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Shawn Anderson Handles News at WTOP With a Breakneck Pace

Washington D.C. doesn’t see the fluctuation that many other locales will see when it comes to its focus on the news. The nation’s capital is the permanent focus of the news world. That’s something WTOP afternoon news anchor Shawn Anderson is keenly aware of, but the federal government isn’t the only topic during a Beltway newscast.

“We’re lucky that stuff that happens in Congress and things that happen in the federal government or in the military are local stories. They’re not far away national stories. They’re local stories to us,” Anderson admitted. “So not only do we have the general local news of what’s happening in everybody’s community, we have that other pool to draw from. We’re at our best we are balanced.”

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Anderson added that, in his view, some all-news stations have an overreliance on crime stories. That’s something anchors at WTOP are cognizant of avoiding.

“We obviously do report crime, but we also are very big about getting into the communities and you trying to find what people care about. What the parents who have two kids in school care about,” he said. “We’re actually heavily local, we have a fair amount of national and international news, but we really try to provide a balance.

“Even though we can report on the federal government — and so many of our listeners are people who work in the government, they might work on Capitol Hill or they work for cabinet secretaries, what have you — we try not to get into government speak or police jargon. We feel we look at ourselves as we’re the station of the Washington working people. So it’s not just the people who are in high offices that we wouldn’t cater to them, per se. We’re happy that they listen to us, and that they consider us a viable source of information, but we’re not playing to them.”

Shawn Anderson — who hosts the afternoon newscast from 2-7 PM alongside Anne Kramer — has spent decades in the format, and enjoys the challenges that breaking news in the afternoon daypart presents.

“We have to do a lot of juggling, a lot of throwing out the script, and going live with breaking news. Breaking news is our premium content here at WTOP,” said Anderson. “So it’s not as scripted as you would think it is. Obviously, it’s scripted. It has to be scripted to a certain point because it is news and you have to be accurate with what you’re reporting. But there’s a lot of fungibility involved in getting through the day.”

“At two o’clock, it’s showtime, and from then I like to compare it to driving NASCAR on a world-class ski slope,” he added.

While the news is moving quickly, Shawn Anderson believes it is still important to give context that’s imperative to truly telling the story of the news.

“I think there’s such a thing as going too fast. We are fast. We are a fast-paced, high-energy radio station. Not just a news station, we are a fast-paced radio station. I think that our pace and rhythm is — at least I try to run it in the afternoon this way — as as fast as a CHR station.

“We bring that kind of bang-bang aspect to it, which is sort of like the opposite of what NPR does. We’re trying to be urgent. Our goal is to be urgent to everybody. But there’s a point where you are going so fast that people don’t understand what you’re doing. And I think one of our challenges — and I think we do it pretty well at WTOP — is that we try to find that balance between ‘Ok, we understand the attention spans are shorter, but yet we still have to make you understand what it is that we’re reporting on.’ We want you to understand what we’re doing. So there is a balance between going quickly and going short.”

One might think that there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with being a news anchor in the nation’s capital. After all, some of the most important leaders of the free world are relying on your information. However, Shawn Anderson doesn’t view it as pressure.

“I think of it as, as long as we are being credible, that as long as we’re being accurate and we’re being credible, that they will just continue to use us as a viable source of information. So I don’t put any more pressure on myself because they are listening. You are trying to be as accurate as possible.

“You’re trying to explain things as simply as possible so that everybody can understand. Yes, I want the person who’s working for the defense secretary to understand what I’m saying. But I want the mom with two kids in school in Bethesda to also understand at the same time, so I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself.”

In a hyper-politicized era of the news media, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is “news” and what is “commentary”. At WTOP, Shawn Anderson prides himself on there being a clear distinction between being the person delivering the news, rather than the person making the news.

“It’s definitely one of our big challenges in media today, right? People believe that somehow we are manipulating the news for some sort of nefarious political purpose. One thing I’m proud of at WTOP is — it’s a big thing for us is — to present the news in a compelling but unbiased way. I think we do have a pretty good reputation in Washington for doing that. We’re not paid to opine on the news and we strive to make sure that we are keeping political biases out of any news copy that we do.

“There are always going to be people who are upset with you for a story that you’re covering and claiming that you are favoring one side or another,” Shawn Anderson continued. “But we tend to get complaints from both sides of the political aisle. So as long as that is happening, we’re pretty sure we’re doing things right.”

Garrett Searight
Garrett Searighthttps://barrettmedia.com
Garrett Searight is Barrett Media's News Editor, which includes writing bi-weekly industry features and a weekly column. He has previously served as Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH, and is the radio play-by-play voice of Northern Michigan University hockey. Reach out to him at [email protected].

1 COMMENT

  1. Great piece. I had the privilege of working at WTOP between 2004-2007. Shawn is the best. Great journalist, great guy.

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