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Weekly Features
Life in the Small Market
A collaborative weekly feature, Life in the Small Market offers up thoughts and views from small town broadcasters across America.
Scott Burton is currently the senior night side reporter at KTNV-TV in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN Headline News, and ABC Newsone. Some of his noteworthy assignments include coverage in Washington, D.C. of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, coverage in Reno of the “Mail Box Bomber” arrest, and coverage in Arizona of a downed tourist helicopter over the Grand Canyon. Scott Burton can be reached at Sburton@KTNV.COM

From Small Town U.S.A. to Sin City & All The Lessons Along The Way

My mind stopped drifting long enough to hear the hum of the truck engine one cold January morning. I was plodding forward through rural Oregon in an over-sized U-haul with nothing but open land on the horizon. My future was in front of me and all I wanted to do was turn around. This is the real story of life in a small market and the dream of climbing higher in television news.

I was approaching Klamath Falls, Oregon as the hum disappeared all together. My mind was buzzing with thoughts. On a good day Klamath Falls held 12,000. It was nothing like the sun drenched life I had just left in San Diego. It was cold, snow bound and small. There were pick-up trucks, logging mills and one main street. What was I doing? I had a great job writing and producing at KFMB in San Diego. We were number one. I worked with great people. I was happy. But I wanted to be a reporter. It was a sacrifice I had to make.

I shrugged off the thoughts of yesterday and looked at tomorrow, but it was tough to see the light. I pulled up in front of the bureau that I would call home for the next year and immediately started thinking about my contracts out clause. My office was an old computer store. There was one room. Our newsroom camera was my field camera. I was my photographer, my editor, my assignment desk manager. I was it. It was officially a “one man band”.

Instantly things were tough. It took nearly four hours to edit my first package. After finishing a day of shooting at noon, I almost missed slot at five. What an eye opening day. I’ll never look at the job of a photographer the same again. Lesson one learned: respect.

Lesson two came quickly thereafter: humility. I had come to town as the big gun with experience in market twenty-five. Surely I could handle market 142. The intro to my four hour edited package went well. My tag: flawless. Then I crashed and burned. I wanted to be the smoothest reporter our market had ever seen, but I couldn’t have been farther off. I tossed back to the wrong anchor and got caught on air making a grimace about my mistake. Never again will I think I’m better than anyone or any place I may be reporting.

Week by week the job became easier. I got better. I was learning every single day. I placed each lesson into the mental filing cabinet that would become my first year reporting. Before I knew it, six months had passed. That awful town of Klamath Falls had turned into my rural sanctuary. It was far removed from the world and the rush of “big city” life. Hell, the mayor didn’t even work at city hall. He ran a paint store. It was nothing like I had ever experienced and I was loving it. I had new friends that I knew I would never lose. I was part of a solid team that was cohesive at work and supportive and caring after the time clock was done ticking.

By month nine, I had again begun thinking of my out clause. The friends were great, but I was becoming bored at the office. I had to sign on with a station in a top fifty market in order to be released from my contract. I had improved in my writing and on air presence, but I wasn’t too positive about finding a job ninety markets higher. But within a few weeks the call came. My news director in Oregon had left a few months prior and now she was calling with an offer: Las Vegas, Nevada. Sin City, U.S.A. was on the table for me to consider. I had no idea there was even a city there. I thought it was just the strip. By now my rural sanctuary had returned to the dreary gloom of its early days. The challenging job had become mundane. I had been a sponge for months and I felt ready to move on. Vegas was it. The entrance to Las Vegas was much more festive than that of Klamath Falls. I was closer to friends in Los Angeles and as no shocker they all wanted to come visit. After all, a free place to stay in Vegas means another few bets at the craps table. I was back in the land of the living! I knew I still had a lot to learn on the professional side, but I was confident I would pick it up as quickly as I did in Oregon. Little did I know how much I had yet to learn.

Week one in Las Vegas brought a rude awakening. I was coming into a great station with great people. Unfortunately, the station was in the midst of a major transition. Long time talent had recently left the company and I was the new face. Translation: I was the outsider no one wanted to deal with. For several weeks I spoke with the few people who decided to go out on a limb and talk to me. I worked hard, continued to learn, and tried to cope. I was successfully climbing the ladder of television. But, it was taking a toll personally.

Within a few months I was again part of a team. I had been promoted from morning and midday reporter to weekend reporter. I was learning the town. I was getting smoother on air. I was happy again. It’s interesting making the move from a small market to a medium size market. Suddenly you’re more focused on ratings, on competition, on breaking news. In the Medford/Klamath Falls area, there are no meters in Neilsen family homes to judge ratings. It’s a diary market. The pressure over numbers is less because you only get ratings after a sweeps period. In Las Vegas
you see the ratings every single morning when you come in to work.

It’s now been two years since I left Klamath Falls. I’m the senior night side reporter for our station. I’ve covered so many stories in two years. I’ve traveled to cover events multiple times. I’ve flown in an F-16 with the Air Force. I’ve been on VH-1 covering the celebrity red carpet. I’ve been on Good Morning America. With all the memories, each turn usually leads my mind back to that cold January morning outside Klamath Falls, Oregon. I thought my career couldn’t get any lower. If only I had known how much would lay ahead. Every television news reporter has to start somewhere.

My journey began in Klamath Falls. Others begin in Los Angeles or New York. No matter where you begin, it’s where you belong. Everything happens for a reason in my mind. I started in Klamath Falls to learn humility. I needed to learn to be a complete reporter who understands video, audio, and the timetable of never missing slot. I continue to learn and hope to move up again soon. I want the next challenge. I want the next big story. I want the next night of breaking news. It’s in my blood. I’ve become a television news reporter and I love every minute of it. My mentor in San Diego once told me if you give a hundred percent every day, you’ll succeed in news. He said so many other people only give fifty to seventy-five percent when they come to work. I continue giving a hundred percent. I come in early. I leave late. In fact just the other day my news director called me a work-a-holic. I just wonder when you’re in news how can you not be addicted to it all.

It’s an interesting journey so many of us make through the television news business. You either love it or hate it. The road’s been good so far. We’ll see where it leads next. Who knows maybe I’ll end up in Los Angeles where some of those lucky people got to start their careers.