The Newfoundland Herald’s exclusive look inside the province’s only weekend television newscast, The Sunday Evening Newshour
It’s a fall Sunday afternoon, smack dab in the middle of a contentious federal election, and anchors Jodi Cooke and Amanda Mews are putting the finishing touches on their supper-hour newscast. A four-day manhunt ends with an arrest in Grand Falls-Windsor, while the Anglican Diocese approves a vote to allow same-sex marriages. Those are just some of the stories leading the lineup.
Cooke, one of NTV’s most respected journalists, is busy vetting local scripts while also keeping an eye on the national news wire as federal leaders jockey for votes ahead of the Oct. 21 election. Trudeau’s Liberals promise billions in spending delivering his election platform, while Conservative leader Andrew Sheer proposes a new transnational energy corridor.
Fusing local and national headlines – not to mention entertainment, sports and international news – is a delicate balance. It’s about pace, consistency and, above all, the content. “Local news is king and we feel a sense of responsibility in getting the top stories to our viewers,” says Cooke, in her 13th year with the station.
There’s a fierce appetite for local news. NTV’s flagship supper-hour program, The NTV Evening Newshour is the most-watched program in the entire province, exceeding even prime-time television hits and afternoon soap opera staples. The television set and the 5:30 and 6 o’clock shows are the modern fireplace, where people gather.
“It’s taken decades of hard work, by many talented people, to build NTV’s news brand. We strive to be a news leader,” says Mark Dwyer, NTV’s Director of News and Current Affairs.
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–Marie Wiseman pioneered those early years when it launched in the late 1990s and was later joined by co-anchor Larry Jay. They’d spend over a decade together, generating solid ratings, before passing the torch to current anchor Jodi Cooke. “I take great pride in this show,” says Cooke, who’s been in the anchor chair since 2013. “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.”
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 or, on this particular weekend, a skateboard ramp exhibition at The Rooms. Did we mention our senior anchor even traded heels for skater kicks and a board that weekend? That’s the kind of versatility that defines NTV.
Cooke is one of the station’s most multi-faceted journalists. She’s the face of NTV’s early-morning news checkpoints, aligns and anchors the live Newsday show, and, impressively, is usually fronting one of the top stories in the flagship show at 6.
“Jodi is a true professional and sets the bar very high for everyone else,” says senior producer Glen Carter.
Cooke, originally from New Brunswick, began her career at CTV News in Halifax 15 years ago, delivering quality reports as an ambitious bureau reporter. She’d join NTV in the spring of 2007, making an immediate impact. She’s literally done it all, from court news and municipal politics to tragedy and triumphs. Her colleagues confirm she does her best work live. “She’s one of the best I’ve ever seen live,” says Wiseman, crediting Cooke’s work ethic for much of her success.
Her work has been applauded by the industry. She won two silver awards with the Atlantic Journalism Association and has been nominated for two Radio Television Digital News Association Awards.
The 40-year-old is equally accomplished away from the station. She’s a classically trained singer and is a soprano with the Philharmonic Choir of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. She’s also a celebrated athlete and, each January, returns to Austria to teach skiing to international students. If that’s not enough, she tinkers as a hobby builder and finds refuge with her multi-talented husband at their cozy tiny home cabin in New Melbourne.
“Finding the balance between work and home life is important to me, and I love both,” she says.
From Intern to Anchor
Cooke’s new co-anchor is as equally diverse. Mews, 33, is incredibly bright, analytical, resourceful and inquisitive. Much has changed since she arrived at NTV as an intern in the spring of 2009. She quickly carved out a niche by learning the latest computer software, troubleshooting technical problems for reporters, and becoming administrator for NTV’s teleprompter, script and video system. She took video feeds from reporters all over the island and, most importantly, earned the respect of her peers in the news room. Her career would evolve. She would quickly become production assistant for NTV News: First Edition, embracing the role of, as she calls it, Glen Carter’s ‘right-hand woman’. She’d pitch stories, download national and international content and, in essence, apply her fingertips into all aspects of the popular half-hour show.
Despite her talent behind the scenes, Mews would soon find herself staring into the camera in 2011 – first hosting the Herald Minute and later Entertainment Checkpoints. It was there, from the anchor desk, where viewers would learn what her NTV colleagues already knew – she was a natural.
Amanda’s Big Break
Her big break, though, came in the spring of 2013. Toni-Marie Wiseman was transitioning from weather presenter to anchor of First Edition, creating a major void. Mews would embrace the role of entertainment reporter and has been a staple ever since. She also anchors NTV Entertainment News, a half-hour program that airs on Saturdays, and her ‘Your Community’ daily feature perfectly captures Mews’ personality. Heck, she even gained international headlines after landing an interview with late-night television star Jimmy Kimmel, thanks to the little Your Community hit in Dildo that caught Kimmel’s attention.
Mews’ aw shucks charm resonates with the audience. She also taking her career to the next level. She’s comfortable in the anchor chair, confident and compelling – the perfect fit alongside Cooke.
“We work well together,” says Mews. “This (anchor role) is certainly an opportunity I’m thankful for and something I worked hard for.”
The Sunday Evening Newshour has become a weekend tradition in this province, as dependable as the talented anchor team that delivers the news to viewers each Sunday evening.
“We know how important local news is to our viewers,” says Mews. “It’s what motivates us to have the best newscast possible.”