From small newsrooms to NewsNation: Growing alongside Nexstar

For the many of us who’ve spent the majority of our television careers with Nexstar Media Group, Tuesday’s launch of a national primetime newscast on cable television feels like the culmination of years of hard work. Overnight shifts, working holidays, moving away from family and covering difficult and demanding stories can make work days difficult for the 5,400 journalists across the company. But it’s because of those sacrifices that something like this is possible. And for that reason, NewsNation feels like a win for us all.

When I started my career with Nexstar in 2004, I was an overnight newscast producer in Shreveport, Louisiana. I worked for KTAL, one of about three dozen stations Nexstar owned. Not long after I arrived, company founder and CEO Perry Sook made the decision to pull us off a local cable provider, demanding the carrier to pay a retransmission fee to use our signal. We fielded dozens of daily calls to our newsroom from viewers who were understandably upset they could no longer get their NBC station. As you might imagine, it was a frustrating time for employees. I toed the company line, but I couldn’t exactly understand the decision.

What I didn’t comprehend: this was the beginning of a much, much bigger plan for Nexstar.

Looking back on it, it was a major risk that paid off. Similar retransmission issues have happened in numerous markets over the years, with cable providers paying up — and it’s transformed the television industry. Today, retrans fees drive more than half of Nexstar’s annual revenue.

Non-traditional decisions and risks like this ultimately paved the path for the tremendous growth Nexstar would see over the next 15 years.

In that same decade and a half, I’ve served as a News Director at Nexstar stations in Abilene, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas. While I was growing as a leader and picking up additional responsibilities for Nexstar, the company was growing as well. Fast. The company once viewed as a small and efficient operator of television stations transformed into a media powerhouse.

Ashley Ketz and Aaron Nolan met inside a Nexstar Newsroom and eventually got married. The two had been on the company radar for some time when I hired them to from Springfield, Missouri to join our anchor team in Little Rock. Springfield was Nolan’s third position with the company and Ketz’s first. I’d give them the opportunity for their fourth and second, respectively.

Aaron and Ashley pose with daughter Aven on the KARK 4 News set. (from Little Rock Family)

Just as Nexstar would experiment, innovate and try new things, so did we. As part of the company’s commitment to political coverage, Ketz hit the road for a week long, multi-platform effort to follow candidates running for mayor of Little Rock. Her work is still highlighted in company training material used leading up to elections. Nolan launched Newsfeed Now, a daily streaming program that takes a deeper drive into the company’s most popular digital stories. The largely unscripted program started as a regional effort with a dozen stations and was recently expanded to more than 100 Nexstar websites.

The Nolan family participates in a Victory Walk in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Ketz and Nolan also played key roles in our Victory Over Violence initiative — often helping lead our Victory Walks through Little Rock neighborhoods.

“Coming back to Arkansas to anchor the news in my home market just as we were starting our family was the ultimate for me,” Ketz told me earlier this week. “For seven incredible years, I got to be a part of the team at the station I grew up watching.”

Eventually, new growth opportunities would come for all of us.

In 2019, I was offered the chance to join our corporate team as the Director of Digital Content. I jumped at the opportunity even though it meant saying goodbye to the Little Rock team, including Ashley and Aaron, that I truly loved working with.

A few months later, Nexstar would acquire Tribune Media — a deal that included WGN America. With Nexstar now sitting atop the mountain as the largest operator of local television station in the country, it just made sense to leverage the scope of the country into a national newscast.

The new project would be titled NewsNation. It would air nightly for three hours and do what local news does best: NewsNation would present unbiased news.

When the initial on-air hires were announced, two names on the list stood our for me: Ashley Ketz and Aaron Nolan. Ketz will serve as a feed-room reporter during NewsNation’s weeknight broadcasts while Nolan will sit on the desk as an anchor of the weekend newscasts.

“It felt like Ashley and I were being rewarded for years of work within Nexstar,” Nolan said. “As I walk around this (NewsNation) newsroom and studio, and as cliche as it may be, I am humbled.”

NewsNation weekend team of (left to right) Gerard Jebailey, Nichole Berlie, Rudabeh Shahbazi and Aaron Nolan.

As longtime Nexstar alums, Ketz and Nolan said they feel a certain responsibility to represent their fellow Nexstar journalists who helped make this moment a reality for the company.

“I’m honored to be a Nexstar legacy member who was given the chance to grow beyond any of my professional dreams with the team at NewsNation,” Nolan said.

“I get to showcase the mission we all have as local journalists to a national audience,” said Ketz. “It’s been thrilling to have a front row seat to seeing it all come together.”

When NewsNation goes live on Tuesday night, I’ll have immense pride. I’ll be proud of Ashley and Aaron, proud to work for a company willing to launch a game-changing project in a pandemic, and proud of the countless journalists and leaders whose years of sacrifies led to this moment.

This moment will be our moment.

Let a new era of Nexstar begin.

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