Wendy Rieger

When it comes to making life decisions, local NBC News4 anchor Wendy Rieger suggests a method that has never failed her: “If you really want something, don’t wait — make it happen NOW.”

Rieger attributes most milestones in her life to moments of epiphany: sudden and crystal-clear realizations of where to step next. From education and career decisions to selecting a home, Rieger says most significant actions originate from a sudden impulse.
Such an epiphany recently led her to 30 acres in Rappahannock County, where she is consumed with finishing the details of her newly constructed mountainside dream home. “Building and designing a home is something I never expected to do,” says Rieger, who has worked closely with the architect and builder to create a space that delivers the peace she craves.

A similar epiphany led Rieger to her former home of 20 years, a colorful bungalow facing the Chesapeake’s West River. On February 27, 1999, she was reporting from the State House in Annapolis when a blast of salt air crossed her cheeks. “I knew right then that I must live by water,” says Rieger, and by May 13, she made the purchase and was dangling her feet off her 180-foot dock.

Selling that slice of waterside paradise was hard, says Rieger, but “I needed a new experience.” Rieger says you learn a lot from living in one place a long time. “I knew the river, and I learned to read its currents,” says Rieger, “and those currents were pointing me to the mountains.” She admits that every landscape has something to offer. “I long to experience and gather from all the diverse and beautiful elements.”

Far from the demands of the city, Rieger loves that her new home forces her to unplug. “I have to walk to a specific spot in my driveway to get a cellphone signal,” she laughs. “Humans need a place that quiets the noise,” Rieger explains. “We need space that brings us silence.”

Rieger was born and raised in Norfolk. Her mother was an English teacher from Louisiana, and her dad was a World War II veteran and pilot from Ohio. She was studying psychology at Old Dominion University when she dropped out as a sophomore to pursue acting. For extra cash, Rieger took a job delivering weekend news at a Norfolk radio station, WNOR FM99. It was there that she found her passion.

Soon after, she was packing to study journalism at VCU in Richmond when a friend mentioned American University’s broadcast journalism program. The first of her many life-changing epiphanies, she put the brakes on VCU plans and within weeks started classes at American University at age 22.

Following a radio internship at WMAL, Rieger graduated in 1980 and took jobs at radio stations WAMU, NPR, and finally WTOP before moving over to television at CNN’s Washington Bureau. In 1988 she joined NBC News4 team as a general assignment reporter for News4 at 11. Covering breaking news, “we were rock and rolling with a live truck,” said Rieger, and she credits that time for putting her on the map. “The number-one show in the region,” she says. In 1996 she began anchoring the 6 and 11 evening broadcasts, and she became anchor for News4 at 5 in 2001, a desk she shared with Susan Kidd. “It was rare back then to have two females anchoring a major show in a major city.” Rieger and her current co-anchor, Jim Handly, have been paired for more than 10 years.

Rieger has earned four Emmy awards and has received abundant recognition for her support of environmental issues, animal rights, and human rights.

Posh: Take us through your typical day.

Rieger: I start every day listening to jazz through Pandora on my television. Jazz is the only sound I can tolerate in the morning – no talking, no television. I’m around noise and TVs all day at work — they’re on every desk. I must have that silence in the morning to read, or I can’t step into a newsroom later that day.

What apps, gadgets, or tools do you rely on every day?
I depend on my work phone, personal phone, and iPad. I spend two hours each morning reading on my iPad – it’s how I get my news. I read the newspapers and check all my news sources online, but I never turn on the television. I just need that quiet time.

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?
The best is going to American University, because it put me in the epicenter of news in one of the most important cities in the world. I don’t really believe in bad decisions, because I learn something from every experience.

What was your dream job as a kid?
I think I just wanted to fly – I mean really fly, like personally levitate. I was just concerned with being a happy kid; I never thought about growing up or working. The best thing my parents did was to leave us alone to play and explore.

Has your industry changed over the years? Is it better or worse?
The rules of the way we gather and tell news, with ethic and integrity, hasn’t changed, but the delivery system is much more diverse. People get news all day long through various technology. Advertisers have more choices. It’s good that we have news at our fingertips, but the downside is that literally anyone can put anything on the internet, and it’s harder to recognize what’s the truth. News consumers have to weed through a jungle of information that can at times get very dark. At NBC we work every day to earn and keep our viewers’ trust, because the noise of information has become so loud.

What advice do you have for someone trying to get into your industry?
First, learn how to write, and the first thing you should write is: “This is not about me.” Journalism is about effectively telling stories of our world so we can learn and make changes. It is not about you or your ego. Come with a heart and mind open to learning how to tell a story.

Your most memorable interview?
It’s actually a category, not a person. The interviews I will never forget are those where I had to knock on the door of someone who has lost a child, sometimes in the most horrible circumstances, and they invite me into their home. It is my greatest honor to be trusted enough to be with the family in those rooms, where you can feel and breathe their grief. They let me in, because they want their “village” to know what they have lost and to share their pain. I’m always a little terrified to knock on those doors, and it always stuns me when they so graciously allow me to bear witness to their horror. When I walk away from this business and this job, I will never forget those people, and I will forever hope that they make it through and find happiness again.

Your least favorite topic to cover?
Those stories where we tell you that it’s hot or cold! Unless it’s a hurricane or major storm, I’m running out of ways to talk about ordinary weather.

Has the current political landscape changed your job?
Not so much, because local news doesn’t pound the national political stage as heavily. Local news is the most trusted news source in America, because it’s the story of all of us. It’s the story of our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods. Want to know why there’s yellow police tape around the building down the street? Go to local news.

What woman inspires you and why?
I’ve met some amazing, powerful women, but the female touchstone for me will always be my mother. As her only daughter, she urged me to be independent and educated, to think for myself, be selfsufficient, make my own money, pull my own weight, create my own happiness, and have the power to leave when necessary. She was affectionate, bright, exuberant, funny, verbal, and so very smart, but she was born in the wrong era. She hit lots of ceilings, and it left her frustrated. I believe I am living the life that she should have been able to live. Her one guiding principle: Be afraid of nothing.

What is your best time-saving shortcut?
If I find an outfit that looks good on me, I buy it in every color or pattern. Mixing the pieces gives a different look every day, but it makes getting dressed really simple and easy. At work I wear different color sheath dresses – one zip up the back, add pumps, and I’m ready.

Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
We have dozens of unsung heroes behind the scenes on our News4 staff. They aren’t “celebrities,” and viewers don’t see them or know their names, but we would be nothing without them. It takes lots of hands to create our clean newscasts, and their hard work makes us look good.

How do you keep track of your to-do lists?
Every appointment I have is on my phone calendar – it’s my master. Every morning I check my phone and say, “Yes, Master, I’ll be here at 9 and there at 10, etc.” If I lost my phone, I’d be a weeping mess on the floor.

What is your least favorite thing to do, and how do you cope?
Organizing my papers for my tax attorney. I look at the box and know it’s all there, but I just can’t bring myself to do it until the last minute. I work best under deadline pressure – it’s in my DNA. Give me a deadline, and I’ll meet it.

Do you take Posh timeouts? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I go to my mountain home in Rappahannock County. Sometimes I’ll bring friends, and maybe we’ll share wine on the porch. The view from the mountains, across the valley – I watch the faces of people who stop to stare, and they literally just kind of “leave” themselves.

What are you currently reading?
Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir, by Jayson Greene. He is an astonishingly gifted writer. The book is about a father’s suffering — something I have witnessed too many times in my own reporting. He had the courage and ability to so artfully put those emotions into prose, and it was my honor to read it. The title pulls from Dante’s Inferno (the Divine Comedy), where the long climb through the darkness of Hell finally ends in the open sky under the light of stars. Just brilliant, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was in radio and telling myself that I wasn’t suited for television, someone told me this: “Instead of telling yourself why you don’t want to do something, tell yourself why you do.” Negativity is what prevents us from moving forward. Focus on what you can do — and then go do it.

Photos by: Traci Medlock