20 Questions with NTVs Amanda Mews & Jodi Cooke

20 Questions with NTVs Amanda Mews & Jodi Cooke

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For over two decades, the Sunday Evening Newshour has been the province’s only live, hour-long weekend newscast, providing viewers with breaking news, feature stories, community events and, of course, the all-important weather forecast. Toni Wiseman pioneered those early years when it launched in the late 1990s and was later joined by co-anchor Larry Jay. 

Weekend newscast

They’d spend over a decade together, generating solid ratings, before passing the torch to current senior anchor Jodi Cooke. Within the past year, Amanda Mews has joined the anchor desk, forming an anchor team that is taking the show to new heights. 

“It’s not easy putting together a show like this. It takes a real team effort. But it’s rewarding knowing that a large audience tunes into us each weekend to get their news,” says Cooke, who’s been in the anchor chair since 2013.

The supper-hour weekend newscast remains a ratings winner, thanks in large part to its talented anchor team and award-winning journalists. But this show, of course, offers even more community-driven pieces than the weekday brand. Yes, there’s breaking news, like high-angle rescues or the occasional court case, but there’s also the opportunity to cover softer stories like charitable events.

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Cooke and Mews make a formidable team. Cooke has been with the station for 13 years, covering the province’s top news stories while doubling on the anchor desk, while Mews has also been with the station for a decade, climbing the corporate ladder with hard work and pure talent.

We chatted with the talented anchor team about their favorite interviews and, well, reveal some things that might surprise you.

JODI COOKIE

Can you take us on a journey back to your first memory of working at NTV?

My situation arriving at NTV was entirely unique. Prior to my first day at work, I had only been in Newfoundland for a couple of days. My husband grew up in Logy Bay and had wanted to move back home for some time. We had met while I was working at CTV Atlantic as a reporter in Moncton and my husband was training to be a pilot at Moncton Flight College.

Despite the fact my grandfather was a Newfoundlander, he died before I could meet him and the rest of my family moved to Cape Breton. Other than my husband’s family, I didn’t know anyone in the entire province. I was so nervous to start but the NTV team was incredibly welcoming. Toni-Marie , Glen Carter and Mark Dwyer took me under their wing and even invited me out for an evening with friends, right off the hop. I couldn’t believe how kind everyone was. I remember everything like it was yesterday, even though it was over 13 years ago. I remember what I wore my first day of work – a blue button down top and brown suede blazer. I was so nervous. 

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You’ve literally filed thousands of stories throughout your career. What was the toughest story you had to tell?

There are so many tough stories. Still, the one that instantly comes to mind is the Cougar Flight 491 crash. That day is so clear to me. It’s the subsequent days that become a bit of a blur. On the morning of March 12, 2009, I had a headache and popped home to grab some Advil. I was heading home when I received the call for all hands to return to the station. 

As information started piling in, we scrambled. I had friends who had family on that flight. I raced sailboats with two men who were on that flight. It quickly became a lesson for me as a young journalist – how to separate personal emotion and connection from story-telling and fact sharing. Rod Ethridge recently wrote a book titled 18 Souls where in one of the chapters a family recalls realizing the crash was bad when they saw me arrive at the hospital with my camera set up near the helipad. I have the same memory of that day – always feeling like I was in the way, and encroaching on what would ultimately become the worst time in people’s lives. It was hard to share their stories, but it was imperative we did.

This industry affords us an opportunity to interview some incredible people. Tell us about your favorite or some of your most favorite interviews?

Hands down, it was Chris Hadfield. He was so kind to me and answered every single question I asked him, including if he believed in God. I was so interested to talk to an astronaut about what it must be like to feel so small and to see a world below you in an entirely different lens. He answered that question by telling me he knew we weren’t the only ones and that unless you believe in something bigger than yourself – whether God or something else – you’ll never quite appreciate the gift of life and your role in it. He didn’t rush our interview at all. Full disclosure, he is the only interview I’ve asked to take a photo with at the end.

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In keeping with this theme, who would be the ultimate interview for you (alive or dead)?

Geoff Stirling. I only met him once. He was kind and gentle. He wore a yellow, velour track suit and had yellow lens glasses. I was enamored. I didn’t grow up knowing the legacy or legend of him the way my husband did, but meeting him once left a lasting impression. I wish I got to know him the way others here at NTV did.

Is there a definitive moment from your childhood that stands out, perhaps even defining you?

Skiing. My parents had no idea that encouraging outdoor sport for my brother and I would eventually take us around the world, be the connection for how we both met our spouses, form our careers (I was an action sports television show host before becoming a journalist) and create the lives we have now. My parents took us skiing and our love for the sport shaped our lives as we know them today.

There are many facets to being an anchor, broadcaster and journalist. What’s one part of the career that most people don’t know?

We always have our cell phones on the news desk. Breaking news is a different business today in the world of social media. We are always ready to receive information and we could be dissecting as it comes in, while we are on the air and bringing it to the viewer within seconds of sourcing it. That happens more often than you may think.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give a new journalist?

Don’t be discouraged. We are in the midst of our very own industrial revolution right now. With the closure of newspapers and sometimes television stations, new journalists are often discouraged from entering the business for fear of not knowing what the future of it looks like. Local news matters and it always will. People will always seek information. Journalists are the trusted ones to deliver it.

Most embarrassing moment of your career?

It wasn’t here, it was at CTV Atlantic and I was covering the Sidney Crosby first round draft pick. I was at his coach’s home watching it in Cole Harbour. As I threw live to my anchor, I said something stupid about how ‘Sid the Kid’ would surely enjoy Philly Cheese Steaks at his new home in PA. I totally gapped and didn’t know what to say. My anchor corrected me and reminded me he was going to Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia. I wanted to disappear.

 The best thing about your co-anchor?

You’ll run out of room on the page. I adore Amanda and I think the viewers can see it. We have worked together for nearly a decade and are friends outside of work. We share wardrobe, wine nights and so many inside jokes. I can’t tell them to you though. She would kill me.

AMANDA MEWS

Can you take us on a journey back to your first memory of working at NTV?

It may not be my first memory of NTV but it was within my first year at the station and it really made me feel like a part of the team.  It was my birthday, I had planned to go home to Birchy Bay that weekend but there was a snowstorm. I was running around doing my job as a production assistant when Toni-Marie corners me. 

Now, I’m also still a little star-struck by Toni at this point. So even though I’m super busy I stop and have a chat. It turns out she was distracting me while a birthday cake was being lit. I rushed into the studio on a mission and the whole crew is there to sing Happy Birthday. I remember just being so surprised and grateful. I hadn’t seen anyone receive a birthday cake at work before.   Sounds trivial but it’s a testament to the amazing camaraderie I’ve experienced at NTV since the beginning. We’re like a family.

 You’ve literally filed thousands of stories throughout your career. What was the toughest story?

So far my specialty has been entertainment reporting and human interest features, something that often shelters me from the tough, gut-wrenching stories that I’ve watched my colleagues bravely tackle. At least twice a year I speak with the parents of Riley and Alex Mercer of Conception Bay South about fundraisers they set up in memory of their children. It doesn’t get easier. My heart just breaks for them every time. 

This industry affords us an opportunity to interview some incredible people. Tell us about your favorite or some of your most favorite interviews.

The obvious answer here is Jimmy Kimmel.  He is by far the biggest celebrity I’ve ever interviewed. Securing that interview reassured me of my abilities and was a real practice of staying calm under pressure. Another one of my favorite interviews was with local visual artist Clifford George, who has been exhibiting in galleries for decades. We met at the Christina Parker Gallery where he was exhibiting.  He told stories and read me poems that inspired him. I could have sat and chatted with him for hours. Not long after that interview, I received a package from Clifford that contained a handwritten note, the book of poetry he was reading, and a signed sketch of the poet.  It was the most meaningful gift I have ever received.

In keeping with this theme, who would be the ultimate interview for you?

Betty White. I think she would be an amazing person to talk to. The woman has been on television for 80 years.  She is a pioneer. Did you know that she had full creative control of her own sitcom when she was just 28? That was in the1950s. How cool is that? And she’s still going.

Is there a definitive moment from your childhood that stands out, perhaps even defining you?

I was always a very theatrical child. When we lived in Postville, Labrador, my parents would record videos of my sister and I to send to our grandparents in the mail. Before the days of iPhones. In one of the videos, when I was about three or four years old, I pretended to be a reporter. I remember sitting down in a wingback chair, cross-legged, saying I was reporting for the local news and my next guest was my “beautiest” sister. I’m not sure if that was a defining moment but looking back on it, it’s a funny foreshadowing.

There are many facets to being an anchor, broadcaster and journalist. What’s one part of the career that most people don’t know?

You have to love it to enjoy it. I think you have to have a genuine interest of what’s happening in the world because your day doesn’t end when the work day does. In order to stay up to date on the latest local and international news, there has to be an interest outside of the 9 to 5.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give a new journalist?

Don’t stop learning. It sounds cliché but this industry is ever-changing and you need to move with it. Learn everything you can about the latest technology and keep up on social media. I need to take my own advice on this one but it’s true.

Most embarassing moment of your career?

When interviewing the chef de mission for the Summer Olympics, I asked him (Curt Harnett) what it was like cooking for Olympic athletes. Turns out a chef de mission has nothing to do with food.  They actually “manage” the team.

Tell us the best thing about your co-anchor?

She is passionate, hard-working, quick-thinking, fair, and hilarious. I’ve admired Jodi since I started with NTV News in 2009 and she took me on my very first shoot while I was an intern. We went to a Needs store and shot video of lottery tickets. But the best thing would have to be her sense of humor. I think our friendship outside of work has created the chemistry we have on the anchor desk. 

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