Highlands High School alumnus talks about life on camera

Class of 2009 Highlands High School graduate Matt McClellan is a weekend anchor for Tampa’s top-rated morning show on FOX 13 News WTVT-TV, Good Day Tampa Bay, and reports live from the field throughout the rest of the week. He began his journalism career in Highlands and recently visited Rotary Club of Highlands to speak about life in front of the camera and why he’s so passionate about covering current events.

From left are Anchor Matt McClellan and fellow Anchor Sorboni Banerjee speaking with John Stewart about 911 first responders on Good Day Tampa Bay.

On a typical morning anchoring the news, McClellan wakes up at 4 a.m. and heads into the station around 5 a.m. to spend the next hour going through the story rundown before getting on the anchor desk for a 4-hour morning show.

The show uses police scanners, tips from viewers, news releases, and social media to build and execute newscasts that entertain, but more importantly inform viewers.

Anchor Matt McClellan puts together a story combining information from a variety of resources.

McClellan is often making changes to copy and adding new elements from the anchor desk during commercial breaks or weather forecasts.

When McClellan is reporting out in the field, he gets his assignment for the day at 3:30 a.m. and teams up with a cameraman to shoot, write, edit, and feed in all the necessary elements for the day’s broadcast. He uses videos, pictures, graphics, and sound bites to tell the story.

Matt McClellan gets set to go live on camera reporting out in the field.

After that, McClellan is live on camera every hour from 5-10 a.m. He covers everything from deaths at a reform school to a new bill in the state legislature. His day comes to an end when he gets to bed by 7:30 p.m.

“I got into journalism because I liked the idea of documenting current events as they happen,” said McClellan. “What happens today is tomorrow’s history. As far back as middle school I was always watching the news and staying up on current events, so being on the front lines of the action, bearing witness and bringing the news to the masses was appealing to me. I believe that informed communities are empowered communities, so I consider it a public service.”

McClellan began his journalism career as an intern at The Highlander in 2008, working with former Editor Melody Spurney, and Reporters Geoff Slade and Brian O’Shea (author). During his time in Highlands, McClellan tracked down stories, conducted interviews, and covered a diverse range of local issues and events.

“With you, Melody and Geoff, I think the biggest takeaways were the importance of being thorough, of vetting out stories, and of taking time to gather the facts before trying to rush anything to publication,” he said. “There are some stories that can turn in a day, and there are other stories that take weeks or months if not longer. Getting it right occasionally takes some time, and reporting has the biggest impact when the time has been invested in connecting all of the dots. That’s something I’ve carried with me.”

Anchor Matt McClellan with one of Good Day Tampa Bay’s many guests.

McClellan returned to The Highlander in 2010, but the print media format didn’t stick and he made the switch to broadcasting.

“From pretty early on, I was paying attention to the way print journalism as an industry was contracting as smaller publications, and now the bigger ones, get bought up by conglomerates and see their resources slashed,” said McClellan. “That’s also happening in broadcast news, but perhaps not as quickly or as drastically. I was also drawn to the way that television is a visual medium. Particularly in a breaking news scenario, it allows you to show in real time what’s happening around you, to bring the viewer in and make them feel like they’re there with you.”

He said one of the most challenging aspects about anchoring a news desk is multitasking.

“Not only are you required to be in command of the anchor desk and present the news with confidence, but you also have to anticipate what’s coming next and be in clear communication with the control room at the same time,” said McClellan. “Nowadays, you’re also monitoring social media as well as your inbox for breaking news.”

Anchors Matt McClellan and Sorboni Banerjee on Good Day Tampa Bay.

McClellan graduated from Highlands High School in 2009, dabbled in radio at Appalachian State University, and then began a summer internship after graduating in 2013 at a TV station in Greenville, S.C.

“I didn’t get far in radio,” he said. “During my first shift behind the switchboard, I hit a few wrong buttons and took the station off-air for nearly the entire shift. Everyone in the communications building knew the mistake was mine since my name was on the sign-up sheet on the door.”

McClellan then worked in TV stations in Dothan, Alabama; Richmond, Virginia; Indianapolis, and most currently Tampa, Fla. He is an award-winning journalist and has covered many memorable stories, one being an assignment that took him to rural Geneva County, Alabama, to interview a family about their missing emotional support animal, which was a donkey.

Frank the missing therapy donkey never returned, but after the story aired, McClellan lost count of how many people called the newsroom to report donkey sightings in the area.

After over a decade of journalism, he couldn’t choose one most-memorable moment on camera.

“Too many to count, but there have been a number of times when I’m in the middle of reporting live from the field and someone will come and try to disrupt my live shot,” said McClellan. “Whether they’re trying to take away the microphone, get a political point across, or yell an obscenity, at this point I’m a seasoned professional at handling hecklers.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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