FEATURES •Spring 2001

 

From morning to night, Washington University graduates help bring you the news at ABC. Here is a glimpse at three Arts & Sciences alumni.

by Nancy Mays

Name a major world event in the last 10 years and odds are a Washington University alum was there orchestrating news coverage. Princess Diana's death. The Columbine tragedy. And, of course, the seemingly endless presidential election of 2000.

Of these alumni, John Green, Lisa Sharkey Gleicher, and Ann Sorkowitz work at ABC News as top-tier producers for Good Morning America and PrimeTime Thursday. They have the adrenaline-pumping, behind-the-scenes job of making sure all the details, from the facts to the lighting, are set before the cameras roll.

Their jobs—sometimes glamorous, always challenging—let them watch the world's events unfold every day. It's like having a front seat to history.

Wake-Up Call

John Green, A.B. '90, is the producer whose phone rings in the middle of the night when a disaster strikes. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. When word spread of Princess Diana's death, it was Green who took the next flight to Paris.

As a supervising producer at Good Morning America (GMA), Green is the on-site manager; the person who makes sure the crews, cameras, and editorial information are ready by air time. His job has taken him to every state and around the world—numerous times. He's arranged interviews with world dignitaries and international stars. Still, his favorite stories to produce are those that involve real people, because they have the power to change lives.

One of the most powerful stories he has produced involved a Wisconsin mother battling stage IV breast cancer. Pregnant at the time, the woman opted to wait until the baby was born to undergo treatment. But waiting meant that her only option would be an experimental therapy that her HMO refused to cover despite the fact doctors said it would save her life. The clincher, though, was that if she had lived 10 miles away in Illinois, the state would have mandated coverage.

The public responded with offers of help and money. In the end, the woman got treatment and beat the cancer.

"Reporting those kinds of stories makes you feel that you're doing the right thing," he says.

Green has been on the GMA staff for seven years now. It was talent—and a bit of perseverance—that landed him the job. After graduating from WU, Green pursued his master's in international communications at Boston University. He was working at ABC's Boston affiliate when he began campaigning for a job at GMA. Every six or seven months he would send a letter and tape highlighting his recent work; executives took notice and hired him. Several times, his GMA job has taken him home to St. Louis, where he graduated from John Burroughs High. Most recently, he was the supervising producer for the 2000 presidential debate held at Washington University.

"Going back for that was fun," he says.

Airing the Best

As the coordinating producer of Good Morning America, Lisa Sharkey Gleicher, A.B. '80, supervises the show's team of on-air correspondents.

"I work with the best and brightest the world of journalism has to offer," she says.

The show is home to about 25 such contributors—physicians, political analysts, ethicists, and lifestyle gurus—who keep the show moving. Sharkey helps brainstorm ideas, plan segments, and clear any legal hurdles a story might present.

"My job's all about helping GMA's family of correspondents get on air with the best story they can," she says.

Her biggest challenge is figuring out how to best inspire the contributors. Sharkey tries to create stories that complement each correspondent's strengths. For example, she developed the "Ask George" segments, the mini-town-hall meetings where George Stephanopolous fields viewers' questions. He shines in a casual setting where he's challenged to think on his feet, she says.

Sharkey thinks of her job as trying to develop that "one story that will really get people talking around the water cooler." When the show decided to produce a segment on morning madness, Sharkey took it one step further by helping the parenting contributor team give a family a morning makeover. Experts offered real advice to real problems.

Sharkey's path to GMA began at KETC, St. Louis' public television station. A New York native, Sharkey majored in comparative arts, so when it came time to launch a career, she was open to options. She worked for a show called St. Louis Skyline, producing vignettes on cultural affairs in the city. From there, she moved to New York, where she worked for local news broadcasts and eventually landed a writing job at CBS. Along the way, she's produced talk shows, nightly newscasts, and breaking stories. She joined the GMA cast in July 2000.

When she's not busy scripting the world's headlines, Sharkey is at home with her architect husband, Paul Gleicher, and their three children, two boys and a girl who are 10, 8, and 1.

"I have an important and wonderful job at Good Morning America," she says. "But still, the most important and wonderful job I have is raising our kids."

Ready for Prime Time

When PrimeTime Thursday exposes fraud, Ann Sorkowitz, A.B. '70, is behind the scenes. As the producer for Diane Sawyer, Sorkowitz develops investigative pieces for the network's biggest name.

"It's a great mix for me, using research, writing, and visual skills," she says. "Plus we're doing something worthwhile."

The stories Sorkowitz produces are hard-hitting and complicated. For example, she was charged with setting up a phony telemarketing company in Las Vegas, so the show could con the con artists.

"We were able to expose these people who were taking the life savings of vulnerable elderly people," she says. "It was eye-opening and unsettling to watch them. The show was quite successful; the FBI prosecuted the criminals on the basis of our broadcast."

Sorkowitz spends a good deal of time finding original stories that are worth the network's investment and Sawyer's time.

In another instance, Sorkowitz uncovered fraud in the jewelry business. Her team had heard that when people brought their jewels in for repair, jewelry shops were switching diamonds for lower-quality diamonds or fakes. Sorkowitz had a top-line diamond imprinted with a laser that was invisible to the naked eye. Sure enough, when she brought it in for repair, one upscale jeweler had switched the diamond.

"The segment was particularly helpful because we showed the viewers how to prevent the fraud from happening to them," she says.

A New York native, Sorkowitz went to WU because it met her very narrow criteria at the time. "I wanted a mid-sized school in a big city that wasn't on the East Coast," she says, "and I loved going to school there."

A political science major, she started out working in hard news at CBS after a college friend helped her land an interview. From an entry-level job, she was promoted to writing stories on government and world events. She stayed at CBS News for 19 years before moving to ABC about seven years ago. The jump from the nightly news broadcast to a news magazine was a logical one, says Sorkowitz.

"It was still hard news, but it gave me a chance to work on more in-depth stories," she says.

Nancy Mays is a free-lance writer based in Lenexa, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Reporting those kinds of stories makes you feel that you're doing the right thing."

—JOHN GREEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"My job's all about helping GMA's family of correspondents get on air with the best story they can."

—Lisa Sharkey Gleicher

 

 

 

 

 

"It's a great mix for me, using research, writing, and visual skills. Plus we're doing something worthwhile."

—Ann Sorkowitz