Kalina Haynes

News Happens

You probably will never see Brenau alum Kalina Haynes on your television screens delivering the news or ever know about the pivotal role she has as an invisible behind-the-scenes player in television news, and that’s just fine with her.

By David Morrison

Kalina HaynesOn April 20, 1999, her first day of work in the newsroom at WXIA-TV, Kalina Haynes, WC ’98, as fledgling news producer at the NBC network affiliate in Atlanta stepped into the middle of one of the biggest breaking news stories of the century: Columbine. On April 16, 2007, her first day on the job at KDFW-TV, the Fox affiliate in Dallas, Texas, a similar story broke: Virginia Tech.

“That’s not the way you want to remember your first day on a new job at all,” she says.

But when you think about it, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool “newsie,” as Haynes claims she has been since her student days at Brenau, maybe it is after all. News, like the heart, is its own master. It wants what it wants; it sets its own schedule. A dedicated professional news person like Kalina thrives on, well, communicating the news.

“When I found myself in the middle of the Columbine story,” Haynes says, “everything I learned at Brenau kicked in, fell into place and started making more and more sense to me as the day progressed. I felt like I was ready to be involved in a story like that. No, I knew I was ready.”

Although the murders of  12 students and a teach and wounding of 21 at a high school near Denver occurred more than 1,500 miles away from the 11 Alive newsroom in Atlanta, the news reverberated around the world. Likewise, the massacre on the Blacksburg, Va., university campus that left 33 dead and scores wounded kept people around the world riveted to their televisions screens.

History in Progress

Virginia Tech and Columbine are among those events that represent history in progress, occurrences that are so iconic or memorable that they are often known by a word, a phrase that in effect becomes the date. We all know what we were doing at 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Boomers definitely remember what they were doing around lunchtime on Nov. 22, 1963 and they have a visceral connection with Woodstock and Neil Armstrong’s “moon walk.” Likewise, Oklahoma City, Katrina, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, Challenger, Lockerbie are words that have special meaning, too. The common denominator is that all at one time were “breaking news stories” that spurred people like Kalina Haynes in television newsrooms around the globe into action doing exactly what they were supposed to do: communicating all the information they could gather about these events in a way that would be relevant and interesting to their viewers.

For “newsie” Haynes, however, these are just another day at the office. The challenge, professionally and morally, is to never view them that cavalierly.

“You come into work every day not knowing what to expect,” she says. “Every day is different. Every day is a different story. Some are bigger than others, but you don’t always know that at first.”

As a news person, she explains, you never want to fall into the complacency of regarding events as, say, “just another shooting at a school.”

Haynes, who currently lives in Arlington, Texas, talks with her hands. More accurately she punctuates conversation with an intricate choreography of hands, arms, head, shoulders, her entire upper body, a dance-in-place that bespeaks a trademark energy, enthusiasm and ever-present smile that she displayed even as an undergraduate at Brenau in the mid-1990s.

She grew up in suburban Atlanta and attended Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Ga. By time she arrived at Brenau as a freshman, however, she pretty much knew what she wanted to do with her life. Her first roommate on campus, Maria Ebrahimji, a senior news producer at CNN in Atlanta, only helped Haynes re-enforce the belief that her life’s work would involve broadcasting.

As Haynes recalls, she and her roommate fed off each other, often dashing around campus together to get a story or put together a radio program on the Brenau station WBCX-FM. They each had individual responsibilities for different jobs at the station, and occasionally one would fill in for the other if a conflict occurred.  That tag-team togetherness ended when Haynes moved out after pledging Alpha Gamma Delta, but Haynes did not abandon her dash-about enthusiasm.

“I never turned down a job or an assignment,” she says. “I actually sought out things to do. I used lunch breaks to write [radio copy] for others. Dr. [Stewart] Blakeley made it so easy. He would tell us, ‘I just need for you to show up. You have to be on time. You don’t want to be late. You don’t want to miss a deadline.  Always try to help someone if you can. If you don’t, you won’t be learning either.’”

The big lesson she learned at Brenau, she says, is that in a career in communication, “no stepping stone is unimportant. Learn everything you can, not just in your major but in your other courses, too, because there is no telling when you might need it.”

All News is Local … Somewhere

Unlike Ebrahimji, whose career has been with the international news network that essentially broadcasts its content around the world on a cable television channel, Haynes has spent her career in “local” news – for stations that are affiliates of larger networks. She has been a news producer for the early morning “God Day” program at KDFW in Dallas, a Fox News affiliate, since 2007. She earlier spent eight years in a similar capacity at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, a job she landed a year after graduation from Brenau.

Because of the way the Federal Communications Commission parcels out licenses to broadcasting entities that limit them to signals that cover only a small geographic region, the stock in trade of stations like WXIA and KDFW is local news. Local news programs typically lead into, follow or bracket national news programs. Often the big news on these stations is the local police news, traffic accidents, local government, visiting celebrities and lots of sports. Because television is a visual medium, if a story generates some good pictures – the proverbial fireman’s rescuing a kitten from a tree – it stands a better chance of airing than one which doesn’t.

However, local news also “feeds” the networks. The networks do not have reporters stationed in Blacksburg, Va., for example, so probably the first pictures and information the networks broadcast initially from the Virginia Tech massacre came from local affiliates.

To illustrate the point, here is a little tidbit: Before Haynes’ current employer, KDFW, was a Fox affiliate, part of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, its owner was the now defunct Dallas Times Herald newspaper and, operating as KRLD-TV, was part of the CBS organization. On Nov. 22, 1963, KRLD news director Eddie Barker, who knew where to go when a shooting occurred in his town, scooped the world by being the first to report  from Parkland Hospital in Dallas that President Kennedy had died.  Not only did he feed the story to CBS network anchor Walter Cronkite, whose emotional broadcast of the news is one of the most memorable images of the assassination, he also fed it to ABC.

That does not mean, however, that, when a big story breaks somewhere else on the planet, there is nothing for the local news department to do except sit back and wait on the networks to do their thing. Haynes says there are always “local angles” to explore for a big story: Were any of the victims from here?  Are local relief organizations mobilizing to help? Are nearby businesses and institutions taking special precautions?

In television news, the producer basically is the front-line reporter, or news gatherer, involved with a story. The producer manages a television news show’s content and manages the overall flow of the show. Producers monitor regular sources of information – reports from wire services like Associated Press or Reuters and broadcasts from the 24-hour networks like CNN and Fox. Depending on the amount of time available, the producer might contact other sources, like police or fire officials, to flesh out information. In the field, producers might conduct interviews that later will be edited into a broadcast segment. In the newsroom, producers pull together available content resources, like archival video and still photography that might be needed. They’re involved in every detail of planning the TV news operation’s coverage. They consult with editors, news directors, photographers, news program anchors and on-air reporters to decide which stories will be covered and how it ultimately will be used in the broadcast.  They provide background information and prep the on-air “talent” for interviews. They are involved in writing scripts for the actual news reports and with editing all available content for the story into a broadcast-ready package. And they are rarely seen or heard in the broadcast itself.

Solving a puzzle

All that is fine with Haynes, who says she has no aspirations to be an on-camera reporter or anchor, who most times never do any of the leg-work on a story themselves, or even to be on a career path that involves her running a news organization.  “I don’t want to manage anyone,” she says.  “A job like ‘executive producer’ is not for me. I’m a reporter. For me, it’s an instant high when I ‘find something out.’ I love putting pieces of a story together and I really love that rush when you get all the pieces together and you see the whole picture and you know what it means and why it’s important.”

It’s her job to pick stories, do any writing or editing required, pick the video for the video editors make the graphics you see on screen because,” she says, “we don’t have an art department” that early.

For her, it is important to do it right. “We are the first show of the day,” she says. “We set the tone for everybody else during the day. And we get instant interaction with the viewers.”

She says she began arriving at that I-don’t-want-to-be-on-the-air conclusion while she and Ebrahimji worked together on a two-hour weekly radio program at Brenau. “I can’t do radio,” she says. “I hate the way I sound on tape. I hate my voice. “

She works what is virtually a graveyard shift, reporting for duty after most people have gone to bed.  By time Dallas gets to work in the morning, Haynes is headed home. But that’s fine with her, too. Once the adrenal rush from the day’s work calms, she can grab some sleep and be up in time to watch whatever sports contest she can find, and she loves them all.

We catch up with her for breakfast in southern Dallas suburb of Waxahachie, Texas, at an IHOP just off the interstate highway. Although it is a beautiful autumn morning, it comes in the season that sports fan Haynes calls “Suck-tober,” the end of baseball season with the pennant races in full swing, football (for her, that means mostly The Dallas Cowboys) in full swing, the beginning of basketball and hockey, a decent soccer team and all of college and high school football in the land that coined the term “Friday Night Lights.”

“So many sports, so little time,” she says in explanation of why such abundance is a bad thing. She is not alone in her passion for sports in her adopted state. “Last week, during an outage on the Blackberry network, people reported fewer accidents,” Haynes reports. “They weren’t texting while they were driving to keep up with their team.”

If for some reason Haynes cannot find a game to watch or attend, she confesses that she tunes into sports talk radio – which in central Texas means about every third station, the other two being, judging from our frequency-surfing research on the way to breakfast, conservative political talk and conservative Christian talk.

That’s fine with Haynes, too. “Turn on talk radio and I’m there,” she says. “Any flavor ESPN, Limbaugh, any of it. If I’m in the car or around home all day, the radio is on talk. It’s all interesting to me – to hear other people’s points of view, even though I don’t always agree with them. Besides, who wants to listen to music all day?”

Haynes is a big fan of her sorority – in fact, all of Greek life. She also spends part of her summers, as she has since her student days, working at Camp Kudzu, a program in suburban Atlanta for children with Type A diabetes.

The big obsession in her life – one she will warn you about shortly after you first encounter her but one she has difficulty explaining – is Elmo, the Sesame Street character. She’s worked the name into her personal e-mail address and collects some paraphernalia. One of her most treasured possessions is an Elmo coin purse.

Second generation determination

Haynes might technically be regarded as a second-generation Brenau graduate. But there is a story behind that fact as well. At her commencement, her mother, Vonceil S. Haynes of Duluth, Ga., dragged her daughter over to the university president, Dr. John S. Burd, and proposed a deal:

Pose for a picture with me and my daughter at her commencement and then promise you will pose with us again in four years when I get my diploma. Burd says now he “vaguely” remembers the deal, but four years later, there were Kalina and Vonceil, holding the diploma for her studies in interior design, ready to collect.

“I was really proud of my mom,” Kalina says. “I guess that’s where I got my determination.”

In her first job in Atlanta, Kalina Haynes was a production assistant on the morning show and a weekend producer at Channel 11. After she finished what she had to do for the regular shows, she worked on special projects. She says the news director, Dave Roberts, was a perfect boss for someone starting in the profession “because he expected so much of everybody. He put everybody on the same level, but that mean there were no excuses. Every day after the show he called us together to ask how we could have made the show better. It was a great learning experience.”

Local political commentator Bill Crane worked with Haynes for about seven years at the station. “Kalina is creative, talented and diligent to task,” he says. “She is as passionate about the news as she is about her personal charities and causes.”

Since she is not interested in the anchor desk or the corner office, she has given some thought to what comes next in her career. One thing she says she is strongly considering is getting an advanced degree in library science with an eye toward working in a very specialized kind of library eventually. “There are three presidential libraries in this state,” she says. “How cool would that be? Can you imagine what it would be like to work in any one of them?”

It does not escape our attention that several of the biggest news stories that had broken that week came from the Kennedy and Nixon presidential libraries from recently declassified files. For an unrepentant “newsie,” a breaking story is a breaking story, even if it is 50 years old.

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