A Staple in Broadcast News

Issue: 
Broadcast
Ron Steele, Iowa’s longest sitting news anchor, reports for KWWL-TV in Waterloo.

Ron Steele (BA ’73), an award-winning journalist, is Iowa’s longest sitting television news anchor. As news anchor and reporter for KWWL-TV for more than 40 years, Steele says journalism has changed drastically since he graduated. He cites technological advances as the biggest changes from then to now.

“When we had to develop a video project in college, we used two-inch tape on a reel-to-reel machine,” Steele said. “We used 16 millimeter film, and if we wanted sound, we had to backtrack our sound using our tape recorders.”

Steele is impressed with the technology available to small- to medium-sized media outlets like KWWL.

“We aren’t a huge market by any stretch, but now we can do everything the big stations can do,” he said. “We have our live trucks and recording technology that makes it much easier and does what it can to level the playing field.” Reporting has also had its changes: the constant competition has caused news outlets to become much more rapid-fire.

“Everyone is under a constant deadline. Everything needs to go out immediately,” he said. “When I started, stories were about three to four minutes long. Now, they are much shorter at about 20 seconds or a minute and 30 seconds for a package.”

This fall, the SJMC inducted Steele into its Hall of Fame. 

“Everything is on a constant deadline,” Ron Steele said. “Journalism never stops.”

“Ron is an icon in Iowa broadcast journalism and has mentored countless Iowa graduates as they have launched their own careers in broadcast journalism,” Professor and SJMC Director David Ryfe said. One of Steele’s biggest assignments was reporting on the Persian Gulf War from Saudi Arabia for 23 days during the summer of 1990. Assigned to follow Waterloo’s 133rd Marine Reserve unit, things did not go according to plan. The unit had already moved out when he arrived, so Steele improvised and asked, “Is anyone out here from Iowa?”

“You wouldn’t believe how many hands shot up,” he said. “We did many interviews with Iowans who were serving in this war. It was an incredible experience.”

Cause for Concern

Steele says he is concerned with the current national news climate and believes the constant competition and 24-hour news cycle has created a national disaster “Truth has been hard to come by these days,” he said.

“Opinion reporting is an epidemic. It is troubling to see this become so prevalent at the national level.” Steele believes many reporters’ journalistic integrity has been compromised due to agenda setting and confirmation bias. “Too many reporters have simply decided what the story is going to be before they even write it, and that is wrong,” he said.

Lauren Moss (BA ’14), a co-worker at KWWL, said Steele practices what he preaches. “We pride ourselves on being a reliable and trustworthy news organization, and Ron is the driving force behind all of that,” she said.