OFF THE PLATE: NOVEMBER 2008
(Nov. 24, 2008)—Her fashion is sophisticated and earthy. Her personality? Humble, forgiving and exploratory. Sense of humor? Off-the-chain, laugh-out-loud hilarious—even in low moments. Her news-reporting style? Compassionate in its wide-ranging portrayal of crime, charity and community events.
And the good people of Indianapolis are lucky to have Emily Longnecker at the city's highly rated station WTHR, Channel 13 where she's is a night-beat reporter.
My very first experience with the Bradford, Pa. native was on our first day of graduate school at American University's School of Communication, when she stood up and introduced herself as coming from the home of the Zippo lighter. We were comrades in journalism school ("J-school"), where we busted our asses through a rigorous program of shadowing and participating in the Washington Press Corps. while chasing down Capitol Hill stories in Clinton's first term.
We laughed hysterically during moments one might consider to be somber. Most notably was a time we attended a Pentagon orientation. As our most of our classmates listened intently to the speaker in the Defense Department's press-briefing room, Longnecker tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out one of our fellow grad students as he slept and snored his way through the entire event. Emily and I did everything we could to keep our convulsing laughter under wraps as we watched one of our professors seethe with embarrassment. You could call this one of those "Guess you had to be there" moments, but when she and I recall that experience, it's still just as funny as when it actually happened.
Emily's recent story on the shoe donation to IPS 46 Elementary School students was moving to say the least, with Emily focusing on the children's gratitude for receiving brand new shoes—especially inspiring with an economic crisis afflicting the global community with abject fear. She refers to Cruz Flores, the main subject of her feature report, as a "little golden nugget of truth and goodness." Her coverage inspired her to remember her grandfather Guiseppe Tantimonaco who, when he first migrated to America from Italy, was so poor, he couldn't afford shoes. He painted his feet black, Longnecker says, because he was so embarrassed.
On the other side of the emotional spectrum, Emily's clever approach to storytelling helped her earn national attention on CNN when she did a piece on Coco the Colossal Colon—a feature at the Indiana State Fair's Clarian Healthy Lifestyles Pavilion, which educated visitors about the various stages of colorectal cancer and other colon diseases. Longnecker, who made the connection between fried-food eats as a popular attraction at the fair and the health pavilion's education around internal diseases, was filmed inside the giant colon, adding with irony she was wearing a brown suit.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Emily for an interview:
ASMAN: What was it like growing up in Bradford, Pa.?
LONGNECKER: First off, and I always tell people this, it's where they make the Zippo lighter. I'm very proud of that because Zippo is known all over the world and it comes right from my little hometown.
Bradford is an interesting town. There's not a lot of glitz or glamor there. There isn't even a mall. There was a small one when I was growing up, now it's just the Walmart in a small strip mall. It's a great place if you love the mountains and nature, which I really do. We spent a lot of time outside in the woods and I miss that now that I live in a city. I'm glad I grew up there surrounded by most of my entire extended family, most of them are Italian so there was always a great spaghetti dinner to go to on Sundays.
My parents were both teachers so I couldn't get away with much there. I was pretty much a nerd girl, so I never felt completely like I fit in with my peers. I preferred a book as a teenager to beer parties in the woods. So as you can imagine, the boys weren't knocking down my door.
I actually was invited a few years back to give the high school graduation speech at my Alma mater Bradford Area High School. It was a wonderful moment for myself and my family. All of a sudden, it was okay to be smart and have done well. I finally felt like things had really come full circle and I was never prouder of where I had come from.
ASMAN: As they say in the theme song for "WKRP in Cincinnati," working in broadcast is all about packing and unpacking from town to town. How many stations have you worked at since AU?
LONGNECKER: After J-school I worked in DC for almost two years as a field producer for a freelance bureau that basically provided crew service for anybody and everybody: Court TV, C-SPAN, visiting stations from other cities. You name it, we were a crew for them. After that I headed to market 171 Elmira New York to start my on-air career. That was my first station, WENY-TV. I'm now on my fifth.
I have been at WTHR for almost a year now. I am the happiest I've ever been. I work with really intelligent, funny people and they just get keep the bar high so you want to your best everyday. They're also really secure here. Everyone has a sense of what they bring to the table and, trust me, there are so many Emmy and other journalism and photography awards coming out of here that it would make your head spin. I literally go to bed at night thanking God to be in this kind of environment and I pinch myself every afternoon when I walk in.
ASMAN: You were listed in the book "Women Journalists at Ground Zero." How were you involved?
LONGNECKER: I was working in Altoona, Pa. at Channel 10 WTAJ when 9/11 happened. Altoona is about 45 minutes from Shanksville so Flight 93 basically crashed in our backyard. I will never forget that morning or covering that story my entire life. I can't believe it's been seven years. I was pleased to be included in a book about the news coverage of that day, but what a terrible way to get into a book!
ASMAN: What's your favorite memory so far as a reporter?
LONGNECKER: I have so many that not one specific moment sticks out. I love covering stories where our soldiers and marines come safely home. I choke up every time I see mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters welcome their loved ones home. I also love a heart-warming animal story. I know, I'm a cheese ball. Okay, that just brought me to a moment that I'll never forget. In Elmira at WENY, I got to go underwater in a shark tank. It was part of a traveling shark show and I was the rookie reporter so they sent me. Let me tell you, I was shaking like a leaf and almost backed out. But we had to get the story. But I made it and I'm still alive.
ASMAN: Do you have to wear a lot of hairspray on the job?
LONGNECKER: I should wear a lot more than I do. I use the industrial stuff: Aqua Net. But yes, I do wear a lot but I hate it because I hate the way my hair feels later. It's gross but there's nothing worse than having a great story and having no one listen because your hair is blowing all over the place.
ASMAN: I know this one of your favorite topics, so please talk about your dog Luca Brasi.
LONGNECKER: I love my dog so much. He's about to turn six and he's just still so precious and funny. I joke that he's so smart, I wish I could save for his college education. He's my little Yorkshire boy and is a great comfort after a long day at work. We spend our weekends taking walks, going for rides and getting coffee. He loves the ladies in the Starbucks drive-thru. They tell him how good-looking he is and he eats it up. Plus they give him a pup cup, which is a cup of whip cream, and he loses his mind. If he doesn't get one he will bark.
ASMAN: What are your favorite restaurants and foods?
LONGNECKER: I love to eat and I'm not picky. I love Sushi, Indian, Greek and of course, Italian. But I have this thing about paying for Italian food when I could get it for free at my Grandma's, except for the fact she lives nine hours away so sometimes I have to suck it up. But I'm a snob about my Italian food. No one can make it like my Grandma so I'm spoiled that way. I haven't been in Indianapolis long enough to have a favorite restaurant but I don't like to go to chains. I like to give my money to mom-and-pop places. I will do Waffle House though and of course fast food while I'm out on story.
ASMAN: Who is a high-profile female you most admire?
LONGNECKER: I love the late Mother Theresa. I dig that her sole purpose was to help people who couldn't help themselves. She had a beautiful heart. And from what I've read, she suffered with feelings of great doubt in herself and God. No wonder, when you think about what she saw everyday. She was truly selfless and I can't say that about myself or many people I know. I have a list of her quotes in my Bible and I sometimes refer to them when I'm down.
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