By Sue Botos
While some may feel that in the age of “citizen reporters” professional journalism’s time has passed, CNN anchor and former Rocky River resident Martin Savidge would argue otherwise.
“I still believe this is one of the best jobs in the world,” Savidge stated during a recent phone interview. The 1976 Rocky River High School graduate and former Cleveland WJW-TV reporter will be the featured speaker at the May 22 Rocky River Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Earlier that day, he will address students at his alma mater on the topic of “Reaching for Your Goals.”
Born in Quebec outside of Montreal, Savidge and his family moved to Rocky River when he was 5 years old. Always interested in journalism, Savidge credits his high school communications teacher Dennis Kraynak with helping him cultivate his passion for reporting. “From that moment on, I realized that that’s what I wanted to do. I always considered that a great blessing, and everything just fell in line after that,” he recalled.
Graduating from Ohio University with a journalism degree, Savidge spent time as an anchor and reporter for two Illinois stations before joining WJW, where for 11 years he covered major local, national and international stories. In 2004, Savidge joined NBC news as its Atlanta-based correspondent, serving as the network’s primary reporter in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the story Savidge said “haunted me the longest time.”
“I was in the Superdome when it struck as one of a handful of reporters in the city. It was five days before help arrived,” Savidge recalled. He added that while the suffering of the people will always stay in his memory, it’s the unexpected delay of assistance that he found shocking. “In a third world nation, you would understand this. I couldn’t understand this happening in my own country,” he stated.
One of the biggest changes Savidge said he has witnessed during his career is the evolution of reporting from the traditional “who, what, where and when,” to giving viewers a more personal perspective on a story. “By the time people get home and go to CNN, they already know what has happened. With the type of reporting I do, I take the viewer to where the story is going,” he stated.
For example, he said that while covering the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, he used a 777 simulator to illustrate his story. “Most people haven’t been in a cockpit. This made people get it. It was a way to walk and talk people through it,” he said.
Likewise, a submersible was used to show planned recovery. “CNN went to great lengths to find one. We used multiple cameras to show how a mechanical arm could retrieve the black box. It’s more like, ‘Come along, let’s go through this ourselves,’” he said.
Part of what Savidge called the “ultimate reality show” was his embedding with U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. He said these were rather scary situations, as the news crew was exposed to all of the dangers the soldiers faced. “Nothing was different for us, and we had no weapons,” he recalled.
It’s this use of technology that has diversified news coverage, according to Savidge. “It used to be just news, weather and sports. Now, you can focus on specifics. There is far more opportunity,” he said.
One of Savidge’s favorite parts of his job is speaking to students who for the most part feel owning a cellphone does not make someone a reporter. “I don’t see that with students studying journalism. There I see real dedication and a real understanding of the need to be accurate,” he stated.
Savidge said that he can measure the movement of the industry by observing his own daughter, a journalism student at the University of Georgia. “She is accustomed to shooting her own video and editing her own work. I was used to film crews and editors,” he stated.
Asked about her career choice, Savidge responded, “I’m proud and concerned. It’s a rough-and-tumble business.”
While Savidge said that recalling his favorite story would be like asking a parent to name a favorite child, he said that his work has made him realize what is important. “One benefit of bad news is that it reminds me how lucky I am.”