Bringing an unconventional voice to Richmond television
By Bill Bevins
WTVR-CBS 6’s ponytailed, bearded, 6-foot-9 reporter Mark Holmberg has brought a fresh voice and unique perspective to Richmond news. Holmberg, 55, still works the “trenches,” covering stories some journalists might avoid. A former Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter and columnist, Holmberg was a 2003 finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Commentary Journalism. He also has been a bricklayer.
We talked in the Lite-98 studio. Here are excerpts.
Q: WHEN YOU LEFT THE TIMES-DISPATCH TO GO TO WORK FOR TV 6, I THINK YOU DESCRIBED YOURSELF AS BEING VERY UNCOMFORTABLE AT THE BEGINNING. HOW’S IT GOING THESE, WHAT IS IT, SIX YEARS LATER?
A: No, it’s just four years. The first year was like a slow death, very painful. It was almost like I was at a disadvantage for having the print experience because it’s just such a different way of thinking about things, about going about it. I was terrible on camera, felt uncomfortable. I think the people I was working with felt uncomfortable. But once I started shooting the video – and I took a lot of my own pictures at the Times-Dispatch –it started making sense. And I’ve started writing less and less and started letting the video do more of the talking.
Q: HAS THE UNCONVENTIONAL THAT YOU BRING TO CHANNEL 6 – YOU DON’T FIT THE MOLD, YOU DON’T HAVE THE PERFECT ANCHOR HAIR-DO, YOU DON’T HAVE THE PERFECT CLOTHES, YOUR STYLE IS A LITTLE BIT GRUFF FROM TIME TO TIME – HAS THAT UNCONVENTIONALNESS, IS THAT WHY YOU’RE THERE? AND HAS IT HELPED OR HURT YOU, OR BOTH?
A: Well, I’m sure that’s why I’m there. They looked at what I was doing with the newspaper, which was unconventional, kind of off the beaten track, in the trenches, whatever you want to call it, and they wanted me to do that there. You know, a 55-year-old guy that’s not made for television; the little bit leaner version of Andy Rooney maybe. Could I do a regular reporting gig with the tie and a nice haircut? Maybe, but that’s just not me. I think they hired me to be me and they’ve never encouraged me to do anything else. I feel very grateful – I was planning on leaving town; I was planning on going to Central America and try to establish myself with the Sandinistas or at a surf camp or something like that.
Q: THE STORY I’VE HEARD ABOUT YOU IS THAT YOU WERE HIRED AS A GIMMICK AND IT WAS A SHORT-TERM THING. AND MAYBE FOR ONE RATINGS PERIOD.
A: Well, yeah. I’m not sure how to say it. Peter Maroney, who was running the station at the time, offered me the job. I’m going to have to pause my brain here for a second and remember the guy who actually contacted me; he was the news director at the time. What a wonderful guy, Rick Howard. He’s a surfer dude from Oregon, and he read my stuff in the newspaper and he offered me the job on a case-by-case basis. And initially, the deal was, I would come over there and do one commentary, investigative, slice-of-life piece a week, just one, and just take it one at a time to see how it went. And, like I said, I thought the first year was ghastly, but they seemed to like it OK. I think I have a little name recognition in town, I think they were hoping to use that to boost their ratings a little bit. But also I think they wanted to try something different. Rick Howard was very much an adventurer, and so is Peter Maroney, who’s in Denver right now.
Q: YOU’RE a GREAT STORYTELLER, BOTH IN PRINT AND NOW WITH VIDEO. DO YOU PREFER ONE?
A: I think I was always a visual storyteller. I think I’ve taught a lot of classes, college and high school, on writing. And if you write visually, so people can read what you say and then picture it, if you can do that, you’ll be a great writer. You’ll have a good career. And I think that whatever success I had as a writer was built on that, and to transition over to video, where you’re actually showing stuff, like I said, it was painful at first, but now it feels so natural. I have to write for the web, I’ve done some freelance writing since then, but I find it to be painful. I wrote for 21 years, I was done with it. I hope to write books, resume my writing career. But at this point, no, just give me a camera. I can do that.
Q: I UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE A BAND, OR YOU PLAY IN A BAND.
A: Well, I’ve played in a couple of bands. I play punk metal, kind of, just slasher stuff. Just a lot of fun energy, just try to keep it fast and simple. Johnny Cash said that the simpler it is, the harder it hits, and I like the stuff that hits pretty hard. Right now, they were so gracious to let us build a little studio room in there [at the station]. There’s several very talented musicians at the TV station – I’m not one of them but I do like playing – and we go over there frequently after work, midnight, one, two o’clock in the morning and we’re out there slashing it up.
Q: SO A GUY WHO STARTED OUT AS A BRICK MASON ENDS UP TELLING ALL THESE GREAT STORIES. THANK YOU FOR KEEPING UP THE GOOD WORK.
A: Thank you. Same to you.