By CHRISTIE LEIGH MUELLER
Louisville’s Emmy-winning sweetheart has come full circle. From her collegiate dreams during her time as a WHAS intern, Claudia Coffey now sits in the co-anchor chair every afternoon as the city tunes in to WHAS 11 “News at 4.”
Coffey grew up with WHAS 11 in her household and had a focused goal of eventually being a member of the station. The path to a goal though as Coffey found out, isn’t always as direct—or easy—as she discovered after her applications were turned down numerous times before receiving the advice of, “go out and get some different experiences.”
Hungry, eager and ready to jump in front of the camera to report, Coffey applied for a job in Greeneville, Miss. One call from the ABC affilliate WABG down in the Delta, Coffey blindly took the job and headed south. Without ever seeing the station, meeting (in person) the producer, or knowing anything about the town. She wanted the position and experience. Moving was a risk she was willing to take as she found comfort in her mother’s parting words after the move, “you can always come back home.”
Experience was the least of career-changing lessons she picked up in Greeneville. Washington County is one of the poorest in the U.S. When Coffey arrived (and likely still today) there was a lack of basic services; Coffey saw the need for reporters to uncover this, to be the voice of the people. If she didn’t understand why she wanted to be a journalist before meeting Washington County, she certainly understood upon arrival. She explains of her nascent stages of her career, “I needed my eyes to be opened. Being there confirmed why I was doing what I was doing; it gave me the drive to do a better job at reporting. I got to see a part of the country that everyone should.”
Coffey is one of the lucky few who loves what she does for a living. She’s had a rewarding career across the country from Greeneville, Miss., through Little Rock, Ark., New Orleans, La, Milwaukee, Wis., Washington, D.C., and finally back home to Louisville, just as her mother promised. It’s a rare find that someone can cross items off of their bucket list with their day job.
But calling reporting and anchoring Coffey’s day job belittles its meaning and the impact Coffey has on the community. She recveives countless calls every day from people asking her to share their story, to attend their charitable events, to help spread the message of their cause. Coffey says that’s part of the gig. As a passionate career woman, people trust her to get their word out and she’s happy to help where she can.
“I’m very passionate about certain causes. WHAS 11 is so involved with Crusade for Children. They’re a passionate company, that’s part of why I love working here. I never want to just be an anchor. You owe it to everybody to do more.”
Coffey is always asking herself how she can further serve the community and how she can do that one more thing that goes above and beyond. Which is why, despite her love for her role as an anchor, Coffey positively comes alive when she is out in the field. Take away her teleprompter and she’s in heaven. Just as she was when she covered the 2013 NCAA National Championship Game in Atlanta as the Louisville Cardinals took home the title.
“It was just the photographer and myself running through the city getting shots of fans events, everything. People felt the excitement here, but being down there in the middle of it all. And to win. Being out in the field reporting and traveling is my favorite part of being a journalist. You’re really on your own to uncover the stories.”
Coffey couldn’t be happier in her role at WHAS 11. Rest assured however, being in front of the cameras with producers talking into your ear, news breaking in the middle of your sentences and getting your make-up completed just minutes before the cameras start rolling is far from glamorous.
“The last thing you get to do and worry about is looking pretty for the camera.” Coffey goes on to explain the chaos that goes on while she stays calm under the lights. “Behind the scenes there is a lot of commotion. We are wearing an earpiece and our producers communicate information in real-time. Things are changing so rapidly but the viewers never know it. It’s a role of multi-tasking – it’s not just all teleprompters.”
In a world where journalists can get a bad wrap for reporting a story they haven’t fully confirmed, Coffey says it’s company policy not to say a word about a story until it’s confirmed as accurate. With rumors, gossip and hearsay on every social media outlet, clarification is vital to the station’s reputation. And if this is breaking news in the middle of a broadcast, all of the calls, research, and background checks must happen immediately off camera, only adding to the commotion that the public doesn’t see thanks to the poise and skill of anchors like Coffey.
Said skills though were not picked-up in journalism school at Indiana University or in the studio. Coffey attributes where she is today to where she has been and all the tricks of the trade she’s found along the way.
In Greeneville, Miss., she learned to be the voice for the under-served people. In Little Rock, Ark., she reported the city through a great resurgence – a small station with big stories. New Orleans, La., was a gem of a town with news around every corner. Coffey learned how to cover historical events—a Mardi Gras parade—while wearing a ball gown. Milwaukee, Wis., was where she learned how to be a friend, taking after the midwestern requirements of being a good, down to earth person who lives in a town that celebrates ethinic diversity and most of all, the Green Bay Packers. Washington, D.C. speaks for itself. Coffey was covering stories at Ciy Hall one day and at the Supreme Court and the White House the next.
It is in these cities, where Coffee perfected the valuable advice of “never getting in the way of the story.” Looking back on her life in front of the camera—which is far from over—she says over time she learned to “dig deeper into each story. I learned from day one that good stories will tell themselves. Once you get out of the way and see the difference you make in each city you’re compelled to do more.”
More isn’t really something Coffey has time for right now. With a six and a half year old son and a Sunday night family dinner that is non-negotiable, Coffey’s plate is full and her cup runneth over. But Coffey wouldn’t’ have it any other way. She still wakes up at 5 a.m. each day, thinking of ways to get more good news out there. And she’s ever so glad she finally made it back home.