Marissa Wingate is an award-winning reporter for Channel 3 KTVK in Phoenix, Arizona. Her career has taken her from the multi-flagged state of Texas to the hot desert of Arizona; and along with providing outstanding journalism everywhere she goes, she also holds the distinction of being listed by us as one of the hottest women in the world.
Q: At what age did you know that you wanted to be a reporter?
MW: I had always planned on becoming an attorney, simply because that's what most everyone in my family does. However, the day before my college application was due, I panicked. I realized I did not want to become an attorney after all, and I had no idea what major to choose. I said a prayer that night and went to bed - I had a dream but forgot it. The following day my father asked me about my application, and he asked if I had ever considered becoming a "talking head." I had no idea what that was; he explained to me that it was a "news lady." I then remembered my dream had actually involved me being a "news lady." Moments later, my mother came home - not having talked to either of us - and said the thought had just come to her that I would make a great newswoman. I did not even know that it was a major, but I found Broadcast Journalism on my application, checked it off, and to this day it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I can't imagine doing anything else.
Q: What has been the most exciting story that you've covered during your career?
MW: I don't know about exciting, but covering Hurricane Katrina was definitely the most life-changing and memorable story of my career. My photographer and I camped in our news van near the Super Dome. We lived off of peanut butter crackers. At least one of us tried to stay awake at all times, so that no one would steal the gas we were carrying on the top of our van - or our water (at one point someone did try to steal the two of us - but that's a whole different story).
There was no food, no water, no electricity, no police officer, no phone service, no bathroom, and the roads were underwater. And, there was so much contamination in the water floating past us that my eyes burned for weeks after returning home. I have never seen human conditions so bad and people so scared. People reverted to pure survival instinct. It taught me a lot about simple human nature.
Q: You've received multiple awards throughout your career; is there one that you're most proud of?
MW: I have to say one award I am definitely proud of is your website naming me one of the world's hottest women. Haha. You have all of these beautiful movie stars up there, and then me and my little news picture. It looks so out of place that it is amusing. I laugh every time I see it.
Q: What would you say is the biggest misconception that people have about your profession?
MW: People often think that our profession is glamorous. And, while I do sometimes get to interview movie stars and presidential candidates - most of the time, it is not glamorous. I spend most of my days at fires (the smell stays on you for weeks), fatal accidents (often times we are there when the families arrive to identify their loved ones), murders (and yes, we see it all), knocking on doors after people have lost loved ones (definitely one of the toughest parts of the job - but often times gratifying when people get to see their loved one remembered). You spend your days sweating outside (especially here in the desert) and then you pack on the powder so you can fake looking fresh for your live shot. Not glamorous, but definitely adventurous.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a reporter?
MW: I get to listen to people's stories... and then tell the world. I learn so many new things everyday. As reporters, we get to where we know at least a little about a lot. I can talk to people about most anything, simply because at one point or another I've probably done a story on it. And, it's neat because people generally feel comfortable to come up and talk to us. After all, we're in their living room every night; they feel like they know us. Also, in this business there is never a dull moment. When I awake in the morning, I have no idea where the day will lead me. I might be covering a boring city council meeting (and figuring out a way to make it exciting to our viewers), but I also might be standing in the middle of one of Arizona's monsoon storms, or on the coast covering a hurricane. And, the thought that our stories can change lives, save lives, or simply make an impact, it's a wonderful feeling.
Q: What have you found to be the biggest difference between the types of stories you covered in Texas, and the ones you currently report on in Phoenix, Arizona?
MW: The stories in Texas are very similar to the stories in Arizona. Being that both states border Mexico, immigration is a hot topic. I grew up in a border town, and I speak Spanish, so I love stories dealing with border issues.
Q: Are there any stories that you hate to cover?
MW: I have a love/hate relationship with stories involving soldiers killed in combat. My father was in the Army, so I have always had a strong sense of pride for our military men and women. While I love to cover soldier stories, because I think they deserve to have their stories told - I have such trouble keeping a dry eye. I will never forget pulling up to a house where a family had just lost a young son in Afghanistan. There was a huge sign hanging on their house that said, "Welcome Home." Their son was supposed to come home the following day; instead, he was killed in combat. My photographer and I had to compose ourselves before we could bring ourselves to go inside.
There was another soldier I will never forget - his name was Dusty. Right before Dusty graduated high school, the Border Patrol asked me to hand out an award to the year's most outstanding student. I remember giving it to this strong, tall, handsome young man, with a huge smile, named Dusty. About a year later, I arrived at the home of a family who lost a son in Iraq. I saw Dusty's picture at the home and realized it was the same young man I had given the award. His family members remembered me, and I was the only reporter they gave an interview to that day. I remember crying with them as they told the story. While I try my best not to cry during interviews, I find it extremely difficult when it comes to stories like these. Often times, people in the business tell me that it will get to a point where these stories won't affect me any longer. But, I've decided if I ever get to that point, it's time to get out of the business.
Q: Do you ever get into fights with other news teams, a la Anchorman?
MW: Haha. No. Actually, most all of us are good friends. When it comes to work, though, it is very competitive. We know we are all out there to get the best stories we possibly can. We are out there to beat one another everyday. And, when we get something that our competition doesn't have - like an exclusive interview - it is exhilarating. It drives us to work even harder. But, at the end of the day, we don't take it personally.
Q: What advice would you give to other aspiring journalists and reporters?
MW: Intern, intern, intern. This business is very competitive. The hardest part of the job is actually getting your first job. Once you're in, it's not quite so hard to find your next job. But, to get that first job, you must have something that stands out. If you have a number of internships on your resume it shows that you're a hard worker. If you're not a hard worker, this business will weed you out quickly.
Q: Finally, we end all of our interviews with word association. I say "wombat" and you say...
MW: "Church camp."
My mascot at church camp when I was a kid was the wombat. We even had a song. "Wombat, bat, bat, bat...Wombat, bat, bat, bat...we don't make a sound but we get around. We don't make a sound but we get around." I love wombats!