Little Rock ranks 57th on the list of America's top TV markets in the latest Nielsen roundup, but it punches well above its weight as a news town, and it has become a notable launching pad for TV journalists moving up.
Nick Genty, the longtime news director at KATV, Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, made that point last week. He listed seven journalists who have moved up the ladder in recent years, now working in top-40 markets.
That led Arkansas Business to survey Little Rock's other news directors, David Parker of KTHV, Channel 11, and Ernie Paulson of KARK, Channel 4, and KLRT, Fox 16, for similar stories. They agreed there's a trend.
"There's no question Little Rock is turning out TV journalists ready to work in the biggest and best markets," Genty said in a telephone interview. "That's been true for a long time, but there's been a notable bunch lately. The fact that these journalists can succeed and attract bigger-market attention definitely helps me in recruiting.
KARK's Jessi Turnure and KATV's Nick Popham are the most recent ladder climbers, with Turnure's last day in Little Rock scheduled Friday. The NBC affiliate's top political reporter and host of "Capitol View," a weekly political talk show, is joining parent company Nexstar Media Group's bureau in Washington, D.C. The nation's capital is the nation's No. 7 TV market with nearly 2.5 million homes with TVs.
Reporter Nick Popham of KATV will be leaving Channel 7 at the end of the month to go to fellow Sinclair Broadcasting station KOMO in Seattle, the No. 13 U.S. market. A California native, he spent nearly two years in Little Rock and is looking forward to returning to the West Coast.
Two former Miss Arkansas winners, Alyse Eady and Chanley Painter, are also among the upwardly mobile, and both headed for Atlanta, the country's No. 10 market. Eady, a Miss America runner-up who gave birth to her first child, Sophia Mae, in October, left Channel 11 in 2016 to anchor "Good Day Atlanta" on WAGA-TV.
Painter, who is also a lawyer, martial arts expert and model, left KARK in January to became a legal correspondent for the reconstituted Court TV in Atlanta. “Chanley has done a lot of things, and done them well,” former Channel 4 boss Austin Kellerman said at the time, noting that her stellar resume could have been written for Court TV, which helped launch the careers of journalists like Savannah Guthrie, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran. "Petty good gig for an attorney turned reporter, huh?" Kellerman asked.
Jessica Dean, who left KARK more than five years ago for an anchor's desk in Philadelphia, the No. 4 market, became a national political for CNN in Washington in October. Reporter Jeannette Reyes, who started at KATV immediately after graduation at Kent State University in 2012, also found her way to Philadelphia. She joined WPVI in Philadelphia in June 2016.
Reyes' husband, Robert Burton, left KATV in 2014 and is now the weekend sports anchor at WJLA in Washington.
Ken Buffa, a former multimedia journalist for Paulson and Nexstar in Little Rock, is now a reporter in the country's largest market, New York, for WNBC.
Here's a roundup of former Little Rock heads now talking on top-market stations, starting with Parker, who said he's "always happy to talk about former THV11 folks now working in top-30 markets."
Phil Buck, "our former weekend anchor, is now a reporter at [parent company Tegna's Tampa station," WTSP. "Dan Grossman is the weekend morning anchor/reporter at WTVJ in Miami." Tampa is, surprisingly, at No. 11, now a bigger market than Miami, at No. 16.
Mary Dunleavy is a sports anchor/reporter at WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, a Marielle Mohs just accepted a reporting position at WCCO in Minneapolis. She had been working at KMOV in St. Louis. Macy Jenkins became a reporter with KDFW in Dallas, the No. 5 market, and Daniel Wilkerson is a reporter at WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta. Ashley Blackstone, also formerly of KTHV, is an evening anchor at WCIV in Charleston, South Carolina.
KARK-Fox 16 alumni in bigger markets include Shannon Miller, an anchor/reporter in Hartford, Connecticut; David Goins, a reporter at WFAA in Dallas, Jason Snavely, a sports reporter now working for Fox Sports Arizona, and Josh Berry, who left Little Rock to be the main anchor at WOLO-TV in Columbia, South Carolina. Brittney Johnson left to report for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Genty's list of recent successes includes Matt Johnson, who worked for KATV for two years before heading to San Diego. He's now a reporter at WSB in Atlanta.
Genty also noted the wife-husband team Stephanie Simoni and Roger Susanin, who moved from Little Rock to New England. "She came to KATV from Savannah, Georgia, and has returned to her home in New England at WTNH" in New Haven, Connecticut, he said. Susanin has been a reporter/anchor at WFSB in Hartford, Connecticut, since 2015.
And amid all those who left, Parker pointed out one former Little Rock name who's coming back. Marlisa Goldsmith, who spent three years at KTHV before leaving in early 2016, is boomeranging. "Marlisa is wrapping up as the weekend anchor with WPXI in Pittsburgh," Parker said. She'll be "soon moving back to become an evening anchor with KTHV in early June."