Mary Francis Hoots: Reaching Goals On and Off the Field

By Sybil Topel

Reporter Mary Francis Hoots knows how to reach her goals on and off the field. That’s how she landed a job with Chattanooga's WRCB-TV. Operating out of the 92nd largest television market in the country, WRCB delivers the news across 16 counties to about 380,000 households. 

“Mary Francis has made a great addition to our WRCB team. She joined not long before COVID-19 and the challenges it has created," says Callie Starnes, WRCB's News Director. "Mary Francis has adapted and risen to the occasion to try new things all while gaining familiarity with our viewers and our community. I know she has a bright future. Her determination and dedication are proof."

As a former college soccer player, Hoots uses the hard-working mentality she learned on the field and applies it to the newsroom. When she's not on-air, you might find her keeping up her soccer skills or snagging some ice cream on her way home from work. 

Trend: How long have you been a reporter?

Hoots: This is my first job in news, and I'm seven months in.

Trend: If someone wanted to pitch you for a news or feature interview, what top 3-5 tips would you give them?

Hoots: I would say start off by giving me the specific details. Then, let me know how you are personally impacted by it or how it affects you and why other people would care. Lastly, what would be the message you want to get across to viewers and how can you engage them with effective visuals. It really depends on the type of story though.

Trend: How does a local news story become a national one? Give us an example of what could make the cut at the national broadcast level.

Hoots: It really depends on the type of content it is. If it's light-hearted or something that is highlighting the good in the community, those stories can do well on social media. If it goes viral on social, news outlets will pick it up sometimes. Weather can make national headlines a lot. Recent tornadoes are a great example.

Another local story making national headlines recently was the men in Hixson who bought 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and sold them for a huge profit. The Tennessee Attorney General's Office investigated and shut it down. The New York Times did a piece on this and it gained a lot of attention.

Trend: What drew you to Chattanooga?

Hoots: I grew up coming here to visit my grandparents on Signal Mountain and played soccer games in Chattanooga, so I was pretty familiar with the city and always loved it. The job at WRCB ultimately led me here though.

Trend: You spent several years in Nashville. Tell us about some of your favorite interviews there.

Hoots: I worked for TNHighSchoolFootball.com in Nashville and had the chance to interview Trent Dilfer, Chad Pennington and Mark Brunell, all former NFL quarterbacks, and I love sports so that was a pretty cool opportunity for me.

Trend: The Chattanooga market is about one-sixth the size of Nashville. How would you compare the two markets? What surprised you about Chattanooga?

Hoots: I interned at WSMV in Nashville, so I was able to get a feel for a top 30 market before coming to Chattanooga. Both WSMV and WRCB are great stations. With Nashville being a bigger market, they have a few more resources. The workflow for a reporter is the same in both markets for the most part. The main difference is Nashville reaches a much larger audience.

I was surprised by how helpful everyone is in the newsroom. A lot of people will go out of their way to help you out when you're in a bind. It's nice to know your co-worker has your back.

Trend: Tell us about someone you’ve interviewed who made a lasting impression on you and why?

Hoots: I interviewed a trainer at D1 named Randy Webb. He's 80 years old and exercises every day. He had a really neat background and a lot of great advice. Once he went 10 days drinking only water. He taught me so many lessons about self-discipline and hard work that I will take with me throughout my life. We ended up talking for close to an hour. He was awesome!

Trend: Who are some people you sought out for advice along the way?

Hoots: I interned at 104.5 The Zone, a sports talk radio station in Nashville. I worked with the show the Midday 180 whose three hosts, Jonathan Hutton, Chad Withrow and Paul Kuharsky, have been so important to me in my development as a journalist. They have always given me great advice and supported me. I'll be forever grateful to Chad for giving me my first on-camera opportunities with TNHighSchoolFootball.com. There also several people in the Belmont Athletics department and at WSMV who have helped improve my skills as a journalist that I lean on as well.

Trend: What’s the best career advice you could give to a reporter starting to look for work?

Hoots: Work hard. I'm a big believer in the quote "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." If you work hard, you will get where you want to go. Also, take every opportunity you can get. It might seem like something so small and worthless, and you may feel awkward doing it and mess up a few times, but just push through. Make the most of the chances you are given, and you will find a job in news. 

Trend: Changing gears completely, how has COVID-19 changed TV operations and what lessons do you think we’ll be applying as we return to work eventually?

Hoots: The coronavirus has definitely changed the workflow at the station. Most employees have moved to remote work. We only have one anchor a show now and a few of them anchor from their homes. Several reporters are completely remote and never enter the building. They shoot, write and edit in the field and go live from their phones inside their homes. We changed our desks in the station to be further away from other co-workers. Obviously, we sanitize equipment after we use it and practice the safety measures that we preach. It's definitely different, but we're adjusting just fine. I think when we return to work, we'll be able to do more work from the field as a reporter since it's been going smoothly. I feel like it will change the way local news stations operate going forward.

Trend: What’s something you like to do outside of work (before COVID-19) that might surprise us? What do/did you miss most during our #StayHome time?

Hoots: For people who don't know me, I played college soccer so I like to try and still keep my foot on the ball. I play in a co-ed adult league, but the season is suspended right now. 

What I miss the most during #StayHome time is that Walmart is no longer open all night. They close at 8:30 p.m. I don't get off until after our 11 p.m. newscast, so when I need to pick something up afterward (usually ice cream or something sweet), they are closed. Of course, I understand why.