As Jodi Cooke and Heather Gillis set out to co-anchor their first Sunday Evening Newshour together, the seasoned journalists open up about their life beyond – and under – the desk
Heather Gillis and Jodi Cooke chat casually about their weekend. Gillis and her boyfriend, Blaine Edwards, took in an Edge game. There was pizza, and relaxing in front of the television. Marty, Gillis’ one year-old Gordon Setter, also enjoyed some fur-baby attention.
“I grew up with dogs, so I love having Marty around. We walk or hike every day for an hour or so in the woods. We go up by the Johnson Geo Centre. I love the gorgeous view of St. John’s from there and there’s streams and hills and bunnies,” Gillis shares enthusiastically.
Those views aren’t unique to Gillis, as Cooke adds; “We’re neighbours as well as co-workers. We share the same view.”
The two banter back and forth, the recording device on the table between them temporarily forgotten.
Admiration & Respect
That there’s chemistry between these two seasoned reporters-turned-anchors is apparent. There’s something else too; admiration and respect.
Gillis mentions the Instagram account she has set up for her pup (gordonsetter marty) and Cooke sincerely offers; “He’s so cute!” Gillis mentions her passion for rowing; “Amanda Mews and Danielle Barron are on the crew with me. I’ve been rowing since I was 15.”
Cooke smiles at her co-worker. “These girls are up at five every morning and out on the pond rowing shortly after that. It’s amazing. I’m so proud.”
Heather smiles back. “It’s nice and calming to be on the water and rowing before the rest of the world is even moving. I love the sound of the oars pushing through the water. I was a ballerina at the pre-professional level when I was young, but I always rowed as well.”
The two women obviously share a love of the outdoors and being active. Cooke shared that her weekends, when she isn’t on the NTV News Desk, are spent at a newly constructed cabin.
“This cabin has consumed our lives. We have invested a lot of time creating it, getting up there every weekend and trying to get things done in stages. Gotta get the walls up, gotta get the roof on, gotta get the interior done,” she begins with a laugh.
Dave Whelan, Cooke’s husband, has been her carpentry partner in crime through the process. “We had someone do our roof, but for the rest of it, it’s just ourselves and some friends who might be handy and close by. We’ll ask them to hold some things while we put walls up. It’s been a really fun experience for us.”
Their life in New Melbourne on Trinity Bay has been an experience.
“It’s interesting because I found this new passion in carpentry and I love it. I’ve long said I’m terrible at math. We call it GE Contracting; Good Enough Contracting. If TV doesn’t work out for me, and you need a handyman, call me. I’ll eye-ball everything.” There’s more laughter as Gillis jokingly asks for a quote on some work.
That Cooke (Whelan by marriage) and her husband can enjoy such projects together is a near miracle in itself. Dave was involved in a skiing accident that left his body in a mangled mess.
‘‘It’s been a relationship builder for us. We don’t lose sight of the fact that Dave and I are blessed. On every anniversary of his accident, this is his fourth year, he does something that I would call extraordinary. It could be putting on a wet-suit and wading into the river behind the cabin or he and I maybe go for a small ski. We are always aware of what we went through and how our lives have dramatically changed since then,” she says.
But besides the miracle aspect of this project, the fact that the two of them are even enjoying this build together is perhaps another miracle of sorts.
“Everything that Dave and I have done along our journey from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife has been shared interests. The cabin build wasn’t, because this was for him. He likes being up there because he surfs and that’s a very popular area to surf. I didn’t surf because, who wants to throw themselves at a big black wave in the middle of the North Atlantic in January? Not me. That was a new coming together for us over something that wasn’t a shared interest.”
But Gillis and Cooke do have many shared interests. Like reporting.
“Reporting is labour intensive. You have to go out and get the story and chase people down, get them to talk to you and get all your shots and write it and put it together. There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” says Gillis.
Cooke nods as Gillis continues; “People don’t realize we do all our own shooting and editing in addition to anchoring. anchoring is the fun and glamorous side of television, but people don’t see the other eight hours that it takes for one of us to put together a story or all the calls we have to make.”
Cooke jumps in; “I think it’s important for an anchor to have worked as a reporter first so that they can understand the labour and work but also the challenges that exist with each story. You can sit at a desk and say; I wish we would have considered this element of a story, or an anchor can look and say; love that story, because they can appreciate the work that went into it. Being a reporter, it’s a daily turn over. You don’t get five days to work on one story.”
What do they like most about their new co-anchoring job on The Sunday Evening Newshour? Not surprisingly, they like that they get to work together.
“We like each other outside of work and I think that shows. We have chemistry, I think. It’s nice to banter and you get to show your personality instead of just straight reporting,” says Gillis.
Cooke agrees. “I like that two women who have a history at NTV will be doing this together. We’ve been here – well, we didn’t start yesterday. I’m on year 11 and Heather is in year six.”
Cooke adds that being a solo anchor can be ‘‘exhilarating because you don’t have any time to think,’’ but when you have another person to banter with, it adds another element altogether.
“It gives you a bit of a breather to talk to your producer to understand the count of the show, but the best part is the back and forth. If we go to weather or if we are coming in or out from commercials, we’re always given the opportunity to chat with each other and engage the viewer and when you are a solo anchor you lose that opportunity and it’s missed.
“If we are going to weather, Heather and I might chat about what we did that weekend or what we are looking forward to this week and the viewer can say; well I have something special going on Tuesday, so I really hope these women give me good news here. I missed that and I look forward to having fun and working with Heather in that way.”
The women take a moment to share their favourite NTV memories. For Gillis, it would have to be her visit to New York for the Come From Away debut.
“Newfoundlanders are so kind and that show is based on the kindest people in the world and it’s so special to see their story on Broadway. The people that play is based on are the best ambassadors for this province, and it was so nice to be part of that, and it’s such a hit.”
Astronaut Chris Hadfield would have to be Cooke’s favourite, she shares.
“I expected people would usher him in and out and when we set up we were waiting in the room and I was really nervous and he just knocked on the door and said, hey I’m Chris, and we talked for like 45 minutes.”
When Hadfield returns in March, Cooke says she will be there.
Behind the Scenes
Speaking of work; the two have high praise for those behind the scenes too – including their bosses for giving them a shot in the first place. “I believe opportunities here are merit based, and I respect that,” says Gillis.
Cooke agrees. “The Stirlings, they know us. They know their staff. We are not a number on an HR file. They have a vested interest in each one of us and they care about what our future is at NTV and they are willing to nurture that and that gives me loyalty,” she says.
Both women say there are no stars at NTV. “We are all a team. Everybody pulls their own weight and they have their own piece of work to do to make each show,” says Gillis.
From Eddie Sheerr, Lynn Burry, Glen Carter and Toni-Marie Wiseman on to those they hear in their ear-pieces while on the air; everybody has an important job to do.
“Kelly-Anne (Roberts) is awesome. She brings so much to each report. She’s enthusiastic. And Michael Connors, he’s so knowledgeable. In our news room, we have an expert in everything,” says Cooke, adding; “I would love to acknowledge Robyn (Hannaford) our technical director on Sunday. She’s so keen, so willing to do anything. She’s hit it out of the park. She is back there counting it all down and we have the ear piece in and we’re getting count downs or count ins and she’s moving things around.”
Both women agree that each show is like an iceberg; “We are the tip that everybody sees. What you don’t see is all the other people doing the hard work that makes our jobs so easy,” says Cooke.” And what else don’t you see?
They laugh. “You don’t see that under the desk we have snow pants or rubber boots on because we just came right in from a story or from the edit suite,” says Gillis. “We slap on a coat of makeup and pull a comb through the hair and we are on that anchor desk,” adds Cooke.
Both women share that, while they may be dressed for the great outdoors underneath the desk, they take their job very seriously. “Newfoundlanders are so engaged. From weather to politics, they care,” says Cooke.
The women have to go. Our time is up and duty calls, but Gillis has one more thing to add. “People care what happens in their backyard. I’m proud to be part of the team that gives them what they need to know on Sundays.”