|Josey Crews: the rise to GMA segment producer|
|The Press - Features|
|Written by Kelley Lannigan|
|Thursday, 25 August 2011 08:57|
Josey Crews was still attending Baker County High School when he was hired to sell advertising for a small weekly newspaper.
Today, he works for the ABC television network and at 23, is one of the youngest segment producers for Good Morning America.
His “territory” is the southern states which he regularly travels to meet with clients and book interviews for the show.
His boss is Santina Leuci, who he describes as one of the most beautiful, powerful and influential people in news media. He regularly rubs elbows with GMA anchors like George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and Lara Spencer.
When Nancy Grace is in New York and scheduled for an appearance on GMA, he often produces her segment. The two have become good friends.
He recently wrapped up 80 days on assignment in Orlando reporting on the Casey Anthony trial he covered with GMA correspondent Ashleigh Banfield.
Last week, over breakfast at The Millennium Hotel in Times Square, which he refers to as his home away from home when in NYC, Mr. Crews reflected on his good fortune.“I’m usually so busy with work I don’t think about it, but once in a while, when I’m walking in Manhattan, it hits me and I think ‘My God, I’m actually here in New York, working for Good Morning America, the Holy of Holies in broadcast journalism,”’ he said.
So how did this country boy from a rural community in north Florida parlay his small town weekly newspaper gig into a job at GMA?
“I’d been working at the advertising sales thing about three months and I went in one day to pick up my paycheck and there was no paycheck,” he said, laughing. “That’s when I realized I was no salesman. So I went to the editor and asked what do I do now?”
She put him to work writing for the paper.“My journalism career was literally jump-started by a monkey,” he said. “In addition to working for the newspaper I also worked at the Eliano’s Coffee stand owned by my family. One day, a woman who was waiting for her order struck up a conversation and mentioned that her husband had seen a big orange monkey in the woods behind their house. Well, that was so goofy, I jumped on it!”
He secured an interview with the husband and when the story was posted on the paper’s website, it got picked up by numerous news sources nationwide.
“That was unbelievable to me,” he said. “I could hardly fathom that something I had written was getting posted to all these other news websites.”
Channel 12 in Jacksonville also picked up the story and called him to get more information.
“That’s when I started to network with the staff at First Coast News (Channel 12) and it wasn’t long before I became a freelancer for them, covering events that happened in Baker County,” he said.
When an assignment editor position on the news desk at Channel 12 opened up, he went for it.
Working the news desk at a television station is a bit like working in air traffic control. An assignment editor uses press releases, national news reports, breaking news events, in-coming phone calls and other sources to determine what stories reporters and videographers should cover each day. The “AE” may also assist in writing, reporting, researching and fact checking as well.
“The news desk can be stressful and crazy, especially during breaking news, but I found I actually thrived on the energy and the challenge,” he said.
The boy who couldn’t sell advertising found his niche as an assignments editor.
His co-workers at Channel 12 started calling him “hound dog” because of his tendency to pursue a lead until he found the information needed.
“I was the guy that would spread a hundred newspaper articles and courthouse documents on the floor and start reading everything, taking it all in until I found something we needed or could use.”
He did this for two years.
Then Somer Thompson was abducted and murdered in Jacksonville, an event that became another turning point in his career.
“I was actually out in the field producing when I met Katie Boslin who’d been sent down by Good Morning America to cover the story,” he said. “I figured I might want to play that card too so I asked for her supervisor’s e-mail.
“I’m young and new to the business,” he wrote. “What can I be doing to get myself ready for a job like Ms. Boslin’s?”
Six months passed without a reply.
One evening at Channel 12, his phone rang. It was Good Morning America.
The show was conducting interviews for some positions about to come open. Could he fly to New York?
“I told my dad I probably wouldn’t get a job, but it was a great opportunity to meet people and make some valuable contacts. Fortunately for me, he agreed,” said Mr. Crews.
Mr. Crews borrowed the plane fare from his father, begged friends who lived in Manhattan for a place to stay and made his way to New York.
And that’s how the boy from Baker County found himself sitting across from Santina Leuci, Good Morning America’s senior editorial producer.
“I’ll be honest with you, there is an internal candidate,” she told him. “But you know Florida. Maybe we can use you for freelance, as a booker.”
“And that’s how it got started,” he said. “I returned to Channel 12, but in my free time I started working as a booker for GMA, covering Florida.”
When high profile stories happen, a booker negotiates and secures an exclusive interview for the network.
Once again, a monkey played a part in the next stage of his journalism career. One of the first interviews he booked for GMA was with Andrea Maturan, the Tampa woman who was attacked by a chimpanzee while working at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.
Probably the most interesting interview he secured before going to work full time for the show was with Zurah Adbu Ahmed, the mother of Adnan Shukrijumah who once attended school in Broward County and later became a top commander in Paskistan for Al Qaeda.
Mr. Crews traveled to the Miramar area where she lived. It took him four days but he finally got her to talk to him and then agree to be interviewed.
“I was driving her to the interview location when she turns to me and says, ‘Do I have a make-up artist?’” said Mr. Crews.
He was a little surprised, but played along.
“I said, ‘No ma’am. Do you want a make-up artist?’ She said yes, then asked me if I had any make up and I said no. ‘Well, I have to have make-up’ she told me,” he said.
And so Mr. Crews drove Mrs. Ahmed to the nearest Walgreens to shop for cosmetics.
“It was so surreal,” he remembers. “Here I am in Walgreen’s with this little Muslim lady who is the mother of a key Al Qaeda commander and I’m trying to explain the difference between lipstick and lip gloss.”
Since going to work for Good Morning America full time in 2010, travel at a moment’s notice is a main component of his job. It’s not unusual for him to be in three different cities in as many days.
“We certainly get time off, but we’re always on call because news happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I realized this most profoundly when I was at home back in January for a few days and preparing to take my young niece on a shopping spree,” Mr. Crews explained.
That’s when he got the phone call telling him U. S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been shot through the head during a public gathering in Arizona and many other people wounded.
“You need to be on the plane to Tucson ASAP,” his boss told him. “You should pack for two weeks.”
He flew to Tucson and managed to get an interview booked with Zack Osler, the childhood friend of gunman Jarod Loughner.
“Until then, no one knew much about Jarod Loughner. That I booked the exclusive with his friend was a major thing for the network. I’m proud I had a part in that,” he said.
Now based in Atlanta, Mr. Crews is looking forward to the day when he will be living in New York.
His advice to aspiring journalists who might want to work for a television network is this:
“First, you must be a people person. You need to be confident and aggressive and you need to be a problem solver. When circumstances throw up a roadblock, it’s my job to find a solution. I don’t stop until I do.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2011 11:24|