MSU Today’s Russ White Sits Down with WLNS-TV’s Sheri Jones
March 31, 2023
In early February, your MAB shared the news that WLNS-TV anchor Sheri Jones is one of six who will be inducted into the 2023 class of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. MSU Today's Russ White sat down with Jones to discuss her days at MSU, the evolution of journalism, her career and offers some advice to students preparing to enter broadcasting and journalism.
Listen to the interview here.
MSU alumna Sheri Jones is a broadcasting and journalism icon in the Greater Lansing area. She's been anchoring the news at Lansing's CBS affiliate, WLNS-TV 6 for 35 years. And she's now also on Lansing's ABC affiliate, WLAJ.
“It feels great because of the true sense of the word journalism. I really believe that journalists, as I once heard, write the first draft of history. We're watching things as they unfold, and we're writing it down from a factual experiential point of view. And so, for me to have done that for 35 years and tackled some pretty big issues in our community and to be recognized for the journalism part of it, I'm awestruck by it.”
Where did you grow up and why was MSU the place for you when college came around?
“Well, it just felt like the place. When I came for my visit, I felt very comfortable here. It was a gut feeling. And I always tell parents, you have to let your child decide with their gut. I was accepted to the school down the street, and I went there with my parents and my dad was like, ‘Do you like it? Do you like it’ and I'm like, ‘Dad, I don't. I just don't feel right here.’ I'm a country girl from a small community on the west side of the state. There are trees and the Red Cedar and open spaces and fresh air. I just felt like this is where I belonged. And looking back, it was the correct decision for multiple reasons.”
Did you always know you wanted to do broadcasting and journalism or did that develop later after you got here?
“When I was in high school, I knew I liked a lot of different things. And remember I went to high school when there was no internet. My mom said, ‘Why don't you take a full day aptitude test, take an educational aptitude, take a personality aptitude, an interest aptitude.’ I went all day, and it came back lawyer or journalist. I came to Michigan State to study journalism and communications and figured I could always go get my law degree. I thought I would try TV first because you just don't know how that's going to work out. And here I am 35 years later.”
People who know you know that you like to say you'd rather be right than first with a story. Talk more about your philosophy of covering the news and being accurate.
“Anybody who works with me knows that’s right. And we will hold off. In this world of Twitter and Facebook - and as we've lived through here recently with 911 scanners and people reporting stuff on the scanner - you have to have an official affirm your story and make sure the facts that you're reporting are true. And I will always hold back until we know it's right, and then we can go. I'm not going to report on something that I have not vetted. I just won't do it. I don't care if we're going to get beat. Well, what if you're wrong? I can't afford that, and my station can't afford that.”
How have you seen broadcasting and journalism evolve over the years and where is it going?
“Yeah, via that live-streaming, my sister in Florida can watch me as I do the news. The shaping of the news and leads through Facebook and Twitter are something we have to follow. We'll follow those and vet those out. But the accessibility? When I grew up, my parents sat down, had dinner, and watched the 6:00 news and then the evening news. And now you can watch the news wherever you are, whenever you want. If you're standing in the checkout lane, you can watch it. You shouldn't do it when you drive, but you can be anywhere around the United States or around the world. It is the accessibility. But again, it has to be a trusted source. At the local level, we don't have an agenda. And as you move up that chain of media sources, you have to really understand what you're watching. And the algorithms of Facebook. Let's say you like a certain story, well, Facebook will feed you that information and continue to feed you that information in the vein of which your brain is telling you like. You're not going to get an opposing opinion. You have to seek that out. And that's just the way that it's set up.”
Are there some favorite memories along the way or things you're proud of? I think of Crime Stoppers, for one.
“Dr. Bob Trojanowicz, who was the head of the Criminal Justice Department here at Michigan State, really understood community policing. He understood how in order for the law and law enforcement to work, the community has to be kind of our eyes and ears.
“Our success rate when we air three or four felons who are on the run on Wednesday nights at 11:00, by the next day or the next week, they either turn themselves in or their moms or ex-girlfriends turn them in. Sometimes they call themselves and ask, ‘How do I get my picture off the TV?’ And I say, ‘Well, maybe turn yourself in.’ But right now, our success rate is at like 78 percent. If we air four, three will be caught within a day or two or a week. It’s very powerful in making our community safer. And then hopefully those people go get the rehabilitation and help that they need so they don't come back in into the system. But I feel very proud of helping to make our community safer through that effort.”
What's your advice to the students at MSU now as they prepare to enter broadcasting and journalism?
“The world is their oyster, as they say. We call them multimedia journalists, and they have to be well versed. The first thing is to understand journalism. Number one, you need to understand the ethics of journalism and what it takes to get a story and to make sure that you have your sources. I had some of the toughest professors here. If you misspelled a word, you got a point off. It went from a four to a three. Journalism and English are critical. The rest of it, you can learn. You can learn how to be on camera. You can learn how to talk into a microphone. You can learn the acting part. Definitely take acting classes now because you don't just sit behind a desk. Now, I stand, and I move all around the studio. You need to be a good storyteller. But at the beginning of that, the base of that, is journalism. To succeed, you need to be a good journalist, bottom line.”
We talked about your long career at WLNS. No plans to stop, right? I mean, you're still engaged and love doing this.
“Oh, I'm still so engaged. I believe I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I love my community. I love being able to help the university. You and I get to do the parade together. I’m engaged in the journalism program, the communications program, and the criminal justice program.”
Our thanks to Russ White for sharing his interview. The 2023 Hall of Fame class will be honored at a banquet on April 23, 2023 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.