Meet the Media: Nico Simino, assignment editor at KING 5

In this Meet the Media interview, Nico Simino, assignment editor at KING 5, shares his insights into coordinating breaking news, collaborating with newsroom teams, adapting to evolving situations and leveraging technology. Nico offers valuable perspectives for those interested in pursuing a career as an assignment editor. 

Nico Simino

Can you share a bit about your background and how you got started in journalism, specifically as an assignment editor?

During my college years, I found my passion for journalism at my college radio station. Despite initially studying aviation, the experience sparked my interest in pursuing journalism as a viable career. My love for college radio led me to explore opportunities back in my hometown of New York City, hoping to secure a position in radio. However, things took a different turn, and I found myself contributing to various local newspapers and news websites.  

Driven by a desire for stability, I transitioned to TV news, recognizing it as a more secure industry compared to the turbulent nature of print journalism. The industry was undergoing significant challenges, with many newspapers struggling due to dwindling ad revenue. Venturing into freelance work as a stringer, I found my way into the world of television. This freelance work eventually opened doors for me at a prominent New York TV station. It was there that I began my role as an assignment editor, bringing together my diverse experiences and skills to contribute to the dynamic field of news reporting.  

What does a typical day look like for you as an Assignment Editor at KING 5? Could you walk us through your daily responsibilities?

The beauty of my role as an assignment editor at KING 5 is that every day brings something new and unique. Unlike our photographers who are out in the field, my domain is behind the desk in the office. Here, I deal with a myriad of news stories, spanning from shootings, house fires, and water rescues to plane crashes, political announcements, and scandals involving city council members. The diversity of daily challenges is what makes this job truly exhilarating for me. 

On an average day, I kick-start my morning by reviewing the reports and pitches to determine the stories that best align with our news coverage, which happens later in the afternoon. Morning editorial meetings are crucial, where we sift through a list of potential stories and solidify our ideas. Once we’ve narrowed down our choices, I collaborate with reporters, assisting them in refining their stories, confirming information, and reaching out to various spokespeople or setting up interviews. 

Throughout the day, my role evolves into constant monitoring, staying on top of unfolding events, be it a shooting, a fire, or breaking legislative and political news. The anticipation builds until our newscasts begin at four. It’s a dynamic period where the culmination of our collective efforts takes center stage. We can finally breathe a sigh of relief as the stories we’ve been meticulously working on unfold on the screen. While we continue to monitor ongoing events, the completion of our shift, which falls into the day part, allows us to momentarily take a breather. The news never stops, but at least during our shift we can reflect on the impact of our work as we watch the stories we’ve crafted come to life. It’s a truly fascinating and rewarding experience. 

How do you coordinate coverage of breaking news or major events? What strategies do you employ to ensure comprehensive and accurate reporting?

In the fast-paced world of breaking news, I employ a strategy I term “triage,” learned from a former colleague. Ideally, a standby reporter would be ready, but reality differs. For events like a plane crash, I assess comprehensively, deciding on the appropriate response—photographer or full report. For major incidents like the tragic one off of Whidbey Island a few years ago, swift and coordinated responses are crucial. Dispatching crews and gathering preliminary information guide our actions. Identifying the closest reporter, I initiate calls at the assignment desk to ensure they’re well-prepared. Trust is paramount; if official sources are unavailable, reliable firsthand accounts are considered. My approach prioritizes the speed and accuracy of reporting, ensuring our audience receives timely, reliable information.  

How closely do you work with reporters and producers in the newsroom? Can you share insights into the collaborative process of bringing a news story from conception to broadcast?

I often describe the relationship between the assignment desk, producers, and reporters as a split traditional newspaper reporter’s role. The assignment desk focuses on fact-finding and information gathering, passing this off to producers responsible for crafting the narrative for viewers. When a reporter is involved, they take charge of writing and presenting, especially if the story originates from their pitch. If a reporter initiates a pitch independently, they usually handle the due diligence, having all necessary information ready. In such cases, our assistance may only extend to a few additional phone calls for extra interviews. 

Our close collaboration with producers and reporters involves constant communication, especially with reporters and photographers. We guide them on where to go and who to speak with, and they keep us updated on their progress, allowing us to relay pertinent information to the broader news team. It’s a cohesive process that ensures a smooth transition from the assignment desk to the final broadcast. 

News can be unpredictable. How do you handle sudden changes in story priorities or breaking news? What strategies do you use to adapt quickly to evolving situations?

One of the key elements that set me apart is maintaining a robust Rolodex or an extensive contact list. This ensures that, when faced with unexpected events, I can promptly access the right people for information without wasting time searching. It’s a practice that can significantly distinguish you in the fast-paced world of news reporting. I strongly emphasize the importance of a solid contact list for anyone aspiring to be a TV news reporter or assignment editor. Building such a network takes time, but it pays off in the ability to swiftly respond to evolving situations. Saving the contact information of every person encountered during a story is crucial, as you never know when you might need them. 

As an example, just yesterday, we faced challenges finding someone to discuss a city’s $10 million settlement with protesters from 2020. Utilizing our contact list, we quickly located a local civil rights activist, a former King County Council Member with whom I had spoken years ago. Despite the passage of time, having his number ready facilitated a meaningful conversation and allowed us to put together a compelling story. 

In the digital age, technology plays a crucial role in journalism. What tools or technologies do you find most helpful in your role as an Assignment Editor?

As an assignment editor, the most crucial tool is my phone. Its importance cannot be overstated and remains unparalleled in my daily tasks. We also utilize police scanners for real-time updates and leverage social media’s transformative impact over the past decade. Many public service and safety agencies now prioritize disseminating information on social media platforms, followed by email. 

For those aspiring to work in journalism, what advice do you have, particularly for individuals interested in pursuing a career as an Assignment Editor?

For those aspiring to work in journalism, particularly those eyeing a career as an assignment editor, my advice is rooted in passion. Ensure that you are genuinely passionate about the field, and driven by a deep connection to the work. It’s essential because, truth be told, journalism isn’t renowned for its lucrative pay, and it never really was. The industry landscape has changed significantly, with heightened competition and diminished ad revenue, making it challenging to maintain the salaries of the past. 

Quickfire Questions:

  1. If I am not working, I am… at home with my wife 
  2. My favorite place to eat is… Seattle Fish Company 
  3. The last book I read was… Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist
  4. My favorite movie is… Do the Right Thing