Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working in retail, such as being a cashier at Burlington Coat Factory.
But Michele Newell had other aspirations. Like bringing impactful news reports to her hometown viewers on Channel 11, also known as WPXI-TV.
The glitz and glamour that comes with being on television daily in Pittsburgh comes with it a certain aura around town. You’re constantly spotted in the local grocery store, kids and adults alike asking for a “selfie.” Or, you could be hosting events at some of the finest hotels in town. And the money from being on TV and hosting events isn’t too shabby, either.
Let’s face it. If you’re on TV, you’re a celebrity. Michele Newell is that, one of the few African American faces on Pittsburgh television for nearly four years, reporting and anchoring the news, and getting exclusive stories that other stations in town wish they had.
Now, the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that Newell will join the major-market ranks, leaving Pittsburgh, the 23rd-largest TV market, for Atlanta, the 8th-largest TV market. She’s been hired as a reporter for WSB-TV (2) in Atlanta, by far the top local station in the market. It’s a sister-station to WPXI in Pittsburgh; both are owned by Apollo/Cox Media, which is based in Atlanta.
Newell’s final day at WPXI is Friday, Oct. 22. She’ll begin on WSB-TV in November.
Newell, who grew up in Homestead, told the Courier in an exclusive interview, Oct. 16, that she’ll miss her family, friends, and all she’s come to know in Pittsburgh while reporting for WPXI. Atlanta is 685 miles from Pittsburgh, which is about how far it felt for Newell to get into a prominent TV news position while she was stocking shelves at the Burlington Coat Factory in Bethel Park not even a decade ago.
‘IT WASN’T JUST ONE STRAIGHT SHOT’
“When you look at my career, I went through a lot to get to where I am now. It wasn’t just one straight shot,” Newell told the Courier. After graduating from Penn Hills High School in 2002, she attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in communications media. An internship prior to graduation landed her at Cornerstone Television Network, a religious-based entity located in Wall, Pa., a small borough nestled between Wilmerding and Trafford.
Cornerstone was her first professional job out of college for the young Newell, working as a producer, reporter, host…pretty much doing everything under the sun. The pay wasn’t that hot, but she had health insurance benefits, etc., so it worked out for six years. But towards the end of her tenure there, the TV news bug really started to bite her. She started sending out resumes and tapes of her on Cornerstone to news outlets—none would hire her. The news outlets, from as large as Philadelphia to as small as Steubenville, wanted to hire people who had actual news or sports experience.
‘I HAD TO START OVER’
In effect, Newell said, her career had to start over if she wanted TV news as a career. In November 2012, she started to work on-air for a weekly sports show called “Championship Chase,” which aired weekends on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, a subsidiary of WPXI. Championship Chase was classified as paid programming and its hosts/reporters were not WPXI or PCNC employees.
Newell then worked on an Internet-based program, called “The Lamarr Woodley Show,” featuring the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.
What really got the ball rolling in news, however, was Newell being hired part-time by KDKA Radio as a board operator/producer in April 2013. She decided to leave Cornerstone, its full-time pay and its health benefits, for a part-time position at KDKA Radio that she believed would put her on her more-destined career path.
MICHELE NEWELL, WITH WPXI CHIEF METEOROLOGIST STEPHEN CROPPER
“I really think (P.J. Kumanchik, KDKA Radio news director) hired me as a part-timer because he knew how hungry I was to just get a news gig,” Newell told the Courier. “I think P.J. really saw in me just the passion and the dedication and I just needed a chance, I just needed someone to give me a chance, and P.J. gave me a chance.”
There, she worked with hosts Robert Mangino and Chris Moore, who further pushed her in the news world—she did research for their shows, concocted show ideas, answered phone calls, etc.
The position at KDKA Radio helped Newell get a position as a part-time writer at KDKA-TV. Remember, both positions were part-time roles; thus, Newell and her mother had extra time to bond—Newell, now nearly 30 years old, had to live with her mother because part-time wasn’t going to pay Pittsburgh’s high rent.
To help supplement her income, Newell took a job in 2013 with Burlington Coat Factory, just a stone’s throw from South Hills Village.
“I’m at Burlington Coat Factory, and as I’m checking people out, they’re like, ‘don’t you work for Cornerstone TV? You just look so familiar…’ I’m like, ‘yeah, I am no longer there.’ That was absolutely humbling,” Newell told the Courier.
Newell added: “It made me feel like, ‘wow, I used to be on TV and now I’m checking people out (at Burlington) who used to watch me.”
Newell said that her faith in God is “what sustained me. That’s really what gave me strength to get through moments like that.”
FINALLY, AN ON-AIR TV NEWS POSITION COMES CALLING
In February 2014, at age 31, Newell’s big break in TV news came calling, albeit in the smallest of places. WTOV-TV (9) in Steubenville, Ohio, hired Newell to be a multi-media journalist. The pay wasn’t that hot, either, so Newell commuted from Pittsburgh to Steubenville, five days a week, to be in TV news. Yes, that’s about an hour each way when you factor in traffic. She did that for about seven months before getting another big break—WTOV’s sister-station in Columbus, Ohio, WSYX-TV (6), was looking to hire a multi-media journalist, and Newell got the job.
It was in Columbus where she got the true taste of what it was like to be in a sizable market. She had to learn how to write faster, how to shoot video better, and overall, she was in a true competition against other reporters from the CBS (WBNS) and NBC (WCMH) affiliates to get exclusive stories.
By December 2017, Newell, the hometown girl, had returned home. She was hired as a reporter by one of the
stations she grew up watching, WPXI-TV.
Over the past three and a half years, she’s covered stories such as the Michael Rosfeld not guilty verdict in the death of Antwon Rose, and she was lauded for a two-part series on “Minorities and the Police,” where she interviewed prominent Black attorneys in Pittsburgh on how men of color can survive being pulled over by police.
The news director who hired Newell at WPXI was Suzanne Nadell. She’s now the news director at WSB. And she’s hired Newell again.
“I know how committed of a journalist she is and how much she loves the city of Pittsburgh,” Nadell told the Courier, Oct. 18. “I look forward to seeing her passion and commitment once again as I work with her in Atlanta.”
Who knows if Newell, now 37 and an Emmy Award-winner, has ever driven by, ever walked into that Burlington Coat Factory in the South Hills in the past three years now that she’s that easy-to-spot TV celebrity. She said that it took a whole bunch of hard work, mentors and prayers to get to where she’s at now. And for those who, right now, are working in retail or a job they don’t like, Newell said keep the faith, because your time is coming.
“All I was thinking (when I was stocking shelves at Burlington) was, ‘I need to make it,’” Newell told the Courier. “But I was also thinking, ‘wow, this is my reality right now. But I can’t let what I’m doing right now determine how I feel about my future.’”