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Sarah Batista leaves WBTV for dream job

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

After eight years at WBTV (Channel 3) news, Sarah Batista is nervously fitting into her dream job – documentary producer.

Batista, 33, has started her own company, Stories to Inspire, aimed at creating videos for Charlotte nonprofits. Eventually she hopes it will take her into full-time documentary work.

“I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t scared,” says Batista, who left Channel 3 last week.

She has always been interested in long-form work, she says, and in recent years has felt the tug to leave the TV news business to try it. Already, she has lined up clients and has done a few projects for organizations, including a fundraising video for Hope Cancer Ministries.

Batista says she thinks the nonprofit sector is a good niche, in part because it dovetails with her own values. “I got into TV in the first place to inspire people,” she says.

Batista’s family moved from Chicago to Charlotte when she was 4. Her father, a minister, was intrigued with the PTL television network and came to work with them. She remembers hanging around the Fort Mill, S.C., studios as a child in the years before ministry collapsed.

Growing up here, she was one of the few Hispanics in her classes and the only Puerto Rican. “People were always asking, ‘What are you?’ There I was, a little Puerto Rican girl … I’m kind of used to being different.”

She graduated from South Mecklenburg High School and went to UNC Charlotte, where she got a communications degree. She went to work for the CBS affiliate in Charlottesville, Va., a typical first-time job. “I made no money, lived off Ramen noodles.”

In 2006 she landed at WBTV as a general assignment reporter. For years, she was the only Hispanic reporter at the station and one of the few in Charlotte TV.

She got her first shot at long-form reporting when the station sent her to Mexico for a four-part series, “Beyond the Border,” which examined the causes and effects of illegal immigration. She handed the videotaping and production herself, and it won the 2008 award for best feature from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Her journalism background, she says, is key to what she can offer in her new role. She’s a storyteller by both nature and training, and has insight into the human condition.

“I’ve interviewed people in their worst moments,” she says. “I feel like I have a master’s degree in life.”

Media Movers

Kristine Zell will join WCCB (Channel 18) as Derek James’ co-host on “WCCB News Rising” the week of Labor Day. Zell comes from Bahakel sister station WFXB, the Fox affiliate in Myrtle Beach where she co-hosts “Not the News,” the station’s nightly equivalent of WCCB’s “News Edge.” She replaces Christine Noel, who moved up to co-anchor evening newscasts. …

Reporter Linzi Sheldon leaves WSOC (Channel 9) for a reporting and weekend anchor job at Cox sister station in Seattle. Sheldon joined Channel 9 in 2010. … At WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7), Kevin Kniestedt will take over as host of “Morning Edition” beginning Sept. 22. He comes from the public radio jazz station in Seattle. …

WCNC (Channel 36) chief meteorologist Brad Panovich, known in the Twitter world as @wxbrad where he has 18,000 followers, has a reputation for tweeting every cloud. He’s so prolific that he’s just surpassed 100,000 tweets. In case you’re wondering, the tweet record for other chief meteorologists in town are about 5,000 for Eric Thomas at WBTV, 3,500 for Steve Udelson at WSOC, 4,100 for Jeff Crum at News 14 Carolina and 1,100 for Reg Taylor at WCCB. …

WJZY (Channel 46) has hired two digital reporters for the news department it is building in anticipation of a January 2014 launch. They are Neima Abdulahi, a recent graduate of Elon University, and Mary Quinn O’Connor, a University of Florida graduate who has been working for the Fox News junior reporting program as a correspondent based out of Columbia. …

For the second year in a row, Rock Hill’s WRHI (94.3 FM, 1340 AM) was named radio station of the year by the S.C. Broadcasters Association. Allan Miller and Manning Kimmel, managing partners, accepted the award. Other honors for WRHI and sister station “Interstate 107” included Chris Miller being named sportscaster of the year, and Mike Crowder receiving the award of merit for news reporter of the year. …

Bible Broadcasting Network has filed for an FCC permit to operate an FM translator in Charlotte at 93.9 to carry the signal of WWLV-FM in Lexington, which carries the syndicated faith format K-LOVE. …

Channel 18 has announced its lineup of announcers for Charlotte 49ers home games beginning Aug. 31. Ryan Rose, who handles media relations for UNC Charlotte’s volleyball, golf and baseball programs and has done games for Time Warner Cable, Comcast Sports South and ESPN3, will do play-by-play; former Panther Kenny Moore, who played for Wake Forest, will do commentary; WCCB sports reporter and “Got Game” host Brandon Davidow will do sidelines; and WCCB’s Jon Wilson and sports anchor Kelli Bartik will handle game-day features. WCCB is producing the games as part of its strategy to be more locally focused after losing the Fox network affiliation this summer, says station manager Jim White. …

WBT-AM (1110) and the Carolina Panthers have agreed on a three-year contract for game broadcasts. Sports director Jim Szoke, who has been to every Panthers game since the franchise launched, will be color analyst, and Mick Mixon will continue to do play-by-play alongside former Panther Eugene Robinson. …

WCCB has obtained rights for Panthers preseason games for the next three years and will air “Panthers Huddle with Ron Rivera” at a new time, 11 p.m. Saturdays. Also, a three-season extension has been reached with WCNC for “Panthers Game Day,” a 30-minute highlight show that airs after NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and Channel 36’s local news. New co-hosts for the show are Russ Owens and former Panther Kevin Donnalley.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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