First Edition: Merissa Lynn
By Taylor Newman
Merissa Lynn’s heart was set on covering hard news. That is, until she was assigned to help shoot a soccer game during her senior year of college.
Quickly acclimating from her rookie status, she became the face to deliver short mid-day sports reports for her college T.V. station and lent her voice for sports updates on radio.
Covering traditional news took a back seat.
“I was always nervous about having to make that decision between news and sports,” Lynn said. “Fortunately, it was kind of made for me, so it was a big sigh of relief.”
Now, she’s the sole female sports anchor/reporter at WAGA (FOX 5) in Atlanta, Ga. She reports on the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Georgia, Georgia Tech and the local high school teams. Her role also extends to producing, editing and taking photos.
“TV isn’t just about being a reporter or a producer or a photographer, so I’m pretty much a one-man band. I do everything,” she said. “On any given day it’s a different role I’m playing.”
Lynn grew up in Tampa, Fla., surrounded by sports. She was a figure skater for almost 10 years and also competed in track, doing discus throw and shot-put. Her three brothers all played sports too.
On weekends, she’d attend live football, baseball or basketball games.
She got her first exposure to reporting when, in high school, she anchored on the morning announcements. Her passion for being in front of the camera carried with her to college at the University of Florida where she earned a degree in Telecommunications, with a minor in Spanish.
Early in her sophomore year, Lynn got involved with the school’s radio station, WRUF-AM850. Her junior year she started working as part of the student-run team that produced full-fledged thirty minute news shows as part of the PBS-affiliated TV station WUFT-TV on campus. She did it all: weather forecasting, sports anchoring and news reporting.
“It was a good experience,” she said. “It was a good learning tool for us all. It helped us start our careers a little bit.”
During those summers, Lynn sandwiched in internships with NBC Channel 8 WFLA-TV and ABC WFTS-TV in Tampa. She worked at the assignment desk, went out with reporters and shot stand-ups.
After college, she freelanced in Gainesville on game days before landing her first permanent job in Augusta, Ga. as a weekday news digital journalist and a weekend sports anchor in 2010. She produced countless stories on topics ranging from high school football to the Masters.
It was in Augusta she put together the story she’s most proud of.
Lynn investigated a girls’ high school basketball team in Swainsboro, Ga. that earned a state championship back in 1958 but never received recognition for it. Lynn produced a story that showcased the women’s stories, and after her story ran, their title was put down in the record books of the Georgia High School Association.
“These women are 60 to 70 years old now, and still to this day, what happened with their team is something they want to be remembered for,” Lynn said. “I wanted to tell their story and make sure that those women were honored.”
Two years in Georgia prepared Lynn for her next stop as a full-time sports anchor/reporter at WOLO in Columbia, S.C. In her short eight-month span there, she provided coverage on SEC and ACC college football.
“College football is my favorite sport, so I was in heaven. It was fun and fast-paced, but so tiring and exhausting,” she said.
For almost two years now Lynn has been the face of sports in Atlanta. She considers it the turning point of her career. She’s liked being in a bigger market, filled with professionals who have been in the field for many years.
She’s expected to know and do most everything. No two days are alike.
One week in November, for instance, had her wearing just about every hat there is: She produced for the main anchor on Monday. Tuesday, she shot a presser before the University of Georgia football game against Auburn and then she shot a high school football game. Friday she shot one of the high school football games for her show and then edited and produced. Over the weekend she anchored.
“I know for sure for the most part I’m going to be on air on Saturday and Sunday, but during the week it’s always something new,” she said about her schedule. “I don’t know until the day before, the week before what’s going on. It’s stressful, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. You kind of just have to go with the flow.”
Lynn’s work week mirrors the changing role of journalists. Being just a reporter or just an anchor isn’t the nature of the business anymore.
“I see a lot of younger talent going after the networks because they want to stray away from that multi-talented role,” Lynn observed, but added, “You’re better off getting a job in the business now knowing how to tweet, shoot, report, shoot your own standup, write a script and produce.”
Lynn knows this firsthand, because she was recently tasked with posting her own material to the Web. The station’s YouTube channel and social media sites have, of course, become additional outlets for viewers to get their FOX news.
Some days Lynn looks back at her job and can’t think of any other word to describe it but ‘crazy.’
“I’ve had days where my boss would call me and I’d still be sleeping at 10 a.m. and he’ll be like, ‘Breaking news, get down to Turner Field in an hour.’ And I’m like ‘Are you serious?’” she said. “You throw on a dress, put your hair up, throw whatever you can on your face and just run out the door.”
She understands this is what she signed up for.
No longer can she go to a game as a spectator. She is constantly faced with the stress of deadlines and making sure audio and video material sends through.
“I definitely miss going to games, but when you look back at what you’re doing, people think what you do is so cool. They wish they could go to a game and make money writing a story,” she said.
Sports journalism goes beyond reporting stats from a game, though. One story that Lynn considers to be one of her more interesting ones came in April. It was a feature on Ervin Santana, one of the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitchers last season.
She noticed a peculiar hashtag he had tweeted pretty frequently: #smellbaseball. It seemed unusual, so Lynn searched for the reason behind it. She interviewed Santana and his teammates, and found that Santana’s tweet was a way of expressing his passion for baseball; in other words: if you don’t smell it, you don’t love it.
Lynn’s fun discovery wound up being picked up by a couple of Major League Baseball sites and was shared with FOX’s affiliate stations.
“It was a weird sports story, but it was fun because we weren’t talking about wins or losses,” she said.
As a female covering male sports, Lynn said she hasn’t run into any difficulties. She can access every locker room and clubhouse just as easily as her male colleagues.
Although she feels as if in some ways she has more to prove, she’s never been disrespected or told she couldn’t do something because she’s a woman.
Throughout her career, the biggest hardship she’s actually faced is staying confident.
“I think confidence is something that you really have to build up in the business,” she said. “It can be easy for someone to knock you down.”
Luckily, she has a supportive staff that has reminded her of her talent.
“We have a great working environment and it makes sports fun,” Lynn said. “Obviously there are terrible things to talk about. The Falcons aren’t doing too great and the Braves have their issues right now. For the most part, though, these teams are fun to cover.”