News Kids on the Block
Not just any teens, mind you: For at least half the team, TV is in the genes. Coanchor Haley Cohen, 15, is the daughter of CNN anchor Paula Zahn. Sports guy Cody Gifford, 14, follows in the footsteps of his father, Frank, the former Monday Night Football coanchor (Mom, of course, is Regis's ex-partner Kathie Lee.) Gum chewing reporter Jenna Ruggiero, IS, is the daughter of New York FOX local news anchor Rosanna Scotto. But tips from the folks can get you only so far. "The hardest part, says Cody, 'is when they switch cameras midsentence—you have to look at another camera without moving your eyes. And fumbling with words—that s the worst feeling.'
Some of his fellow newshounds nave more performing experience—such as coanchor Mwanzaa Brown. 14 who was 9 when he played Simba in Broadway's The Lion King, and reporter Natalie Distler, 15, who appeal's as firefighter Denis Leary's gay teen daughter on FX's Rescue Me. To Distler and the others, Teen/Kids News is more, though, than just another line on their resumes. "As a teenager I have a hard time watching the news with adults. It's so serious," says Distler. "Here, a lot of things are presented in a way that's more suitable for children."
Parents are watching too. A story last year on autism drew praise from the father of an 8-year-old autistic boy. "1 watched with my 6-year-old daughter." he wrote. "I think the piece did more for her understanding [of her brother's special needs] than anything else I have tried."
Which is why Teen/Kids News was invented in September 2003 in the first place. "It hit me around [the time of] the Columbine shootings that you never see kids being interviewed on television." says creator Al Primo, 69. "I thought this was a void that can be filled." Together with producer Alan Weiss, 53. with whom he developed the original personality-driven Eyewitness News team concept for ABC stations in the '70s, Primo held open auditions. Of the hundred or so kids who tried out, the producers picked ten. "They had to be smart and fast on their feet," says Weiss. And connected? Primo concedes that Cohen. Gifford and Ruggiero, along with Weiss's daughters Lauren, 13, and Nicole. 11, "have a little leg up. But Mwanzaa and [reporters] Felipe [Dieppa, 14], Lily [Wen, 14] and John [Meyers, 16] don't have anybody. They're all just super-motivated."
Especially Nicole. "Since I'm a cub reporter. 1 get the fun stories," she says. "Recently 1 was in Disney World. I got to skip school " On the downside, "being a reporter is very tough.' she says. "So I have other jobs I want to do—like be a veterinarian."
Mike Lipton. Liza Hamm in New York City