Milwaukee Talks: WISN-TV reporter Brendan Conway
A native of Chicago's South Side, Brendan Conway doesn't hide his loyalty to the Bears and White Sox despite seven years reporting the news on Channel 12.
Conway, who just recently became a father, has spent much of the last month in Madison, covering all sides of the state budget battle. He took some time away from the madness to talk about his career, his love for sports and his experience in Madison.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us the "Brendan Conway Story;" where are you from? How did you get to Channel 12 and Milwaukee?
Brendan Conway: I'm born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. I still keep my allegiances to the White Sox and the Bears. In this business, you start small and work your way up. I went to college at Loras in Dubuque, Iowa. I started there, in Dubuque, went to Peoria, Ill., the Fresno, Calif., and now, here I am.
OMC: When did you come to Milwaukee?
BC: In 2003. September 2003. It was kind of a gradual build up to bigger stations.
OMC: Do you like it here? Are you happy in Milwaukee -- even though you're right in the middle of Packers country?
BC: Oh yeah. I love Milwaukee. It's my home now. I'm married and have a kid -- five weeks ago, actually. We have a house in Tosa. I really like Milwaukee. It's close to home for me. I have a big family -- seven brothers and sisters and they're all in Chicago. My youngest sister is a senior at Marquette. Four of my brothers and sisters went to Marquette. Two of my in-laws and my uncle.
OMC: What about Milwaukee is so likable to you?
BC: It just has everything I would want in a city. I'm a sports guy, so I love that it has all the sports. There's plenty of nightlife, restaurants and bars -- though I obviously don't get out as much as I used to anymore. It's so livable. It's not super expensive. Outside of construction, traffic is pretty good. I have a good job. And part of it is how close it is to home. I like being two hours from my family and home.
OMC: Some look at Milwaukee as a stepping-stone job to a bigger market but you seem pretty happy here. Is the eye still on the "bigger prize," especially now that you've settled down and started a family?
BC: I am very, very happy in Milwaukee. And if you look at the people at our station, there are a lot of people who feel like that. I've been there seven and a half years and I'm still one of the newer people, which is amazing.
OMC: You're right. There doesn't seem to be as much turnover as at some stations.
BC: There are people like Mike Anderson who have been there 30 years. Kathy Mykleby has been there 20-some years. Kent Wainscott and Colleen Henry have been there nearly 20 years, I think. Nick Bohr has been there 10 or 15 years and he's the next-closest to me. At other stations, especially when I was working in smaller markets, if you were there two or three years, you were one of the most experienced people. It really says a lot about Channel 12.
OMC: Did you want to go into TV, specifically, when you started to take an interest in journalism?
BC: I worked at the paper in high school and, in college, I worked at the newspaper and the TV station. I was really interested in the production side of things. I did corporate videos and stuff in college. I don't want to say I fell into it but I did the TV news and wasn't sure what I was going to do.
The day before I graduated, I got offered a job at the FOX affiliate in Dubuque. I had applied like a week earlier. It worked out. It was what I wanted to do. I'd always been interested in journalism and telling stories. There's obviously different ways to do it in different mediums and I liked TV and merging pictures and sound.
OMC: Did you ever envision a day where you would be reporting with your phone?
BC: At my first station, we didn't even have cellphones. It was 1998 so they were out there, but we didn't get them until about a year later. We had a radio and a phone book. It's amazing how far it's come. Forget about '98, though. Look at even 2008. That was, really, before Twitter. It's changed so much. And in another two years, there will probably something completely new.
OMC: Twitter has changed the game for all of us, no matter what medium we're in. You watch TV and think, oh they're just doing their segment but really, your whole shift is spent reporting.
BC: That's one of the things that adds to these big stories now, like in Madison. We're able to send back pictures, videos and updates. Or we can e-mail stuff back to the station to put up on our Web site. It's not just the newscasts anymore. It's really like micro-reporting.
OMC: Social media has changed the way we gather the news, too.
BC: It has. Out in Madison, where things were developing so quickly, it was almost impossible to keep up. There was stuff happening in court. There was stuff happening in the Assembly. There was stuff happening in the Senate. And then you had the protests. We didn't have people to cover each of the different elements so, yeah, Twitter was definitely one way for us to keep up on everything.
I asked some of the other reporters there, like Mary Spicuzza, who has been doing a amazing job covering the story for the Wisconsin State Journal. She said the same thing, she follows lots of people. That's how we all kind of keep in touch because at any time, you could be talking to a state senator and he doesn't know what's going on. Five minutes later, he could talk to another reporter and he's learned something.
OMC: Let's stick with the Madison story for a bit. When you first went out there, did you have any idea that this was going to become as big of a story as it did?
BC: Even when it was announced, there wasn't a lot of buzz. It was announced on a Friday and I worked that first Sunday. There were talks about protests. There were some teachers and others and some small protests outside Walker's house. Then we heard there would be a couple thousand people in Madison the next day. Any time you hear numbers like that, you're a little skeptical but it just grew from there.
I remember those first few days, there were thousands of people. And then there were tens of thousands of people. It just kind of kept growing. It's been incredible. And every day there is something different happening. Every day, some significant thing went on that just added to the story.
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