Nashville has a lot to brag about, from dynamic music and cutting-edge restaurants to notable history and Southern hospitality. It turns out our four television news network affiliates have a lot to boast about, too: they’re all run by women. Though different career paths have led them to their current positions, their goal is the same — to keep us informed. Meet the powerhouses behind what we watch: Lyn Plantinga of WTVF NewsChannel 5, Tracey Rogers of WKRN News 2, René LaSpina of WSMV News 4, and Noreen Parker of WZTV Fox 17.
Lyn Plantinga, Vice President and General Manager at NewsChannel 5
Lyn Plantinga’s career trajectory is a unique one — she has been at NewsChannel 5 for her entire career. While in college at Vanderbilt, she took an unpaid internship at WTVF under the guise of padding her law school application, and she promptly fell in love with journalism and the newsroom atmosphere. Switching gears, she continued on the journalism path, graduating from Vanderbilt and accepting an entry-level job at the station. Working her way up through the ranks, she’s now the Vice President and General Manager of NewsChannel 5, and she has even won several Emmys. “This is a field that requires a lot of moving from market to market to advance,” she says, “and I was lucky enough to avoid that. I have spent my entire career, which is more than three decades, working in Nashville at NewsChannel 5 and focused on making it the best it can be. I’m the only person I’ve ever known who started at a station as an intern, spent an entire career at the station, and now runs it. It has been wonderful.”
She admits, however, that the past year and change has been the toughest year for the Nashville community since she started working in television news, and the NewsChannel 5 team has faced a great deal of adversity, too. “We’re downtown, and we were in the path of the March tornado,” says Lyn. “We had an employee on his way to work, who was a couple of blocks behind the station when the tornado totaled his car with him in it.” Three weeks later, the team had to adjust to pandemic repercussions, learning to produce and deliver journalism from home rather than the news station. Not to mention, the bombing on Christmas morning was only a few blocks from their station. “We have focused relentlessly on employee safety and serving our community with meaningful journalism, and we’ve tried to keep those things front and center at every turn through this incredibly challenging time,” she tells us. “I’m really proud of our team. I’m proud of their important work, and I’m proud of our company. We never flinched from our job, which is keeping our community safe, informed and connected. And we did that while putting people and safety first. I will never regret putting the safety of our own team at the top of our decision-making pyramid.”
For the most part, Lyn works from home these days due to COVID safety measures, and while the work-play lines are blurrier than they’ve ever been due to circumstances, she makes it apparent that journalism is a daily mindset. “If you’re a news junkie and a person who loves journalism, and you have a phone, you have a pipeline of information into your life from the minute your eyes open until they close at night,” she says. “It’s news from sunup to sundown.” Nevertheless, she’s quick to mention the importance of stepping away to refuel. “I think the most powerful resource that we have at Channel 5 is our best people energized and doing their best work, and you cannot do that unless you know how to recharge. So, I do things for myself that help me relax.” She counts spending time with her children, traveling, listening to live music and visiting Nashville’s beautiful parks among her top pastime picks. “We live in an amazing community, and I try to get out and experience those things in my time off,” she says. “It helps me to know what our community has to offer, but mainly, I think you have to recharge.”
With a deep-rooted passion for journalism, Lyn continues to push her news team forward. “From that first day of my internship when I walked in the door,” she says, “I realized that people with a passion for journalism were my people. I found my tribe. Knowing that the work we do can make a difference — knowing that we can hold powerful people accountable for their decisions, help people whose stories wouldn’t otherwise be told, and raise money for causes that are important to our community — those things are really important to me.”
Tracey Rogers, Vice President and General Manager at News 2
Tracey Rogers was drawn to a journalism career while she was in college at MTSU, and she was particularly captivated by the performance aspect of television news. “I loved that you could combine journalism with performance and communicate critical information to people who need the information to make decisions for themselves and their families,” says Tracey of her initial attraction to the job. She took a somewhat circuitous route to her current position as Vice President and General Manager of WKRN News 2, however. Tracey began as an Associate Producer at Channel 4 here in Nashville, then moved over to NewsChannel 5 as an associate producer and assignment editor. Moving around a great deal, she pursued a path to newsroom management and continued moving up in the ranks, taking her first general manager position at the ABC station in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Eventually, she had the opportunity to return to Nashville to assume her current role. Despite a career replete with moving locations and adjusting at a moment’s notice, Tracey feels the past year has been the most challenging yet. “The pandemic has presented so many issues we’ve never faced previously,” she says. “It has also had a tremendous impact on our team’s mental health. I have been so proud of my team members who have adapted and turned on a dime as needed to continue to serve the viewers and web users in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.”
While Tracey hasn’t experienced any major challenges due to being a woman in her position, she realizes that being a female general manager puts her in the broadcasting industry minority. “I also know I bring a different perspective and voice to the table,” she tells us, “but it takes lots of different voices and perspectives to create a successful team.” She also has mutual respect for and from her fellow Nashville GMs. “There’s definitely friendly competition between the stations,” she admits, mentioning that Lyn Plantinga trained her when she first worked at WTVF in the late ’80s. “We have been friends for more than 30 years,” she says of Lyn, also emphasizing her respect for René and Noreen. “We are supportive of each other,” she continues. “It’s super cool that the four GM’s of the commercial television stations are female. Nashville has been known as a market that has produced strong female leadership over the years.” Tracey is certainly making her mark, too, developing a strong team and helping them navigate whatever comes their way. “[You have to] be yourself,” she offers. “Be true to your beliefs and the way you lead. I decided early on that if I couldn’t be myself, then I would find something else to do with my passions.” We’re glad those passions include broadcast journalism!
René LaSpina, Vice President and General Manager of News4
René LaSpina is a general manager who comes from the sales side of the broadcast industry. Getting her start in the East Coast radio scene, she moved over to television in her hometown near Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. From there, René began getting promoted, and the rest is history. More than two decades of station management later, she took over as Vice President and General Manager of WSMV News4 in 2019. Like her counterparts at Nashville’s other commercial news stations, René laments that the past year has been trying. “It was non-stop news coverage,” she says. “I worry that our news department is experiencing fatigue, but they have stepped up big time during everything Nashville has experienced, and they’ve been great!” Celebrating the value of her team, she’s also quick to say that one of her greatest successes has been witnessing the incredible growth and accomplishments of people she has hired.
Though she’s out to beat the competition, a sentiment she seems to share with all of her network peers, René speaks highly of the other women. It’s clear that there’s a mutual admiration despite the competitive nature of the business. Perhaps the friendly competition can also be credited with keeping everyone on their toes, too — a motivating factor in delivering the most thorough and current news in Music City. “I do know the other GM’s, and they are all nice people,” she says, adding, “I’m really competitive, and I’m out to beat the competition.” Fierce competition aside, René still makes time to take a break from the grind when she goes home at night, immersing herself in entertaining (and non-news related) television and cooking, which happens to be a favorite hobby. After all, balancing everything is the key to great management!
Noreen Parker, General Manager at Fox 17
Noreen Parker’s career officially launched three days after she graduated from Robert Morris University. Intrigued by television from early on, she pursued a college internship at the local CBS affiliate and never looked back. She started as a research assistant, moved on to selling media, snagged her first management job at the age of 28 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and continued to be promoted after that. Eventually, her career path led her to digital media and news. “Every step of the way has led to greater opportunities and learnings,” she says. “That’s why I tell people to embrace change and the continual evolution of our business.”
In March of last year, she experienced a close encounter with the tornado that squarely put her on the other side of the news. “I woke up to our Fox 17 Code Red alert that there was a tornado warning for my area,” she tells us. “I immediately took cover on the first floor in a closet under the stairs, and minutes later, the tornado came bearing down. It sounded like a freight train. Then, the fire alarm went off. I could hear debris breaking and windows crashing. When I came out of the closet, my house was in shambles.” A devastating blow, Noreen lost the entire third floor of her home, and there was debris throughout the house. She’s grateful to have survived the harrowing experience. “Although I’ve always been the woman helping the community and reporting on disasters and other major news events, I’m thankful for Nashville and Fox 17 News,” she says. In the days following the tornado, the community rallied around Noreen and her neighbors — hundreds of people coming out to help remove debris and offer food and water. “I’m proud to live and work in this great community,” she says.
As the broadcast journalism industry is constantly evolving, Noreen acknowledges that it’s important to be resilient and adapt. “When you get into a leadership position, the most important responsibility you have is to your team,” she tells us. “You should surround yourself with a strong team — one that’s passionate about achieving the goals. That’s one of the keys to success. Taking care of those team members and helping them achieve their individual goals is important.” With a passion and commitment to win, Noreen is leading her team through whatever 2021 might have in store.
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