Diverse, eclectic, proud, hardworking–just don’t call them ‘News Divas’
By Maylon T. Rice
They are names that roll off our tongues like we know them – and well, after a few years and several hundred nightly broadcasts – we all do feel like we know them – the nightly news anchorwomen of Northwest Arkansas: Bridget, Leslee, Neile.
Easy names to say and names that are unique to the personalities of Bridget Schultz, Leslee Wright and Neile Jones. And while they are not common given names in Northwest Arkansas, these names are recognized as professional names when they are identified with the integrity, professionalism and accuracy in local television news, that can be attributed in part to these three women.
None of this trio has suffered any major journalistic scandal of sorts. Few times, over the past five years, have they had to apologize for mistakes or sloppy reporting. All three are known locally as well as nationally by not only viewers, but by peers who have been here and gone elsewhere.
Viewers who are familiar with other similar sized markets are often surprised to discover that all three major networks in Northwest Arkansas have strong women anchors, many markets are dominated by male anchors.
In a series of common questions asked to each of these women anchors, their answers are in many ways similar, which is understandable given their jobs. But subtleties, like their sense of fashion and individual personalities tell us that none of these three are “cookie-cutter” newscasters.
Bridget Schultz, who has held the anchor position the longest, is anchor for the CBS affiliate KFSM-Channel 5. Schultz began her stint in Arkansas in Fort Smith in 1993. Before coming to the Ozarks, she launched her news career at WHLT-TV in Hattisburg, Miss. where she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. She moved to Channel 5’s Northwest Arkansas newsroom in Fayetteville about four years ago.
Leslee Wright, of the ABC affiliate, KHBS/KHOG TV- Channel 40/29, is a Springdale native, who has been with the station since she graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1997. She is the only member of the trio who was born and raised in NWA and she is also the only one of the three who has never worked at any other station. But like Schultz and Jones, Wright started off behind the scenes. She first worked as a producer and eventually worked her way to in the front of the camera. She became news co-anchor for the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts in 2003.
Neile Jones, of the NBC affiliate KNWA 24/51, was born in Little Rock, but raised in Tulsa, Okla. She is a proud University of Oklahoma graduate and worked at stations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City as a weather personality before coming to NWA where she worked first as a morning anchor before being promoted to evening co-anchor.
What these three women had to say about their jobs is indeed as interesting and diverse as each of their personalities, but they did agree on several topics, as well. All three, for example, said that there is a larger presence of strong female news anchors and reporters in the NWA region compared to other markets.
“I do think we have a strong female presence in Northwest
Arkansas,” Jones said. “We have very talented, intelligent women currently in the market, who care about viewers and about the integrity of the work.”
Wright agreed. “Women are one of the most important target demographics in TV news. Women, like men, are savvy consumers and now more than ever women are often the day-to-day decision makers in their homes.”
Schultz praised the Northwest Arkansas region for the quality of life and the opportunities it offers. “This a good area to live and so many women may want to build their careers here because it is a great place to raise their families and enjoy the quality of life.”
Each of the trio said the hours are the hardest part of being an evening anchor.
“As an news anchor I work 1:30 to 10:30 p.m.,” Schultz said. “I have to admit when I have a day off I really enjoy my evenings, they seem so rare. It’s funny to notice 5 o’clock traffic. It is something I rarely see.”
Jones agreed. “The hardest part is the time slot, the preparation, that’s the hardest part of the day.”
When the three were asked about their “on air look”—about their hair and clothing—the policies of the stations sometimes do have an impact.
Are they responsible for their own hairstyles?
“Oh, yes, that should explain those bad hair days here and there,” Wright said.
Wright is the only female anchor currently with a clothing deal. Her wardrobe is supplied by Dillard’s.
“I am so happy to have a contract with Dillards’s in Fayetteville. While I don’t get to keep my clothes (they are cleaned and then returned to the store), I have been wearing their clothes on the air for more than five yeas. And let’s face it, to be able to walk into a major department store and pick out whatever you want – that’s every woman’s fantasy!”
Schultz said having a clothing sponsor is okay and has had one in the past. “Some companies include things like this in your contract, others compensate with more money and expect you to do it on your own. Consultants come in from time to time to offer advice and tips about colors and make-up, but here that is the extent of it.”
Jones is responsible for her own hair, clothes and make-up. She often laughs and tells those who ask about her hair a little fib for fun.
“I do my hair and make-up,” Jones said. “I always laugh and tell people, ‘Hey if someone was at the station every night before the show just for my hair and make-up, I think I’d look much better.'”
Wright is the only one who is still with the same co-anchor. She shares the desk with veteran newsman Craig Cannon, who was doing the broadcast when Wright joined the station right out of college.
Jones has worked with two male co-anchors during her tenure at KNWA. Schultz, who once co-anchored with KFSM veteran Burr Edson, has seen at least five co-anchors – all men – come and go.
The demands of the job can have an impact on an anchor’s personal life. Relationships, especially personal relationships, can suffer when the stress involved with being a TV anchor takes over one’s personal life, all three agreed.
“I think anyone’s career can impact your family if you allow it do so,” Wright said. “My job has certainly adversely affected some of my relationships from years ago, but again that was my fault and not my job’s (fault). My husband and family are priority number one. That is non-negotiable and my bosses support me in that decision.”
Jones said her job has actually helped her build relationships. “My husband is very supportive and I like to think I am just as supportive of him. My career, in some ways, has actually helped develop friendships and relationships.”
Schultz, the veteran of the group, said the position can be difficult. “This position is hard for relationships because there is much more to it than people think. Mainly because you are in the public eye—that can be tough on a partner, but it is has not been the reason a relationship has ended. It is all about balance and understanding, just like anything else. Once again, there are sacrifices for everyone. It depends on the person.”
A variety of local news stories – everything from automobile accidents to zoning controversies – comes across the news desk. Each of the three anchors offered insight into some of the hardest stories they have had to report to the public.
“The worst story in recent years was the Webbers Falls bridge collapse,” Schultz said. “It was so tragic and so sad and hard to deliver.”
Jones said the worst stories sometimes include national tragedies as well as those closer to home. “I think we all have memories of September 11, Virginia Tech (shootings) and child molestation, domestic
abuse. Anytime a life is lost these stories are hard.”
Wright said the stories closest to home are often the hardest to report and also what makes the job difficult. “Sure, I would love to see less stories on the sexual abuse of children or domestic abuse of women and families, but it happened and we have to let people know about it.”
All three, as news co-anchors, have major input about the stories that are delivered each night during the newscasts. That too, is part of the pressure cooker job they have.
“I find it very satisfying when we break a story, help someone who needs it, or give information to our viewers that could save their lives,” Schultz said. “It is a powerful (job) and one that can be fun at the same time. Plus you will do and learn things in the business that you may not otherwise do.”
10 Quick Questions
1. In high school I was known as – “a goody-two-shoes.”
2. I laughs out loud when – “anyone says anything wry or catchy.”
3. When I sneak a snack it’s- “potato chips.”
4. Pets – “Zeke” a Pekingese.
5. Favorite time of the day- “sunset.”
6. The sexiest man in uniform – “Army, Navy, Air Force and
Marines(laughing). All of them.”
7. If not in news, I would be – “a special education teacher.”
8. Do you win arguments or settle arguments? “I think I settle arguments.”
9. The hardest item to fit into your wardrobe- “pants.”
10. One thing knows about Bridget Schultz- “I love really silly
1. In high school I was known as “flirty girl.”
2. I laugh out loud when – “I hear something really funny and I laugh really, really, hard.”
3. When I sneak a snack it’s – “Hostess cupcakes.”
4. Pets – None at this time.
5. Favorite time of the day – “morning around 8 a.m.”
6. The sexiest man in uniform – “A good looking wide-receiver in a really tight football uniform.”
7. If not in news, I’d be – “a surgeon.”
8. Do you win arguments or settle arguments? “I think I settle arguments.”
9. The hardest item to fit into your wardrobe – “most hats.”
10. One thing no one knows about Leslee Wright -“I practice yoga.”
1. In high school I was known as – “a soccer player.”
2. I laugh out loud when – “funny things are said.”
3. When I sneak a snack it’s – “anything chocolate.”
4. Pets – “Pong, Callie and Midnight.”
5. Favorite time of the day – “evening, about 7 p.m.”
6. The sexiest man in uniform – “Greg (her husband) in his work clothes.”
7. If not in news, I’d be “in some sort of human resources.”
8. Do you win arguments or settle arguments? “I always look for the mutual ending.”
9. The hardest item to properly fit into your wardrobe – “a blazer, I am so tall.”
10. One thing no one knows about Neile Jones – “I am taking classes to get my pilot’s license.”
Why this trio?
Why were these three women chosen for this feature? All three are news veterans of the three major network affiliates who live in Northwest Arkansas – Washington and Benton County. All three have risen to the anchor position at their respective stations and work, live and play in the same area as Free Weekly readers. ABC’s Donna Bragg is another popular evening anchor, but lives in Fort Smith. Maylon T. Rice