Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reflections from a former TV reporter: Samara Sodos leaves Newschannel 8 for the Sheriff's Office

Posted by on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 1:10 PM

Samara Sodos will soon become a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department
  • Samara Sodos will soon become a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department
As a press conference held by Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Jane Castor began winding down the morning after the end of the Republican National Convention, the mayor spoke out before reporters left the first floor conference room inside the Tampa Municipal Office Building.

“This is Sam Sodos’ last press conference," he said, eliciting a spontaneous round of applause in the room toward the longtime News Channel 8 reporter, who is moving on to becoming a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"Now she's going to be an obstacle to all of you doing your jobs," Buckhorn cracked. "She’s going to be on this side of the podium giving you all hell, denying your freedom of information requests and saying she has no comment whatsoever, (and) that David Gee is the greatest sheriff in the history. Sam, we love ya, it’s been a long time."

By that point Sodos had ran out of the room with tears smeared across her face.

A week later Sodos said she was stunned by her own emotional reaction, saying that it was uncharacteristic. To emphasize that point, she said some of her camera operators she's worked with over the years have jokingly referred to her as the "Ice Princess."

Unlike several recent departures from Tampa's print world, Sotos is not ditching journalism for a bigger paycheck. She says salary-wise her career transition is more of a "lateral move," but she also said that she had been looking for a new career challenge for awhile.

A native of Milwaukee, Sodos began her career working in the office of now-retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Herb Kohl before entering broadcast journalism as a producer at WTMJ, the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee.

From there she moved on to the Media General-owned NBC affiliate in Roanoke, Virginia as a reporter and producer, then to Media General's Tampa-based WFLA-Newschannel 8 in 2000.

If you'll recall, that was the same year that WFLA, the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Online (TBO.com) began operations in the spanking new $40 million, 120,000 square foot "News Center" off of Parker Street in downtown Tampa.

It was called convergence, and it was going to sweep (and save) modern day journalism.

Having the same corporate owner possess both a newspaper and a television station in the same town was unique, since the FCC in 1975 banned common ownership of a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same market, but grandfathered in Media General's Tampa operation (which at the time also included the Tampa Times, whose operations were consolidated with the Tribune in 1982).

But in Tampa that shotgun marriage ended up what Sodos calls "the divorce," after WFLA-TV separated from the Tribune in December of 2011.

That news was buried at the time, because concurrently Media General was terminating 165 employees at the Tribune and some of their smaller publications in the area. The television division had been more profitable than the print operation.

Sodos said that it was a rough transition to no longer work side by side with Tribune reporters.

"A lot of people felt that [things at Newschannel 8] would be better once we separated … but it didn't feel like we were no longer weighed down, it felt like we were missing partners that we were doing this news with everyday. I missed working with people I trusted and did great stories together," she says.

Among the changes that have occurred over the past year for Newschannel 8 is the television reporters now post content on their own website instead of sharing them on TBO.com.

These days, many reporters in all fields are having to do more work for essentially the same pay. Sodos said she was concerned that having to do reports for the station's 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts was already a challenge, but even more so after WFLA created a new 7 p.m. local newscast that was developed right before the London Olympics in late July.

She says because of budgetary concerns, stations are hiring more "one-man bands" — television reporters who can and will do it all — and she doesn't think that's healthy.

Never can say goodbye: a hug with anchor Jen Leigh
  • Never can say goodbye: a hug with anchor Jen Leigh
"When I got here only Bay News 9 would hire one-man bands, and barely at that," noting the difference over the past decade. "I think that there is a place for one-man bands, but not to the extent to where one-man bands are in the market right now."

Sodos says she enjoyed being part of the convergence at TBO.com, but thinks that having reporters having to do so much now dilutes the quality of broadcast news.

"I think this market used to be a leader in storytelling and it's no longer that. It used to be like Denver and Minneapolis," she said, referring to local television markets renowned in television journalism circles for good storytelling.

It's been something of a long goodbye. News broke back in June that Sodos would be leaving the station. Her last day was Sept. 7, and her colleagues observed the occasion by partying last Friday night at Four Green Fields.

She will be missed. "I’m very sorry she’s leaving,” news director Don North said in a statement back in June. ”She’s been a terrific reporter for WFLA for the last 12 years. Our loss is the sheriff’s department’s gain.”

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