Ferguson on job-hunting after graduation
“I love what I do,” Ferguson said. “And along the way there’s a lot of coffee, which is sometimes chased by the Costco version of 5-Hour Energy.”
In addition to the schedule, staying on top of current events can also be demanding. “There’s so much information from so many sources, and I think keeping up with it all is a huge challenge,” she said. “I can’t know everything about everything, but I do try to know a little bit about a lot.
“Sometimes the challenge is giving myself permission to just shut it down for a little while,” Ferguson said. “It’s OK that I’m not looking at Twitter. It’s OK that I’m not looking at websites to see what’s going on. It’s OK that I don’t have on the cable news channel in the background.”
Two of the biggest industry changes Ferguson experienced are the ability to go live from an iPad — instead of a news truck with a big satellite mast — and the multiple platforms available for distributing news.
“First it was just turn on your TV and the product was there. Now it’s the website and all the social media,” she said. “If we find out about something at noon, we can’t hold a story until the 5 p.m. newscast. We have the platforms to put it out there. We can put it on the website, put it on Facebook, put it on Twitter.”
Increased platforms mean increased competition for viewers.
“People have a lot of choices where they can spend their screen time. They’re not always turning to their local television station — their screen is also their iPhone or their iPad,” Ferguson said.
“You hear that standard line — ‘Thank you for letting us come into your living room’ — but it’s true,” Ferguson said. “People have a choice where they want to go to get their information, to get their weather, to get their traffic when they’re starting their day. They have a choice of where they want to hang out, and they like hanging out with us. I’m so honored by that.”
Your comments are welcome
Thank you for doing news in morning waking us up and with smiles, I could face another day. Thank you again from Dallas Native America Organization.
Thank you bring news to us in morning and wake up us. We, as native american living here in Dallas, Ft Worth area appreciate all you doing , thank you
Thank you for starting my day, you do a wonderful job I have no interest in watching other news casts you have all the information that I need
I know your job is a tough one but thank you again for starting me on the right foot in the early mornings
It means a lot to see an upbeat person and a pretty smile
Whenever I am in town, I always tune in to see Deborah! Go Frogs!
Deborah is very nice, I ran into her at DFW Airport and she was very friendly and engaging.
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