Next up on Behind the Byline, meet WPXI reporter Mike Holden. In our virtual happy hour, Mike shared his love of the news, spinning and Pittsburgh. Note: he does not like cooking or going to bed at 6 p.m. on weekdays, but when you ask him about why he loves being a reporter, you’ll be inspired. Check out our full interview below.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Parma, Ohio, which is a suburb just 15 minutes outside of Cleveland. I’m the youngest of three siblings.
What made you decide to become a reporter?
My parents instilled the value in me that you should always watch the news and read about what’s happening in the world. Every morning, my dad read five different newspapers while my mom always made time to sit down and watch the local news, followed by “Entertainment Tonight” and “Seinfeld,” of course. By the fifth grade, I knew I wanted to work in the news and entertainment industry. In fact, at one point, it was my dream to become the next Ryan Seacrest, but later I realized I wanted to make a true impact in communities as a local reporter.
Where did you go to school?
Kent State University is known for its Journalism and Mass Communication program, so I decided to go there and completely immersed myself in the student media program. I got involved with my school’s TV station (TV2), radio (Black Squirrel Radio) and newspaper (The Kent Stater), and that’s where I learned the majority of what I do now as a reporter.
How does a Clevelander land in Pittsburgh?
After I graduated from Kent State University, I landed my first job as a TV reporter and fill-in anchor at WJET-TV, Erie’s ABC-affiliated local station. Two years later, I moved to Toledo, Ohio, to report and anchor the news for WTOL-TV, a CBS-affiliated station.
About four years ago, Melanie Gillespie, WPXI reporter and my friend from Kent State University, told me about an opening in Pittsburgh. I applied Sunday and was offered the job by that Friday. I’ve been here for four years now and absolutely love it, despite the fact I’m a Cleveland native and I’m supposed to hate it. Pittsburgh reminds me of a cooler version of Cleveland. There’s so much to do here and the people are really nice. I’ve even gotten used to the traffic.
Give us a glimpse of the life of a TV news reporter.
Let me start by saying I have no social life on weekdays and everything I do is on deadline. I set my weekday alarm at 2:45 a.m. After snoozing a few times, I finally wake up, pack my stuff, and I’m out the door by 3:20 a.m. To make mornings a little easier, I lay out everything the night before, down to my shoes, lunch and multiple phones charging.
When I get to the station at 3:30 a.m., I do my own make-up (no, we are not like Hoda where we have our own make-up assistant) and find out my assignments for the day. Because I’m constantly on the go, I’ve learned how to multi-task, improvise and always be on my A-game.
By 4:30 a.m., I’m on scene at my first report of the day and usually don’t get back to the station until noon. They are long days, but hey, my weekends start at noon on Fridays!
By the time I’m home, I try to relax by doing some type of activity (other than cooking — I hate cooking). I love spinning, and when I can, I’ll grab lunch with friends. By 6 p.m., I’m in bed trying to fall asleep before that 3 a.m. alarm goes off.
So, you live for the weekends. What do you like to do for fun?
Yes, I get to live a normal life on the weekends. I used to live in Shadyside — now I live in the North Hills to be closer to the station. One of my favorite restaurants is Girasole and, of course, Prantl’s Bakery. I’m always hosting friends from out of town, so I’m usually exploring some part of Pittsburgh.
Tell us what it’s like to report in the era of COVID-19.
I’m so used to covering water main breaks, severe weather, fires, traffic accidents — the usual TV reports, but ever since COVID happened, it has become the most consuming aspect of my career to date. I never thought in a million years we wouldn’t be able to leave our house or run simple errands like getting a haircut or going to the dentist.
I believe journalism serves a purpose, specifically community journalism. Now, more than ever, people are appreciative of journalism because we have such a far reach. Especially in COVID times when we’re in quarantine, people rely on us to provide information. I’m so appreciative to have the opportunity to get out there and share stories of impact during these unprecedented times.
What has been one of your most memorable stories?
When I was 22 years old and fearless, I went undercover to report on the lack of bed space at homeless shelters. After someone died in subzero temperatures because they couldn’t get access to a shelter, I fully immersed myself in the homeless community. I spent 48 hours bouncing from shelter to shelter, only to be turned away in negative 30-degree temperatures.
Once it aired, the Erie community rallied together to improve shelter conditions and bed space by building a new shelter for the homeless. That’s when I realized that I can influence positive change in communities.
What tips do you have for those who want to share a story idea?
Reporters are expected to pitch story ideas to their producers, but I get about 800 emails a day. The best way to share a story idea with a reporter is to establish a relationship with them. My tip for others: don’t be intimidated by reporters and get to know them one-on-one.
Want to hear more from Mike? Check out his Instagram or listen to his recent interview on the YaJagoff! podcast.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite