By James Herold
Juliet Dragos is a weekday evening anchor at WZZM News, Channel 13 in Grand Rapids. She has been at WZZM for 30 years. The Collegiate recently talked to her about her long journalism career, life and achievements. You can catch Dragos from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. weekday evenings.
Tell me about your life growing up? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was born a Steeler fan, (in a) blue collared town, just really hard union workers and railroad and steel mill, that’s what they were known for. My mother was a steel worker, my dad was an employee at a grocery store called Thorofare, and so we grew up in a nice little quiet town, nice neighborhood, where all the kids played outside, and we didn’t even have video games when I was really little. That’s where I kinda learned how to write and interview people because I got a tape recorder when I was in fourth grade..
Where did you go to school?
I went to college in Pittsburgh. I wanted to stay near my family, so it was downtown Pittsburgh. It’s called Point Park University, back then it was called Point Park College and I chose that college because one of my high school English teachers recommended it. She said they have a very good journalism program so I studied journalism and communications with an emphasis in broadcasting. That’s where I was lucky enough to learn about TV and broadcasting and then an internship at one of the local stations there in Pittsburgh.
What got you interested in Journalism?
When I was in fourth grade, my mother bought me a tape recorder, and so I would go around and interview all the kids and put music to it and thought I really like this. Then when we got back to school from the summer break, we had to write a paper about what we did that summer. Which, ironically, we went to Lake Michigan to visit friends in Michigan City, Indiana. So we went and visited these family members and I wrote about it. So I turned in my paper
and when the teacher, after she looked at all the assignments, she asked me to stand up, I stood up and I was like, Oh boy, probably in a lot of trouble right now, and she said, “Will you read your paper” and I did and she said “That was the best written paper of all the people in the class!, I think you should be a writer.” So that was it, the tape recorder and the paper, and I did not want to be an archaeologist anymore after that.
When did you join WZZM?
I came to WZZM, April 2 of 1991, which means it’s gonna be 31 years this April. When I came here for the interview…I never really thought I would come to Grand Rapids. I heard of Grand Rapids, I heard of you know, Lake Michigan. We grew up near Lake Erie, so we would visit that. When we were really little, we weren’t allowed to go in the lake because it was polluted. I didn’t realize that Lake Michigan was as beautiful as it was even though we went on that little vacation earlier when I was younger. Anyway, when I came here for the interview in February 1991, It was a cold winter, blustery day, it was snowy and windy. So the news director came and he picked me up and I thought, I’m not gonna, I know I’m not gonna even if they offer me a job, I know I won’t come here. So we talked and he took me around and went downtown, and back then it was not developed like it is now but I thought it was real cute. And then he took me out to Grand Haven, and I got to look at the Lakeshore, and when I saw the beach back then, you know in the winter time, you know when the caps freeze, the waves freeze? I looked at that beach and I thought, this is the most beautiful beach, I can not believe this is in Michigan. So the news director offered me the job before I got back on the plane at the end of the weekend and I said yes. That was 31 years ago.
Did you work anywhere prior to WZZM?
I did. In my last semester at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, I applied for an internship at the NBC affiliate there, and back then it was a very large television market. It was #12 in the country. So pretty big, I knew the city, I loved the local TV news. So I really learned so much and I would come in to work extra hours and a few things on my own time because I wanted to learn. People were very willing to teach me back then. So I did the internship, and I started trying to get a resume together and I knew this is what I want to do. So the day I got my cap and gown, to graduate from Point Park College, my phone rang, and I answered it was the News Director at this Pittsburgh station WPXI, and they said they have a job opening in production and would like to offer it to you. So I was offered a job before I even graduated from Point Park College. So I was so very fortunate and lucky, I learned how to do everything because I started as a production assistant, as a beginning writer, in a newsroom in the 12th market in the country.
What is your advice to people who want to get into journalism?
I have lots of advice. My first piece of advice is don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it because you can do it. I had people try to discourage me and say “Oh, everyone wants to be a reporter, everyone wants to be an anchor.”
That just made me want to do it even more. The other thing I would say is get that degree, because having a degree in whatever it is, journalism, broadcast, it doesn’t even have to be communications, it can be marketing, science. But having a degree is the key that will open the door to TV stations. I also advise that if you can get a job in any aspect of a TV news room, do it, because all you have to do is get your foot in the door…
Who is your inspiration?
I would have to say my mother is my inspiration because when she worked in the steel mill and my father worked in the grocery store business, they both lost their jobs, same time, in the early 80s and so we went from having a new car, nice TV, to having to go to the food bank and having to completely adjust our lives. What my mother did was go back to school, as she got a degree in childhood education and she became a preschool teacher! This was in her 50s so, she just never stopped learning and never thought discouraged and that’s what kind of fuels me as well.
What have you enjoyed about being a journalist/anchor?
Well, I love my job, and I love writing stories, and telling stories and knowing how to produce TV newscasts. The best part of my job is being able to use my job as a platform to get out into the community and help other people especially families and children. My passion is Special Olympics Michigan right now and I volunteered for them for 26+ years and … because I work for WZZM TV and because I’m an anchor and a reporter, I am able to tell their stories and help spread the message about inclusion and that everyone should be accepted and included. So my best part of my job is being able to help others in the community.
Favorite hobbies? Things you enjoy doing in Michigan?
Oh gosh, yes, well the summer in Michigan you just can’t beat. I love to be in the water, I love to swim, I like water aerobics, so I do alot of swimming in the summertime, in the winter time, it’s just, we do what we have to do in the winter time, I don’t spend a lot of time outside here in Michigan. With the pandemic, it’s totally changed our lives both at work and at home, so I would say that one of the things I like to do indoors is ballroom dance. I’m a ballroom dancer, competed in a local Dancing with the Stars competition years ago and that kind of gave me the bug, so I took lessons and I like to ballroom dance so that would be one of my favorite things to do in the winter and in the summertime I want to be in the water.
How long have you been in journalism and how has it changed over the years?
Oh my goodness, that is a great question. … When I started in journalism and everyone knew this, when you get your first job, you start small and work your way up. So that usually meant if you wanted to be on the air, your first on air job would be in small TV markets and you would move and move and move and move and till you get to a market that you wanted to, so that’s what I did from WPXI, they taught me how to report, I would go out with the reporters, I made a tape. From there I went to Huntsville, Alabama as a producer because I also learned how to produce, from there I went to the Quad Cities, where Rock Island, Illinois, was one of Quad Cities, and that was my first on air job and then from there, my friends back at WPXI in Pittsburgh saw a tape and offered me a job, so I finally got back to the 12th market. But in the 12th market, I was a little fish in a big sea, and I wanted to be a big fish in a smaller sea, so that’s when I ended up in Grand Rapids. Now college students are being able to come into larger markets to Grand Rapids, especially in the digital age because back then it was just TV, now it’s streaming, social media, broadcasting is just part of it. More people watch their news on their devices than on TV, so for younger people now it’s so much easier to get a job in local television just by having the skills, especially the digital skills and the writing.