As we prepare for the debut of the all-new format of The Oklahoma News Report premiering this Friday, we sat down with news director and anchor Rich Lenz. He is such a genuine person with a genuine smile and one we all miss seeing around the office at OETA. We discuss what it's like reporting during a pandemic and elevated election year and climate, the 40th Anniversary of The Oklahoma News Report, and deep dive into the new, hour-long format we are all so excited about, which premieres this Friday, October 16, at 7 pm.
OETA: Hi Rich! How are you doing? How have you been handling the year that is 2020?
Rich Lenz: 2020 is like no other year of the many, many years I’ve been on the planet! It’s been challenging, rewarding, and at times a little tiring, but at all times, a great learning experience.
OETA: Let’s go back in time a bit. Where did you grow up, and when did you ultimately end up in Oklahoma?
Rich: I grew up as a ‘suburban kid’ outside of Chicago and New York City. My dad was a lawyer who commuted into the city on the train. I was hired as a sportscaster for KWTV in Oklahoma City in 1989. I worked there for five years, then went to work as a sportscaster at WDSU in New Orleans until Katrina hit in 2005. I then made the move fulltime to news and worked at KOTV in Tulsa as a news anchor for 11 years before coming to OETA in 2019.
OETA: You have been delivering the news to our state for a few years now on The Oklahoma News Report. People are used to The Oklahoma News Report being a half-hour program. On Friday, October 16, the program will go to an hour-long format and air each Friday from 7-8 pm. What can viewers expect from the new format?
Rich: The new format will give us twice as much time to inform our viewers about the week that was in Oklahoma. The biggest change they’ll see we’ll be a weekly newsmaker roundtable discussion hosted by Susan Cadot. It will be called “InDepth” and will give us the chance to really delve deeply into the most important stories of the week.
OETA: For those who may not be familiar with The Oklahoma News Report, what is it and why should people watch?
Rich: Our newscast is the only state-wide newscast in Oklahoma. We are the last newscast in the state to consistently deliver long-form news reporting. Our pieces run five minutes or longer. This gives us something, with few exceptions, which no other newscast has—the time and breath to fully tell a story, and, our storytellers have the experience to tell them well and most of all, fairly.
OETA: How has COVID-19 affected your reporting and the news team? You all make it look so easy from home, but I imagine the challenge is immense.
Rich: Gathering material for the show via Zoom interviews is often more time consuming than simply getting out and doing the interview in person. That surprised me. Lots of logistics involved that I didn’t know existed before March. On the other hand, it’s much easier to interview someone in New York, or Houston, etc., than it has been in the past. But the best thing for a newscast is having plenty of news, and we’ve had that and it has made for some excellent programs.
OETA: Will this new format allow you to expand your statewide reporting?
Rich: The new format will allow us to expand our statewide reporting. It’s something we already do and take great pride in—and based on the excellent ratings the newscast delivers, people appreciate that we extend our reporting far beyond Oklahoma City and Tulsa every chance we get.
OETA: How do you think Oklahoma is doing right now? Are there any stories you’ve reported recently that give you hope?
Rich: We could be doing better in terms of positivity rates, hospitalizations, and of course, deaths. Having said that, the resiliency and perseverance of Oklahomans have always been impressive and I’d rather see our state opening up than shutting down. March was a pretty difficult experience for everybody.
OETA: When we aren’t in a pandemic, what are some of your hobbies? What does a perfect Oklahoma weekend look like to you?
Rich: I’ve been writing and performing my own songs since I was 15. In 2015 I wrote a Christmas song that won a Heartland Emmy. The next year, I was nominated for another song but didn’t win. I love to record my songs in a studio with friends much more than perform them live for people. A perfect weekend would be a round of golf on a not-so-windy day, a cookout, followed by some great college football games.
OETA: What have been your main goals as you reimagine what The Oklahoma News Report will look like now, and going forward? We hear there’s a new look?
Rich: We have a crisply delivered news product and soon we will unveil a crisp, clean new look that reflects that. New colors, a new set, new graphics. Some new contributors, too. All new and long overdue. The statement we hope to make is that The Oklahoma News Report remains the only state-wide newscast that you’ve come to trust, even as we move forward into ever-changing times. We need to change along with it.
OETA:The Oklahoma News Report has been providing Oklahomans with trusted news for forty years. Pretty incredible. What does this anniversary mean to you? What do the next forty years of The Oklahoma News Report look like?
Rich: I am very proud to carry on a tradition of excellence that was established long before I arrived. It’s a privilege to lead and anchor this newscast and I don’t take it for granted. I’m most appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given and give it my very best each and every week.
Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say a one-hundred-year-old Rich Lenz won’t be anchoring it! Seriously, the digital, social media platforms will become more and more important for the delivery of content. You will still need great news, great stories, and great people to deliver them, but the delivery format will continue to change and maybe in ways I can’t even imagine in 2020.
OETA: If you could interview any Oklahoman, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Rich: I’ll go with Leon Russell, JJ Cale, Will Rogers, Mickey Mantle, and Jim Thorpe.
OETA: We’ve had some recent additions to the newsroom, will you briefly introduce everyone?
Rich: I think the thing I’m most proud of is the good fortune I’ve had in the hiring process. Steve Shaw brings tremendous experience and talent to our small stable of reporters.
Producer/Reporter Jason Doyle and Chief Photographer Aaron Byrd were already here but I had the good sense not to mess with that and in fact, increased their responsibilities.
Reporter Rory Taylor, Tulsa photographer Ethan Pierce, and our newest hire, producer Alisa Hines have all exceeded my high expectations for them. It’s not the biggest newsroom but it’s a wonderful group of professionals to work with each day.
OETA: In your opinion, what local matters should Oklahomans pay attention to leading up to the election?
Rich: The big issues facing the nation are the big issues facing Oklahomans. What happens at the national level is very important, whether the race is for the Presidency, Senate, House, or local. Be an informed voter!
OETA: Anything you’d like to add that we haven’t already touched on?
Rich:The Oklahoma News Report is consistently one of the most-watched PBS partner newscasts in the nation—with a much more loyal and larger audience than many newscasts produced in much larger cities and states. Let’s keep it going Oklahoma! This is a newscast we’re proud to bring to you and you should be proud that it is created each week right here in Oklahoma.