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The TV life of Ed Reilly proves news people can adjust

The TV life of Ed Reilly changed dramatically almost a decade ago when he learned he was going to have to audition for a new job 29 years after he joined Channel 7.

John DiSciullo, the WKBW news director at the time, told the then 51-year-old Reilly and all the photographers at Channel 7 they had to audition to be multimedia journalists -- a fancy word for people who report, write, edit and photograph stories and post on social media.

Some photographers resigned. The station relented and kept some photographers on board as photographers.

Reilly, whose audition story was about the Eden Corn Festival, and one other photographer passed the audition and became MMJs.

It was a stressful time for the Niagara Falls native, who for years as a photographer tagged along with reporters.

“I told John DiSciullo that reporters are the kind of people who bake the cake, I’m the guy who decorates the cake and makes it look real good for everyone,” recalled Reilly. “John said, ‘You’re going to have to be the baker and the decorator going forward.’”

He’s become an expert baker and decorator.

An outlier in the business, the 60-year-old Reilly is about twice the age of almost all MMJs at Channel 7. Most are in their early to mid-20s.

He’s gone from working behind a camera in anonymity to a reporter who is stopped when he is out at department stores and restaurants.

It is a second TV life for Reilly, who was hired by Channel 7 in 1980 out of Niagara University to shoot 16 mm silent news film. One of his first assignments was shooting of a vigil for John Lennon in Toronto shortly after he was killed in New York City.

“I couldn’t believe I just got hired full time and they are trusting me with this story,” Reilly remembered.

His wife of 37 years, Pam, had a simple reaction when he was asked to become a reporter 29 years later.

“I think she rolled her eyes as if to say, ‘Really?’” Reilly said. “She probably had the same concerns. How are you going to be able to do all this by yourself?"

“I thought I never got into TV to be on TV,” said Reilly, who enjoyed being a photographer, editing and working with reporters. “I thought I’d worked with a lot of great reporters over the years. I felt like a had a big weight on my shoulders. I don’t want to fail. I’m going to give it my best shot. And 10 years later, I guess they like me. I guess I am doing an OK job.”

He is doing much better than OK. He has become a huge success story, a man who has proven you are never too old to conquer new challenges.

Ed Reilly was originally hired by Channel 7 in 1980. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Channel 7 anchor Keith Radford, a reporter on many stories when Reilly was his photographer, admires how easily he has made the transition.

“If you ever wanted a story to be the very best it could be, you asked for Reilly to shoot and edit it,” Radford wrote in an email. “He was the gold standard in the WKBW newsroom. When he switched over to an MMJ he became one of the best reporters we’ve ever had. His work ethic is unparalleled. Who knew back when that they didn’t really need me at all. Ed is the whole package now all by himself! We’ve been all over the world together and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.”

Rob Heverling, Channel 7’s current news director, also sings Reilly’s praises.

“No doubt there is value in experience,” Heverling wrote in an email. “Ed sees content in a different way, in a mature way. His many years behind the camera lens or at an editing station changed his perception and honed his storytelling skills. So adding his words and voice probably wasn’t as dramatic of a transition for Ed. It was more about finessing.

“In our editorial meetings we have these conversations. We call them ‘producer fantasies.’ Often, we’re talking about a hard to get interview and someone says, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we got (name of hard to get interview)!” Then we all turn and look at Ed. Ed humbly says, ‘OK, sounds good,’ and turns and walks out of the meeting. I’ll be darned if nearly every time Ed gets his interview. There is an aura of authenticity that surrounds Ed Reilly. He disengages people from their nervousness or skepticism of the news media. People just open up to Ed.”

That could because the news is in Reilly’s blood.

His late father, Ed Sr., worked at the Niagara Gazette and was an announcer and newsman at WHLD radio in the 1960s. He would bring home teletype scripts home for Ed and his siblings to play with.

“We would take a tape recorder and make our own little newscast at home,” recalled Reilly, the oldest of eight children. “It is kind of funny, as a kid I used to play newsman. Here it is years later and I am actually doing it for real.”

Reilly’s father and mother died about a year after he started as an MMJ.

“He was very proud of me, my mom was very proud, too,” said Reilly. “It was like their pride and joy to see me on TV.”

Reilly feels the transition was made easier because of the reporters he rode around with as a photographer, including Radford, Mike Randall, Susan Banks and Irv Weinstein.

“I used to be sent on the road to do stories with Irv,” Reilly said. “I worked with the best of the best at Channel 7. When you’ve worked with these people, you realize you have some big shoes to fill once they want you to do the same thing. I felt like their ghosts were on my back and I’d better do a good job.”

“Irv was kind of like my news father. He took me under his wing and taught me what news was. I just kept my mouth shut and my ears open and I learned so much about the news business.

“Irv said news is about people and you always have to keep that first and foremost in your mind. Go where the people are and make sure you show their faces, because faces tell the story. I never forgot that. He was really big on people and community. The one credit I get is I am real good at dealing with people whether it is a sad story, a funeral, a tragedy. I have feelings for the people I cover. It is not just facts and figures. There is a human story and I can relate to the human element.”

“Keith is an amazing person to learn from and work with; he is such a pro,” Reilly said. “He and Mike Randall are two guys who inspired me so much.”

When Reilly was a photographer, he could be called on to do interviews for the reporter on the story. In the late 1980s, he shot a story about World War II veterans reuniting in Geneseo. He did the interviews, Linda Pellegrino did the script and they received an Emmy nomination.

“You basically had to think like a reporter when you were a photographer,” Reilly said.

He has earned the respect of the younger MMJs he works with. When Josh Bazan recently left Channel 7 for a Scripps station in Cincinnati, he left a thank you note for Reilly. He praised Reilly’s storytelling skills and added: “You’ve also showed me how even in a stressful job like ours, it doesn’t take any time to be kind and offer a few words of encouragement. I’ll take that with me wherever that job takes me.”

Reilly said the younger MMJs often ask him how to do things.

“I rely on them, too, because they know the social media stuff so well,” he said.

Reilly credits his wife, who he met when he was asked to show her around the station when she became a Channel 7 intern.

“This business is so stressful,” Reilly said. “I credit her because I don’t think I’d have been able to survive if I hadn’t had the support from Pam.”

Reilly generally does one story a day, which can include live shots. He has always been creative. When Hamburg was hit with 7 feet of snow in 2014, he filed all his stories near his home as the snow grew higher and higher.

“They couldn’t get any other crews out there and I was there,” Reilly said.

As a photographer, he’d often use his four children as props to illustrate stories about bike safety and doing homework.

His newfound celebrity in front of the camera amuses his grown children, especially when people go up to their father in public.

“They think it is funniest thing in the world,” Reilly said. “Mostly, the older folks know me. (My children) think I am a superstar for the nursing homes.”

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