Ask for some of the big stories he’s covered and he’ll recite 15 years of tragedies, hurricanes and political scandals.
Then Fred Shropshire, WCNC’s (Channel 36) new anchor, will tell you about the one with the most impact, a story he didn’t think was worth doing at first.
While working in Chicago, he was assigned to cover a group of students who launched a spare-change campaign to try to save their school, which was going to be closed by the Catholic Diocese for lack of money.
“I decided I wasn’t going to interview any grown-ups,” says Shropshire, 37. He quoted only kids, who loved their school and were collecting pennies to try to save it.
“Somebody saw the story and anonymously sent in a six-figure donation that kept the school open,” he says. “That completely humbled me.”
Shropshire, son of a Marine gunnery sergeant and a school lunch lady, grew up at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. He went to UNC Chapel Hill to study broadcasting and wound up as a cheerleader.
His first job out of college in 2000 was at the New Bern ABC affiliate, working in his hometown Jacksonville bureau. His Marine connections came in handy when he found himself in a big national story, the crash of an Osprey helicopter that killed four.
From there he went to WXII (Channel 12) in Winston-Salem and then WGN in Chicago. It was a good move professionally and personally – in addition to getting big-city experience, he started dating an intern at the station. Now he and Sheyenne Shropshire have two children, Carolina, 3, and Ezra, 1.
He lived on the North Side down the street from the governor, Rod Blagojevich, and his security detail. “Safest street in Chicago,” he says.
WTVD (Channel 11) in Durham offered both Shropshire and his wife jobs in 2007 and they moved back to North Carolina.
He wondered at first whether he’d made the right move, but WTVD – owned by ABC – sent him on many national reporting assignments and gave him an anchoring slot on the early evening newscasts.
WTVD has long faced the powerhouse station in the Triangle, Raleigh’s WRAL (Channel 5), which stands tall in the industry for its long and storied commitment to news and public service. He faces a similar challenge in Charlotte where WCNC – despite solid, award-winning journalism – has long run a distant third in ratings to WSOC (Channel 9) and WBTV (Channel 3).
WCNC was acquired 18 months ago by Gannett, and new management is making changes to increase performance that includes replacing some key personalities including Shropshire’s predecessor, Dave Wagner.
News director Matt King says it hasn’t been decided yet who will share the anchor desk with Shropshire.
Shropshire says he’ll brings new energy to WCNC’s battle against Channels 3 and 9. “I’ve got a desire to lead, not just in the newsroom but in the news market,” says Shropshire, who signed a four-year contract. “A desire to get my hands dirty.”
Charlotte’s rapid growth means new potential viewers are moving in every day, giving WCNC an opportunity for growth, he says.
Shropshire wants to be an anchor who gets out and reports, and he got that chance last week when WCNC general manager Deborah Collura called and asked him to break off from his get-acquainted tour of Charlotte and head to Charleston to field anchor coverage of the church shootings.
It was an emotionally hard story, Shropshire says, not only for those affected but for those who come to report on it. He says he had to spend some personal time processing the tragedy.
“I’m a praying person, a person of faith,” he says. “I read my Bible and scriptures.”
Mostly, he says, he realizes that reporters have an important role in helping people understand such calamities, and never forgets a lesson he was taught by a bunch of kids trying to save their school back in Chicago.
“You have to remember,” he says, “that all stories have a universal truth that people can identify with.”