Journalist ABCs: Authentic, Breaking News and Community with ABC6’s Christie Ileto
This week’s guest brings a love of breaking news and community to the After Deadline discussion. ABC6’s Christie Ileto is most notable for her extensive national coverage of the arrest of Freddie Gray. Because she is no stranger to chasing down a story, she shares what it really is like being a big city reporter – everything from quickly covering intense breaking stories, without time for bathroom breaks, to narrowing down the right angle for community-focused pieces.
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Journalist ABCs: Authentic, Breaking News and Community with ABC6’s Christie Ileto
Kathy Fowler: Welcome to After Deadline: The Media Podcast, I’m Kathy Fowler…
Marc Silverstein: ….and I’m Marc Silverstein.
Kathy Fowler: We are former veteran TV news reporters who turned to the dark side and now work as PR and marketing gurus.
Marc Silverstein: Our guest this week is a fellow DMV native. She’s originally from Maryland, but now works and lives in Action News in Philadelphia. It’s a great TV station. I watched it growing up.
Kathy Fowler: She’s an Emmy award-winning journalist with a boatload of experience covering breaking news, including the arrest of Freddie Gray during her time as a reporter in Baltimore at WJZ.
Marc Silverstein: We’re excited to welcome Christie Ileto to the show.
Kathy Fowler: Thanks for joining us. So, you right now are working in Philly, but before that, you’ve worked in Huntsville, Alabama; Albuquerque, New Mexico; WJZ… I actually worked there in Baltimore back in the day. So, you’ve got…
Christie Ileto: Oh you did? That’s great.
Marc Silverstein: I think it was black and white back then. I think all of the film cameras… Oprah was there then, I think.
Kathy Fowler: It was post-Oprah, but trust me, I heard a lot about Oprah, how good… everyone still told all the Oprah stories.
What has been your experience at the different networks?
Kathy Fowler: So, how was Philly? Now you’re in Philly. I mean, just tell us a little bit about how the different networks work, your experiences at the different networks or the different cities of local television.
Christie Ileto: Well, Philadelphia to me is kind of like a mix of Baltimore and DC. It’s a big city like DC, even though DC is actually small, it’s the suburbs that are big. But it has that kind of gritty Baltimore feel where everybody’s very proud of their neighborhoods, and if you get their neighborhood wrong, they’d be very quick to call in and tell you. “Um, this is not Kensington; this is Port Richmond” or “this is Fishtown” and so forth.
I really like Philadelphia in the sense that people are really proud of where they come from here, and they’re very passionate about their sports, as you’ve seen with the Eagles and the Sixers in particular, and there’s a lot of news that comes out of here. Obviously, local but national too. I mean, I felt like all of last year, especially heading into the election and then during the election, we were kind of at the epicenter of the world, at least in the political world, as Joe Biden’s in Delaware, which is part of our coverage area. We had protests happening all the time, people were coming up, you know, wanting to stop the count of the convention center. I mean, all eyes were on Philadelphia and Delaware. So, I feel like there’s a lot of big stories that are big for us but then become bigger, you know, nationally, and that’s really cool that you get an opportunity to tell those stories.
But my first job in Alabama, while I did not want to go there, that place holds a very special place in my heart just because I feel like that’s where I grew the most professionally and personally. I had to do one-man-banding.
Marc Silverstein: You did it all, huh?
Christie Ileto: Yeah
Kathy Fowler: For those people who don’t know the media, you’re literally lugging around a big camera…
Marc Silverstein: Now they do it, but they’re just doing it with their iPhone.
Kathy Fowler: Well, now, they’re doing with their iPhones, but back in the day you had a big camera, and then you’re even lining up your stand up, you know you’ll like place something on the tree or whatever, a mark by the tree, and you know, it’s insane, right?
Christie Ileto: It was crazy, and I did it all. I did it for like a little over a year, but I really enjoyed the fact that it took me out of my comfort zone and out of my element, and it allowed me to grow in the sense of working with people that I wouldn’t necessarily see myself associating with. And I’m not talking about like co-workers, I’m talking about people that I was covering, because I had never lived outside of the DC area before, with the exception of going to Northwestern. So I just kind of felt like everything that I knew was pretty homogeneous, and then I got down there, and I was like, I need a passport to come down, everybody is talking so differently. So I feel like that that was where I grew the most professionally and personally, and also learning how to be on your own because that was like my first job, I was by myself, and you’re working all these crazy-long hours, like no money at all.
Marc Silverstein: We all did it, it was great.
Kathy Fowler: It was like, “I can’t afford nice clothing…”
Marc Silverstein: I couldn’t afford lunch, and someone now is like “What do you mean you couldn’t afford lunch?” I remember I think I made $17,000 one of my first jobs
Kathy Fowler: I made $3.25 an hour. I don’t even know what that was salary wise, but I’m like, it’s bad
Marc Silverstein: I think seventeen thousand dollars was a pay hike. I think actually I got knocked up to that, 17.
But you talked about, well, you talked about so much there that I really want to jump on the sports teams.
Christie Ileto: Okay, Philadelphia,
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, well, back in the old days at the Vet [Veterans Stadium], they actually had a court in the building, in the stadium.
Christie Ileto: Yes, I did hear this.
Marc Silverstein: They don’t have that at Citizens Bank, do they?
Christie Ileto: No, well, not that I know of. I haven’t been told about any court or jail underneath the stadium. I always hear about the stories of how they threw snow at Santa.
Marc Silverstein: I was at the game where they booed the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny was supposed to come in on a balloon, you know, a big balloon, and it was too windy, and they just booed the Easter Bunny, which was not as good as, you know, booing Santa, but you know, second.
Christie Ileto: I don’t know, they’re kind of growing on me, but just because I’m from the DMV. Obviously, like, I grew up watching the team that’s also in their division that I will not name. But what I do love about covering the Eagles, when we do cover them, and I don’t cover sports, but I cover the fans and all of that, especially on their road leading up to the Super Bowl, was just the fact that when you talk to a lot of the fans, they say, “Listen, this is part of like our family traditions. Like, we would go to church, and then we would go to the Vet, or we would go to the Link [Lincoln Financial Field], and we would watch the game every Sunday. This was part of our blood and our DNA, like my grandfather did it, my dad did it, I’m doing it, and I’m now doing it with my son”, and you’re like, “Wow, that’s really cool, because I just feel like that’s not how it is everywhere else.”
Kathy Fowler: No, yeah, you know what I mean. In Philly, it’s very different. Like DC in the DMV area, I feel like Baltimore and Philly are so much more like, as you said, cities, and they have a relationship with their reporters and their TV personalities very different than I think the Washington market does.
Marc Silverstein: Well Washington North… Vance…
Kathy Fowler: Well, the old crew…
Marc Silverstein: George Michael…
Kathy Fowler: Not anymore, not anymore.
Christie Ileto: Oh yeah. I grew up watching all those people. I’m obsessed. JC Hayward, Maureen Bunyan…
Marc Silverstein: So who was your idol? Who did you idolize?
Christie Ileto: I’m just naming people that I watched. Like in the area. I’m trying to think. I would say JC. Oh my God, James Adams, who’s on NBC. Pat Collins was great. Oh my gosh. Um, Jim Vance was really good.
Marc Silverstein: He was amazing. Yes. But you also are working with the legend.
Christie Ileto: Oh my God, Jim Gardner.
Marc Silverstein: Jim Gardner who’s retiring at the end of this year.
Christie Ileto: Nobody wants to hear about unhappy things.
Kathy Fowler: We do not speak of it.
Marc Silverstein: I grew up watching Jim. I watched Larry Kane before I grew up watching. Actually, I grew up in Wilmington, okay, which is just, you just tell people you’re from South Philly. You don’t tell people. And um, you know, Larry Kane and Jim Garner, Jim O’Brien, Gary Papa, all the legendary names that were there. I mean, what is it like to be working with such a legendary, I mean, that forever and ever, it was the number one newscast in the country, number one local newscast. I mean, what is it like to work at such an iconic place?
Christie Ileto: Well, I think working with him is like working with greatness. You wanna dial it up when you have a story that he is the one that’s tossing to you. And I spent, when I first got to Philadelphia, I think I spent like one week working during the day, and then they’re like, okay, you’re going to the night side. I was like, okay. And that’s the ship that Jim works, and so pretty much every night, I would share the screen with him in a double box. And it didn’t really dawn on me until I kept going out and out because I wasn’t from here, just how special it was to have him say your name and to have him tossing to your story. And then also, you know, if you needed help with something, you know, he would be very quick to say, “Hey, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you try that? Or hey, that didn’t look so good the last time you did it. Why don’t you do it differently?”
And then when he would compliment you, which his compliments are, you know, if he gives you a compliment, then it actually means something. He’s not doling them out. And I remember, I was on, I think this was like my third story of the night, and they sent me to breaking news over by KOP by the mall. A SEPTA bus had gone off the road because of inclement weather, and it was like in some ravine and it had passengers on it. And we got up there at like 10, and they said, “You’re live at 11.” I was like, “Great, this is where I, like, live, this is breaking news”, and we just did this walk and talk. Afterwards, I tossed it back to him, and he was like, “Excellent reporting, Christy.” I was like…
Marc Silverstein: Oh, he said that on the air?
Christie Ileto: I was like, “Did this just happen?” I didn’t want to smile because it was a tragedy, but it was like “Oh, okay, thanks!”
Marc Silverstein: Wow, wow.
Kathy Fowler: That’s awesome.
Marc Silverstein: And you, how fast did you get the file, the video file of that?
Christie Ileto: I know, I was like, “uh, can somebody clip that for me? Thanks.”
Kathy Fowler: I would be saving that video clip.
Marc Silverstein: It’s like that scene, and it’s an older movie now at this point, but Broadcast News where Albert Brooks would wait for, you know, that he would see the smile or something on Jack Nicholson’s face, he was the main anchor, and he just would revel in it. And he would tell the editor who was playing it back for me, “Don’t tell anybody I do this.”
Yeah, but I mean Jim, how long has he been at the station? How long has he been there?
Christie Ileto: I want to say probably over four decades, but don’t quote me because I don’t know.
Kathy Fowler: But you were also, I mean, you were in two iconic stations in Baltimore. I mean, WJZ has such history as well. Like, you know, Marty Bass, Don Scott, but before that, Al Sanders, Denise Koch, of course…
Marc Silverstein: …Kathy Fowler…
Christie Ileto: She’s still there, right?
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, Denise is over there. Sally…
Christie Ileto: She’s great.
Kathy Fowler: Um, gosh, who was Al Sanders’…? Anyway, just like obviously Richard Sher, Oprah. You know, everybody knows that she got, you know, one of her big things there, and then she went on to Chicago from there.
But anyway, when I remember walking through that door, I just felt the history and just felt like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m at the station that so many people are” and they stay for decades. That doesn’t happen as much except at these, I feel, like iconic stations in these particular cities.
Christie Ileto: Right, then because they also have that hallway that has like the whole history, like through the front that goes back to Sydney’s room.
I also again did not know much about WJZ before I got there, but it wasn’t until I started working with a lot of the photographers, and they would tell me stories about how Oprah used to work here. There was one photographer who was still there at the time that I was there that said he worked with Oprah, and he would tell me all these stories.
Marc Silverstein: Who was that?
Christie Ileto: Wayne.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah. There’s nobody who loves stories better than the photogs. They used to tell me stories about when you get hungover, there’s this oxygen tank, and you get oxygen and that’ll help your hangover. And I was like “What?” and “Yeah, we used to do it every Saturday morning.” And I’m like “Okay?”
Christie Ileto: Yeah, they have all the dirt, they know where all the bodies are buried, they know what’s going on with everybody because they’re all working with people in the field, so they know everything.
What was your experience like changing stations?
Marc Silverstein: So how was it picking up and moving? I mean, moving from the first job to the second. I mean, you know, each time you gotta start over.
Christie Ileto: I always looked forward to it because I always knew that like each of those places wasn’t my forever place. Um, but it is harder, it is really challenging when you get to a new city and you’re like, “Okay, I have to make connections and I have to build a rapport with people.” It is challenging, but at the same time it’s a good obstacle to try to overcome because that’s part of your job. I mean, like information and knowing people is essentially like currency in this field. That’s how you get your stories done, so I actually kind of looked forward to it even though, at the same time, I was dreading it.
Marc Silverstein: At what point… which job did you get the moving allowance where you go, “Oh, I don’t have to have a U-Haul on this one,” right? Did that happen?
Christie Ileto: I actually think I got it for all of them, surprisingly.
Marc Silverstein: Wow.
Christie Ileto: The first… actually, I was going to say the first three times, my parents moved me, but my parents moved me to Philadelphia before I got married, so yeah, there’s just like always just like a reimbursement. I was really lucky.
What was the experience covering the arrest of Freddie Gray like?
Kathy Fowler: Let’s talk about one of your big stories when you were at WJZ in Baltimore, and in Baltimore, nobody can forget this history, but you were one of the first reporters to really extensively cover the arrest of Freddie Gray. Can you explain a little bit just what that whole experience was? I mean, you sort of, like, were right there on this front row seat of what was happening, and can you just tell us a little bit about, like, what that was like?
Christie Ileto: Um, sure. So the first, I think it was like the day after it happened, like the actual arrest happened and he went to shock trauma downtown, I had gotten called in early and they said, “Could you come in and do the story? We need to turn it for five or six and then turn it again later tonight,” and I was like, “That’s fine.”
So I met a girl that had the video that everybody saw of him getting handcuffed and we did an interview and I spoke to his stepdad and I think I thought I was just like, “Okay, that was it. Like, that’s the story. That’s it.” I mean, also it was happening against the backdrop at the time like Eric Garner had happened a couple months earlier, like in the fall of 2014, and then the same happened down in Ferguson. That one had also happened with Mike Brown, that had also happened. So I think this was like, you know, we’re starting to see kind of like a trend, but I thought like, “Oh, that’s the last story. Like, I’m probably not going to cover much about this.”
And then it was like, “Protest, protest, protest.” So that was a Monday. It was like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, protest. I spent like the whole weekend at protests. Then the next week I get a call, “Come in early right now. These kids are just got out of school, they’re all assembling around Mondawmin Mall. Something’s going on, blah blah blah.”
So I come in, the photographer that I normally work with that Monday, on Mondays, we went up there, and I was like, “I don’t understand what’s happening. These kids are just standing around. I’m looking at police on one side of the street, these kids are on the other side. They’re kind of changing words, but I know what was happening. It was like this is really weird.”
And then in a matter of seconds, it changed so quickly because you start to see one brick fly across the street, then five, then ten, and then it was just like they were under siege. And I’m sitting here like, “Is this really happening?” And then my photographer goes, “We have a digital, we have to power up. Let’s go.” Like we’re going on. I was like, “Okay.”
And we were on, I think until about like 1 am. I didn’t get home until like 2:30, 33, and I think I only used the bathroom once, and I was covered in mace. That’s all I remember. I never ate. I used the bathroom at a hospital in East Baltimore before we went to wherever that church was that was on fire at the very end of the night.
But I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was like, “Is this… I’d never seen anything like this before.” I was like, “I think I’m living like 40 years ago with the 1968 riots I heard about and I read about in history books that never thought that I was gonna live through or witness.” And I was just watching all this unfold, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes.
Kathy Fowler: Could you at the time separate and, or I know in those situations you just get so in the zone that you’re doing your job, and did you not really have time to process what was happening until afterward because it’s like live shot, live shot, live shot, and you can’t even think about “Wow, I might be in danger…”
Marc Silverstein: You were doing it for CBS too. You were doing live shots for CBS. I mean, you were doing stuff out there.
Christie Ileto: Then like the following week, it was still like more protests, and I was doing live shots for them too. Yeah, I mean, I didn’t have time to really, like, think about what was happening. I was like okay, compartmentalize, we have a job to do, we have a story to tell. What are you seeing?
Kathy Fowler: Did you feel that you have time to think about, oh crap, like I could be in danger because at that point when you first went, they didn’t know it was a situation, so sometimes news crews will be sent with security guards, security, if you know you’re going into a situation that potentially, you know, could be dangerous, but you guys didn’t know that at that time. Right, so you’re just covering a story, so it’s you and your photographer out there.
Marc Silverstein: And it unfolded. I mean, they’re throwing cans full of, you know, lit cans, fire, rocks, everything, as you said, drinks.
Kathy Fowler: Don’t you guys get back up or you know where they were like, “Oh, we need to protect our crews?”
The difference between how the public perceives network reporters and local reporters
Christie Ileto: No, but what I will say, and I think a lot has changed from that one to 2020, right, with George Floyd. But because that was like a whole other situation, like when you’re covering that.
But with what happened in Baltimore, at least for me, I think because I, and I had two photographers with me, I had a photographer named Judy and then another one named Eric Scott, I’m sure you remember Heavy…
Kathy Fowler: Yes, Heavy.
Christie Ileto: …who I miss a lot. Um, so I had the two of them, and because I had been covering that story every day the week before, the family and the community knew who I was, and I think that played a huge part. I don’t want to say in my protection, but just in the fact that they knew who I was. Like some of the residents were saying to the networks and even the journalists that were coming from Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, “You’re only here for the riot, you’re not here for the story.”
Whereas for me, I’d been there from the beginning, so they, like, I never felt like I was in danger. And I think that is something that often gets lost now with stories because you go in and you cover it one day, and that’s it. Like, you don’t go back for follow-ups.
Kathy Fowler: And it’s also like, people don’t realize, like, when you’re in the community, especially the relationship that Baltimore has with their media folks, and same with Philly, I think they, you know, there is a relationship between…they see DC and the network people as totally different, and they see you as, you know, kind of an insider that, you know, they know you and they trust you because they’ve seen the reporters where the other media they may not trust as much. So, right, you felt that, you felt that relationship, I guess.
Christie Ileto: I definitely felt that. When we were at Mondawmin Mall the second time, and it was windy that day, this officer had sprayed mace into a crowd of like kids, and because of the wind, it hit me, and I was like, you know, I was freaking out because I was like on air and like all this mace went into my eyes, and this guy which he had just looted the CVS that was on fire at Pennant North, I think that was the intersection, he comes up to me and he was like, “Miss Ileto, do you want some milk?” I do, but I don’t know, um…
Marc Silverstein: If it was fresh from the CVS, it was great, a little not, curdling from the fire, but…
Christie Ileto: Right, I got a little bit of it out, which you’re supposed to do, then flush out with a little bit more water, and I was like, “Okay, I’m good, I’m good to go, thank you so much, you shouldn’t be looting, thanks.”
Kathy Fowler: But it is wild. I remember being pregnant in Baltimore, and, you know, and I was in a dangerous kind of situation, and I had people… [conversation]… but I was just in a bad area, and it was literally on, like, a street corner, and there’s, like, heroin addicts or whatever, but they, like, totally took care of me, you know, they knew who I was, and I had no fear whatsoever because, you know, it’s just, it’s weird when you have a relationship. It’s like, that’s why they should have, like, community policing.
Marc Silverstein: I wasn’t thrilled when I proposed to you, and you were wearing your engagement ring and covering some story, and Katie Lahan said, “Let’s see the engagement ring on camera now, live.” I was like, “Let’s not do that.” And she forced you to show your engagement ring live.
Kathy Fowler: When you’re covering Baltimore News, you know, you go to areas. I mean, people. What I don’t think people realize about reporters is that, you know, just like police officers and EMS and you know everyone else is running away, and you’re running towards the danger, and you’re getting the story, and reporters are putting their lives at risk to tell the story. People don’t appreciate that as much as they should.
Have you ever felt like there was a situation where you were in danger or a close call?
Kathy Fowler: Have you ever felt like there has been a situation when you are really in danger, or it was a close call, or you were like, “I don’t really want to be here”?
Christie Ileto: Well, it’s hard. And it’s really hard because the joke when I used to work at night, because now I am a third anchor for our four o’clock newscast, I work during the day. I’m not really on the street like this anymore, but when I used to work at night, up until last fall, the joke among the photographers at night was that I would go to the most dangerous places and be fine. Which I’m sure Marc you’ve heard that Kensington is the epicenter of the heroin epidemic and that would be like the place where I’m like “I’m gonna go live here.” I mean, I was pregnant in drug-dense places, talking to drug dealers about the opioid epidemic and opening up safe injection sites.
When my husband found out where I was, he was like, “Why are you going with my child?” I was like, “Well, I mean, it’s like my job. This is what I’m doing.” He was like, “Aren’t you scared?” I was like, “No, these people know me. I know them. I’m like they’re fine, they’re harmless. They’re not going to do anything to me.”
When did you decide that breaking news is a passion?
Marc Silverstein: Well, you said something really interesting, which is that you live for life. You know, you love breaking news.
Christie Ileto: I love it.
Marc Silverstein: What is it about breaking news, and when did you decide that this is a passion?
Christie Ileto: I think it’s just I tend to do my best work under duress, and it’s for me that’s just it’s calming. I don’t know why, but when everything is chaotic around, it’s when I become the most calm, and that’s when I’m able to. It’s like boom boom boom boom boom, here are the facts, here’s what you need to know. We’ll update it in our next hit. Next.
And it’s just easy for me to just spit out what I need to spit out that we know or is confirmed, and there’s such an adrenaline rush with that. I don’t know what it is, but I really enjoy it.
What do you love most about journalism?
Kathy Fowler: What do you enjoy? I mean, do you like being the person that explains the situation to people? Being the storyteller, like what do you love most about journalism? Trying to get people to understand things that you know, trying to take them and walk in other people’s shoes so they maybe have an idea of what someone else’s life is like or what someone else’s story is like? What do you love about the storytelling?
Christie Ileto: I consider myself a storyteller at heart, and it’s just what you said. It’s to get people to think or meet people through my stories through the lens of what I’m telling them and see these people that they wouldn’t necessarily interact with in a different way.
For example, during election week, we also had an officer-involved shooting in West Philadelphia that ended up becoming like a national story, this guy named Walter Wallace. I was sent out there, and I turned a story for that night, and one of the neighbors who didn’t really want to go on camera but I said, “Listen, like, you don’t have to face the camera. He’s gonna stand by Kira.” I had a mic packed under my arm and we’re just talking, it’s like a wide shot.
The bit that she said to me that stuck out the most was that he had a mental episode, and his mom was trying to stop the police from firing the multiple rounds of shots at him that killed him. And people always are like, “why are you out here protesting?” This is why we’re out here, because if it had been somebody else that didn’t look like her, who also looks like me, maybe the outcome would have been different.
And out of all the bits that she said, that, actually, I feel like somebody sitting in Bucks County or Norristown or Chester County…
Marc Silverstein: …Montgomery County…
Christie Ileto: …maybe they could like, understand that, just that one little sentence that she said. “If this person didn’t look like me, maybe he would still be alive. And this is why we’re out here protesting all the time.”
Marc Silverstein: So do you think you’re making a difference?
Christie Ileto: I don’t know if I am, but I hope that I am.
Has reporting changed over the last decade?
Kathy Fowler: Is that what drives you? Because it’s so hard, the media climate. I mean, it’s been, it’s so much harder than when we were in the media. Now with fake news, and you know, and probably…
Marc Silverstein: …social media…
Kathy Fowler: and then social, you know, you’re more likely to be, you know, attacked on, not attacked but attacked on social media, you know, just like people, mean tweeters, and mean whatever, um, people on the website, the comments section of any, you know, of any website. It’s, it’s got to be hard. I don’t think people realize how hard the profession has gotten to tell the story. Would you say it’s changed over the last decade?
Christie Ileto: What I think has changed a lot is that, which I love, cell phones and I’m all about, like, social media. I think that that has allowed people to become citizen journalists, and they can just spit all of this stuff out that may or may not be true, and there’s no repercussions. Whereas, if I just spit something out that wasn’t true, there would be repercussions for me.
Kathy Fowler: You’d be fired, right?
Christie Ileto: Yeah. And a lot of times, you just see people put things out and you’re like, “Did that really happen?” So, I don’t know, that’s the thing that’s been the most frustrating for me. But I don’t really pay attention to what people say. I don’t get a lot of crazy tweets to myself, but I did during the George Floyd riots in Philadelphia by a couple people.
How does social media impact what you do?
Marc Silverstein: But do you have to, like, you know, a lot of stations have, you know, digital first, so they have signs up in their newsrooms, you know, you gotta get the stuff online before you go live. Is there a pressure to have a great social media following, to be posting? Does that impact what you’re doing?
Christie Ileto: I think, maybe because, um, I would say that social media is like part of my generation or my culture, it’s a lot easier. Like, I think it’s like fun, so for me, like, today there was a mall shooting at KOP (King of Prussia). It initially came out as a mall shooting, it wasn’t.
Marc Silverstein: Let me translate that for Kathy. King of Prussia Mall, it’s the second largest mall in the country, right? Isn’t it?
Christie Ileto: Sorry, yeah, the second largest behind Mall of America. Yeah, this woman got into a fight with somebody in front of Five Guys and, like, pulled out her gun. It’s not funny, but like, that’s what happened. So for me, if I were covering that, the first thing I’d be doing, going there, would be like, “What do we know so far?” and I would tweet like, “Breaking… da da da da da…this is like police say X, Y, and Z at 6ABC,” and then, because that’s just what I would do. Not that that’s, like, fun to do, but that’s the first thing I think of is to get the information.
Kathy Fowler: Do you let people know that you’re heading there like, “Heading there, you know, follow me and at six, we’ll have details or whatever”?
Christie Ileto: Yeah, it’ll be like, updates at four, updates at six.
Marc Silverstein: So she ordered the spicy fries and got the regular fries, is that what happened?
Christie Ileto: I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t on that story, but I was just thinking about a freaking new story which I couldn’t believe at first. It came out as, like, “Shots fired, active shooter at KOP.” We were all like, “What is happening?”
Marc Silverstein: One of the things I keep hearing about in Philly is everybody’s got a gun now. I mean, that’s a quote, “Everybody’s got a gun.”
Christie Ileto: It’s happening everywhere. Like, people say, “Oh, you can’t–you’re in Center City.” (That’s where we live.) “That’s a good area.” And I’m like, “I mean, it is, but I mean, people from Kensington who are suffering from the opioid epidemic, my daughter sees them at the playground all the time in Center City, or there’s like shootings down the street, like because we’re like really close to Rittenhouse, which is another neighborhood, and there’ll be shootings there. They just get more coverage because they typically don’t happen there.”
How has having a child impacted how you cover stories?
Kathy Fowler: Right. You have a child now, so how old is she?
Christie Ileto: She’s two.
Kathy Fowler: She’s two. I remember like at some point, I mean kids stories, any stories about kids are hard, and then after you have kids there after a while, I was like, I had to become–I think gonna become a medical reporter. I can’t deal with some of these because some of the stories, like, it literally rips your heart out, and you’re like trying to figure out how am I going to cover this and not like cry, because it’s so hard to tell some of these stories like it literally breaks your heart.
Christie Ileto: I think the hardest… I’m actually pretty good at compartmentalizing. She has made me a little weaker. I’ll never forget, I was actually having this conversation with one of our EPs today. There was a story last April, um, this guy had gotten shot to death outside in Old City, another neighborhood, and they were going to send us there, and I was like, “Okay, it’s a one guy shot, like, we go for, you know, quadruple shootings, quintuple shootings. We don’t go for single shootings like, why are we going to this?”
They’re like, “It’s in Old City.” It happened across the street from, I think, it was the Revolution War Museum, next to one of those outdoor dining setups. So there were all these pedestrians and tourists. And I think they fired, like, two dozen shots at him in a drive-by. I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” So we went.
And I’ll never forget, it was April 5th. I had dropped my daughter off to daycare that morning and cried two hours. I cried five times in two hours. We got there. I’m separated from my photographer because I always feel like people won’t talk to me if I’m super close to him. I always try to get away. If I have to shoot on my phone, I will. I have my microphone tucked underneath me.
And I was like, “Hey Albert, I think this is the family, because there’s like five people or six people that just jumped out of this car and they’re running down here and they look really frantic.” And I was like, “They’re coming up on your right. Like, they’re two seconds out from you.” So he turns the camera, and because he’s by the tape, they lose it. This mom is screaming, rightfully so. Like, she’s just finding out that her son has been murdered. And the sound of that, and just watching that whole moment really hit me, because I was thinking, “I cried five times in two hours for somebody that I know I’m going to see when I come home. This mother is never going to see her child, whether or not he’s about that life or the intended target, she will never see him.” And that moment, I was like, “Ah, I need to go. I need a second.” I was like, “I need a second in the live shot while we frantically got this piece for 11, and I’ll be ready to go in like two minutes.”
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, it’s hard. It can take a toll, you know.
Marc Silverstein: Or days later, it can, you know, still reverberate.
Kathy Fowler: Well, half the time, because you’re not, most of the time, you’re not, like you said, you can’t process it in real-time because you’d never be able to do your job if you had to process all the bad things and stories you had to tell, right?
Christie Ileto: Right.
Kathy Fowler: So you know, it’s like later you think about it. I used to always think about it at the end of my day on the drive home, and I’d be like, “Oh, wow”, that’s when it would kind of hit me what I just had watched throughout the day.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, they still pop up in my head every once in a while, some of the bad ones.
What is your ultimate goal?
Marc Silverstein: On a better note. Where’s the ultimate goal? Network? Talk show? You said you’re anchoring now, right? You’re the anchor at four?
Christie Ileto: Yeah. They have the four and the five. They have, like, three anchors. They have, like, the two at the desk and then somebody that pops in and out. I pop in and out at four.
I don’t know. I mean, I think, like when I was growing up, the ultimate goal when I was a kid was “Oh, I want to work at WRC” because that’s just what I would watch all the time. Now, I think it’s changed a little bit, and it’s just really… I’m really happy where I am, but I’m also open to a great opportunity. So it’s just about if something that I couldn’t resist came my way, I’d definitely be open to it. But I’m really happy where I am.
What is the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia?
Marc Silverstein: Alright, and the final quote… Final question! The big question. This is it, really. What gets to the core of everything… Best cheesesteak?
Christie Ileto: Oh, D’Alessandro’s.
Marc Silverstein: Okay, that was easy.
Christie Ileto: D’Alessandro’s, for sure. Did you know that Jim’s burned down?
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, it was national news. My family, when we were texting each other, we were, like, in mourning.
Christie Ileto: They’re really good too.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah,
Christie Ileto: I felt very bad for them, but I think they’re going to be able to rebuild.
Marc Silverstein: They’re rebuilding, right?
Christie Ileto: Yeah. But I just loved D’Alessandro’s. I don’t know why. I think it’s because they cut their meat. It’s grounded, it’s so fine. There’s always a line. I mean, there’s always a line everywhere. Larry’s I’ve heard is really good. I’ve never eaten there. I won’t cheat on D’Alessandro’s.
Marc Silverstein: Have you been to Termini Brothers for cannoli?
Christie Ileto: Oh yeah. They send stuff all the time for Easter. Alicia Vitarelli does stuff with them all the time.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, no, that place is good. You gotta go to Termini. Tell him I say hey. Tell John Morris I say hi.
Christie Ileto: Oh, you know John Morris?
Marc Silverstein: I worked with John Morris in Columbus.
Christie Ileto: He’s great.
Marc Silverstein: What is he? Executive Vice President? What’s his title?
Christie Ileto: He’s something like that. He’s a big… He’s upstairs now.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, in a corner office and everything.
Christie Ileto: Yeah, it’s a corner office. That is true.
Kathy Fowler: Well, thank you for joining us, and thank you for sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stories and what it’s like to be a journalist, whether it’s in the anchor chair, on the mean streets of Baltimore, Philly, or in Alabama.
Marc Silverstein: They are mean streets. I love her dedication to it or that she loves doing this. You can just get the excitement off of it. It’s really fun to talk with you.
Christie Ileto: Thank you, guys, for having me and for thinking of me. I really appreciate it.
Marc Silverstein: You got it.
Marc Silverstein: I mean, she… You know, serious topics, but the angles that she brings to it, the love of the breaking news, going live, and she was covering protests and she only went to the bathroom once. I mean, the things you remember, it’s really interesting.
Kathy Fowler: Well, also, people don’t realize when you’re out there doing all those live shots, half the time there is no bathroom, and there’s no place to go.
Marc Silverstein: That’s exactly that was the moment I decided to get out of the business. When the photographer in a live truck handed me a cup.
Kathy Fowler: You’re like “It’s come to this?”
Marc Silverstein: That’s it. I was covering something on Capitol Hill once, and it was early in the morning. I was drinking a lot of coffee, which didn’t matter when it was dark but you know, when the sun came up, you can’t you know pick a tree at the Capitol Hill
Kathy Fowler: It’s a little bit harder. Well, we hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. After Deadline: The Media Podcast is a production of On the Marc Media. If you enjoyed what you heard today and want to hear more of our interviews with incredible journalists across the country and around the world, be sure to follow us on social media at On the Marc Media and subscribe to After Deadline wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
Until next time, we’ll catch up to you after the deadline.