WGRZ-TV reporter-anchor Claudine Ewing is celebrating her 25th year in an industry that she knew she wanted to be a part of growing up on Grider Street.
Since she lived near WUFO-AM and her mother Claudia worked in the traffic department, Claudine imagined her future in broadcasting while listening to Frankie Crocker and other famous DJs at the station.
And imagine this: She grew up to become arguably Buffalo’s most under-rated broadcast journalist.
“I’ve always had a love for the microphone,” Ewing explained over coffee recently. “When I was a little girl at that radio station, I would go into a studio and sit by the microphone and talk to it. Make sounds. As a kid, that was fascinating to me.”
She is blessed with an important tool for a broadcaster – a distinctive, soothing voice that she has been praised for since being in elementary school.
“I remember when I was in seventh or eighth grade at School 80 that I had a couple of teachers who said ‘You have a knack for writing and for speaking,’ ” she recalled.
Before hearing that, she thought she would be content working behind-the-scenes rather than on the air.
“Maybe it quietly boosted my confidence,” remembered Ewing, “to think maybe I can do something on radio.”
She pursued her goal at Buffalo Visual and Performing Arts, where one of her high school classmates was actor Jesse Martin (“Law & Order”). She majored in telecommunications, “doing it all” in front of and behind the camera.
“I am very proud of it,” she said of her high school.
She has a lot to be proud of in her career. She is a strong journalist, admired by her peers and is often chosen to anchor political debates because of her fairness.
She graduated in 1992 from SUNY Buffalo State College, which she chose to attend after also being accepted at Syracuse, Marquette, Michigan State and Fredonia State. She said she had enough scholarship money to pay the majority of Syracuse’s tuition and was “completely sold” on it. But she decided to attend Buffalo State to save money and stay at home.
“It worked out very well for me,” she said. “But it was nice to be accepted by all of them.”
It worked out so well that she was given a Young Alumnus Award in 2004 by Buffalo State, where she focused on radio and television. Tom McCray (who is known as Tom Donahue on radio) was one of her favorite teachers.
“Loved, loved, loved him,” Ewing said.
The feeling is mutual.
“To me, she is one of the best all-around journalists in the Buffalo market,” said McCray. “She handles just about any subject from hard news to softer stories. She looks good, she sounds good. To me, it is surprising she stayed in this market.”
Ewing did an internship in college with then-WBEN-AM reporter Brian Meyer, which helped her land a full-time job after graduation in 1992 a few miles down Elmwood Avenue from her college.
Meyer, now the news director at WBFO-FM, remains a fan.
“I honestly think she is one of the strongest journalists in Western New York,” said Meyer. “She is a straight shooter who researches her stories and has really, really solid contacts. Claudine’s footprint is really big in Western New York.”
She had a variety of roles at WBEN, including working in ground traffic control for Dave May, who was up in the helicopter giving traffic reports.
“I tell young people you start at the bottom and work your way up so you truly appreciate what you have,” said Ewing. “People who enter the business think they are going to walk in and do it all. You learn a lot at the bottom I believe.”
At the time, WIVB-TV and WBEN shared the same building and Ewing was eventually approached in the hallway by the Channel 4 news director about going in front of the camera. She worked at both the radio and TV stations in the same building for about two years, eventually moving to Channel 2 as a reporter in 1998.
“I can’t believe I’m still in Buffalo,” said Ewing, who had a chance to take a job in Atlanta a few years before her father died in 2006.
“It is home, I have family here,” she explained. “I didn’t want to leave my dad. And he was proud of his baby girl. There were opportunities for me to leave and I made the decision to stay. Do I regret it? I won’t comment. I can’t say I regret it, I’ll just say I won’t say. Sometimes you do think about it.”
Staying in Buffalo can have limitations for an African-American reporter. Ewing gets to anchor, but only as a fill-in when the main anchors take days off or are ill. She doesn’t feel she has been bypassed for a larger anchor role.
“I never looked at it that way because I believe I’m respected for the work I do and I’ve never had that issue with management,” said Ewing. “Should we see more African-Americans on TV? Yes, especially in this city.”
Ewing receives the highest compliment when she is chosen to be on the panels of political debates asking questions of local and state candidates, often instead of the prime anchors. Jeff Woodard, the former Channel 2 news director, said Ewing was chosen for the debate panels because of her fairness and knowledge.
“She asks well thought-out questions that don’t attack and still get to the heart of the issue,” said Woodard. “She was the voice for reason and balance. She was as fair as any reporter I ever worked with. Her delivery is so smooth, easy to listen to and she was a stickler for facts. She is good person for all young reporters to learn from.”
She is aware that there is no regular minority anchor on an evening newscast in Buffalo.
“I don’t know why that is,” said Ewing. “But maybe that needs to change and I’m not saying that has to be me. But that needs to be looked at. Have I heard it before? Yes, just from viewers.”
She added that anchors in Buffalo don’t generally move out of high profile positions and that she’s never applied for the role.
“I think it is pretty obvious that I can do the job and I can do it well,” said Ewing. “I just let my work speak for itself.”
She doesn’t speak much about her personal life, other than to say she has a brother and many other relatives in the area and likes going to concerts and basketball games. It isn’t until near the end of the interview that she mentions that she was married for almost 10 years and now “is happily divorced.”
She is not wedded to staying in Buffalo forever, either.
“Nothing is forever,” said Ewing.
Still, the little girl on Grider Street who loved the microphone as a child is content with how things have turned out so far.
“I’m very happy with my career,” she said. “Buffalo has been good to me. It is so nice to be able to be a journalist in your hometown because you know the ins and outs of what’s happening, the story behind the story of certain newsmakers and you just have the contacts. If there is something happening, it is very likely I know somebody or somebody who knows somebody connected to that person. And I think that it helps me get stories.”
And the respect of her peers.