COVER STORY: Connecting With Viewers for 25 Years
By Caurie Putnam | Photos by ROCimage.com
The afternoon of my January 3rd interview with anchorwoman Ginny Ryan was frigid.
It was much like the weeks and days of television news preceding the interview: bone-chilling.
First was the murder of twenty-six innocents at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th, followed ten days later, on Christmas Eve, by epic tragedy in our own region with the murder of two West Webster firefighters.
These stories were with me as I entered 13WHAM that cold day to interview Ryan – someone I had never met, but, like many of you, felt I already knew through watching her on television for over two decades.
Ginny greeted me almost immediately and her initial words both shocked and warmed me: “I am so sorry about your cousin Caroline,” she said, referring to a family member of mine who was murdered in her classroom in Newtown. “All the children touched me, but Caroline in particular because that’s my daughter’s name.”
And just like that, in two sentences, Ginny Ryan showed me what makes her the powerhouse, staying journalist she is: her love of family, her innate ability to connect with others, and her understanding that news is not just something her viewers watch, but something they live.
Rochester Family – Part 1
Virginia “Ginny” Ryan was born in Northside Hospital (now Rochester General) in 1963 to Virginia and Joe Ryan. She was the youngest of three and raised with her sister Cindy and brother Terry in a tight-knit, family centered neighborhood in Gates.
From a young age the news captured Ginny’s attention.
“I remember watching Watergate unfold and my sister, who was nine years older than me, was really interested in it,” Ginny said. “Working for the Washington Post and being a newspaper reporter sounded like the greatest job in the world.”
But, her family’s own, personal, news dominated a large portion of her childhood when her father died. Ginny was just seven years old.
“My mom had been a stay-at-home-mom and suddenly she had to get a job and learn to drive,” Ginny remembered. “But she did it and she is the best role model I could have ever asked for in terms of doing what has to be done.”
Ginny went through a period where she did not want to leave her Mom to go to school – something common in children that have lost a parent. But, she connected with a teacher named Ms. Ryan who got her over that hump.
“She was a great teacher who taught me to like school again and When she graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School and left for college at Buffalo State, she was sure what she wanted to do with her life: write for a newspaper.
But the universe had other plans.
Freshmen were not allowed to write for the school newspaper and Ginny did not want to wait to get involved with the news, so she joined the only media outlet on campus open to her: the radio station.
“It was a complete fluke,” said Ginny, of the path that led her to broadcast media. “I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.”
Ginny enjoyed reporting, writing, and airing news for the radio station so much that she changed her major to broadcasting.
And, before she knew it, she went from a student of broadcasting to a professional.
“I started working just two days after graduation,” said Ginny, of her first professional position as a reporter at WENY-TV in Elmira, “I could not wait to start!”
Rochester Family – Part II
Ginny did not stay in Elmira long – Rochester was calling her home and she listened.
“I love this community so much,” Ryan said. “It is such a cliché to say it is such a great place to work and raise and family, but it is. I am so glad I stayed.”
In 1987 she was hired as a weekend reporter by 13WHAM-TV, the station she has remained at throughout her career.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be here for twenty-five years,” said Ginny, who currently anchors the five, ten, and eleven o’clock news. “The culture in our newsroom is really supportive. It’s like a family.”
And, as much as 13WHAM has been a rock in her life, she has become a rock for the station over two decades of journalistic excellence.
“She is a newsroom leader,” says Allison Watts, WHAM-TV’s director of digital media, “Her voice is always heard and people seek her opinion out. She is not just someone who reads the teleprompter.”
Watts remembers that when she started out at the station fourteen years ago as a young producer Ginny did something that she had never seen another anchor do: pull up a chair after every broadcast and debrief with her.
“This is a fast moving, high stress industry and for an anchor to pull up a chair is rare,” Watts said. “She is like a teacher. Her impact on people whether they leave or stay at the station is tremendous.”
Those are words echoed by someone who has stayed at the station even longer than Ginny: Don Alhart, the associate news director, who began at 13WHAM in 1966.
“Ginny is much more than someone who reads news,” Alhart said. “She cares about news, cares about good journalism, and realizes the value of getting to know our viewers. I couldn’t ask for a more ideal co-anchor.”
While at 13WHAM Ginny, who is a finalist for the 2013 Athena Award, has worked on some of the most defining stories in Rochester’s modern history – the abduction and murder of Kali Ann Poulton, the Arthur Shawcross serial murders, the Brink’s Heist, and 9/11.
“September 11th in Rochester was really not unlike what we saw in Webster recently,” Ginny recalled. “The vigils, people coming out and donating things, ribbons; often the worst things I see in our community bring out the best in people in our community.”
And it truly is the people of Rochester – a place she calls the most giving community in the country – that motivate Ginny.
“Some of the best stories I’ve done are of ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” Ginny said. “It’s the people that don’t have the famous names that have made the most impact on me.”
Rochester Family – Part III
On a typical weekday Ginny gets to the station at 2 p.m.; preps for the 5 p.m. news; delivers the 5 p.m. news and then pulls up a chair to discuss it with her producers; works on the 10 and 11 p.m. news stories; eats a quick dinner; preps for the 10 p.m. news; delivers the 10 and 11 p.m. news; debriefs with her producers again; and leaves the station around midnight.
If that sounds extraordinary, what happens next is even more so.
Ginny will drive home to Pittsford from Henrietta, sleep for a few hours, and wake up at 6:30 a.m.
Why so early after working the night? To get her kids ready for school.
Yes, Ginny is also a mom.
“Ginny has been dogged in her determination to not let her career keep her from being a mom,” said 13WHAM anchor Doug Emblidge, who has worked with Ginny since 1990. “If you’re at the top of our profession you’re usually working nights. Ginny has worked nights the entire time she’s been raising her kids and has found a way to make the best of it.”
Ginny began working at 13WHAM just two weeks after she began her family. She married Jeffrey Curran, an elementary school teacher in the Gates Chili School District, in 1987.
Ginny and Jeffrey, who met in college when they were both interns in Washington, D.C, are the parents of Caroline, 17 and Jeffrey, 21.
“Each stage goes by so much faster than the next,” said Ginny, of parenting Caroline – currently a senior at Pittsford-Mendon High School and Jeffrey, who is a senior at Cornell University and currently home in Rochester on an internship. “But I have thoroughly enjoyed it all.”
As Ginny and Jeff prepare for an empty nest, catching up on two decades of lost sleep is not on the top of Ginny’s list.
She sees herself getting more involved with volunteer work, something she is already extremely committed to. She currently serves on the board of directors of Heritage Christian Services Foundation, CMAC, and the public relations committee of Wilson Commencement Park. She also volunteers with the Ad Council of Rochester and Camp Good Days and Special Times.
Ginny also serves as the master of ceremonies at about 30-40 events for Rochester area not-for-profit organizations each year.
“You don’t get that number of requests to MC because you’re on TV,” Emblidge said. “You get them because people admire your work and admire you.”