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Interviews: 53rd Chicago International Television Awards on Mar. 23, 2017

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StarJay Levine, “Commitment to Excellence in Investigative Journalism Award”

Jay Levine is one of the familiar faces in Chicago broadcast journalism, and in January of 2016 – after 42 years – reduced his status from day-to-day reporter to special correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago (WBBM). He began his work in the Windy City in 1974, working for ABC 7 Chicago until his move to CBS 2 in 1990. One year before that, in 1989, Levine married another local newscaster, Mary Ann Childers.

Jay Levine
Jay Levine, 2015 ‘Commitment to Excellence in Investigative Journalism Award’ Recipient
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: What was the biggest story you’ve ever worked on, or the one that made you proudest?

Jay Levine: I think the biggest was getting embedded with the 101st Airborne during the second Gulf War in 2003. I was trying to keep up with twentysomething soldiers, and had to dig my own foxholes, and set up tents. I lost 18 pounds over the weeks, and my wife told me if I gained it back, I’m going back. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: As an investigative reporter, what signal do you get that a story is too hot, and you have to back off?

Levine: I do not back off. Reporters don’t do that, because any reporting is investigative, it is just characterized as long form or short form. Everyday, I do some kind of investigative reporting. When I go after something, I go after it. Nothing will make me back down.

I’ve had drug traffickers in Mexico following me because they didn’t like what I was doing. I’ve had bullets whizzing over my head in Beirut. If you’re going after a story, those are the type of things that can happen, but I keep going after it.

HollywoodChicago.com: Since television in general has to create advertising revenue, how do you think the skewers the perspective of a potential audience?

Levine: There is a real iron wall between the ad side and the news side, and we don’t cross that wall. Sponsors do not affect what I am doing. There are times when they do get uncomfortable about a story, but that’s the way it goes. It we started to get influenced by that, it becomes a slippery slope, and that’s one place no self-respecting reporter will get on to.

HollywoodChicago.com: With television changing so rapidly, what in your opinion is the future of TV news?

Levine: I think there will be more immediacy, because of the online partnership. There is no ‘best of the day’ on the evening news anymore. Everything is immediate, especially since we can report with devices like mobile phones. The shelf life of a story today is a fraction of what it was when I first started.

StarTom Burrell, “Chicago Legend in Advertising Award”

Tom Burrell is one of the pioneers in marketing/advertising focus for the African American consumer, when he co-founded the Chicago-based ad agency Burrell McBain in 1971. It was renamed Burrell Advertising in the mid-1970s, and Burrell Communications Group in 1991. With clients like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Toyota, Hewlitt-Packard and General Mills, the various Burrell ad groups delivered cutting edge direct marketing campaigns for the African American audience. Tom Burrell retired from his namesake agency in 2004.

Tom Burrell
Tom Burrell, 2015 ‘Chicago Legend in Advertising Award’ Recipient
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: You were famous for coining the phrase, ‘black people are not dark skinned white people.’ Has the dynamic of that phrase changed since you first coined it?

Tom Burrell: No. It didn’t start with me saying it, either, it’s as old as African Americans being here. It continues to be the same, by the virtue of how we came here – against our will essentially – it has just adjusted through the different dynamics that has been manifested through the culture and marketplace. That hasn’t been resolved because it continues not to be addressed.

HollywoodChicago.com: In the treatment of African Americans during the 1950s and ‘60s, and the transition that occurred during the Civil Rights era, where did you see the opportunity to reach that culture of people in advertising and commerce?

Burrell: The opportunity simply came out of the fact that African Americans had never seen themselves reflected positively in the media. They were depicted either as caricatures – like a Stepin Fetchit – or exceptions like high achieving academics. There was no middle ground, so the opportunity came from a craving for people in middle to see themselves reflected in media. All we had to do was show that, it did the people some good, and sold a lot of products.

HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’ve started a second phase in your life, ‘rewired’ as you put it, what have you discovered about yourself that you never knew as an ad executive?

Burrell: I believe I sat on some of my creative skills just because I was delegating as that executive, and didn’t want to compete with the creative folks who were working for me. Once I stopped doing that, I’ve found that creative side again, writing, artistic stuff, even singing. All of that has value.

StarTom Skilling, “Chicago Award”

Tom Skilling is somewhat of a legends in the world of meteorologists, as the chief weatherman at WGN 9 Chicago, and is acknowledged as one of the best in the business, through his comprehensive knowledge regarding weather trends. He began his career at age 14 on WKKD-AM/FM in Aurora, Illinois. After completing his degree in meteorology and journalism at the University of Wisconsin, he joined WITI in Milwaukee in his first job as on-air weatherman in 1975. Three years later, he joined WGN-TV in Chicago, and has worked for the station ever since, and is under contract until 2022.

Tom Skilling
Tom Skilling, 2015 ‘Chicago Award’ Recipient
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: Mark Twain once said, ‘everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’ How do you think that saying applies to weather reporting and meteorology today?

Tom Skilling: We’re still talking about it, no question about that. I do believe we are doing something about it. Tornado warnings have become sophisticated now, and people are grateful that they get these warnings ahead of time, and lives are saved. What has happened to the models in the science of meteorology in the last 50 years has been amazing, and anybody who has been lucky enough to do what I do has had a front row seat to this change.

For example, I was just talking about climate change at a conference, and in my keynote speech there I talked about how we’re able to see the planet now, and get an idea of what is going on. It’s stunning for me, in the context of what I do.

The 53rd Chicago International Television Festival and Awards, presented by Cinema/Chicago, will take place March 21st to 23rd, 2017, at the AMC River East 21, 322 East Illinois Street, Chicago. For more information about Cinema/Chicago and the upcoming Chicago International Film Festival, October 12th-26th, 2017, click here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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