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Tigard resident Jeff Gianola celebrates 30 years of Portland news

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - KOIN anchor Jeff Gianola chats with his co-host Kelley Day prior to the start of the evening newscast. The Tigard resident is celebrating his 30th year in Portland this year.It’s 4:25 p.m., and Jeff Gianola’s day is just getting started.

The 57-year-old newsman chats casually with colleagues as he takes his usual seat in front of a bank of cameras, getting ready for the evening newscast.

Behind him is the familiar blue and white backdrop seen in every broadcast, but outside the scope of the cameras, the inside of the studio is sparse. In one corner is a large green screen used for weather and traffic, in another are a few computers showing the latest weather. As the news gets underway, a handful of remote-controlled cameras silently glide across the cement floor.

It’s a scene few nightly news watchers ever see, but for Gianola, it’s home.

Next month, the Tigard resident will celebrate three decades covering the news in and around the Rose City. And Gianola says he has no thoughts of slowing down.

“I still have a lot of life left in me,” Gianola says.

‘Portland is unique’

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - KOIN digital director Jason Vosburgh goes over the stations online strategy with anchor Jeff Gianola, prior to the start of his afternoon broadcast.Gianola’s 30 years in Portland have been split between KATU, Portland’s ABC affiliate, and his current home at KOIN, where he has spent the past 15 years.

In a career that often requires hopping from market to market, Gianola says he has never wanted to leave Portland.

“That was a conscious decision to stay,” Gianola says.

There was a time, when he was being courted for jobs in Seattle and at CNN, but Gianola — who lives near Fowler Middle School with his wife Shannon and three children — says he was more interested in raising a family.

“At the time, I was one of the few anchors who had kids,” he says. “I wanted a family, and I liked Portland and thought that it was more important for me to stay. That ended up being a really good decision.”

Staying in the area gave his family the chance to put down roots and allowed him to become one of the most recognizable faces on local television news.

That’s quite an accomplishment in a city like Portland, Gianola says, where anchors and reporters can stay for years.

“Portland is unique,” Gianola says. “Most of the (anchors) have been here a long time. It’s hard for new anchors to get in.”

Earlier this year, fellow KOIN anchor Mike Donahue retired after more than 40 years in Portland, and KGW anchor Tracy Barry is celebrating her 30th year in Portland.

Being on television for so long, Gianola says he has made a connection with people.

“With me, I’m pretty much the same person on TV as off, so people really feel like they know me,” he says. “They’ll come sit next to me if we’re out eating ... If I’m walking up at Washington Square mall, I probably couldn’t go 5 feet without someone stopping and saying hi or wanting to talk to me or wanting me to meet who they are with. People are really, really nice. It’s great.”

‘Still had blood stains’

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - KOIN anchor Jeff Gianola edits a story before going  evening broadcast in the newsroom. Gianola said he strives to make every story he reads conversational. 'If I don't get it in the first sentence, I'm going back and changing stuff.'In 30 years in Portland, Gianola has covered countless stories, but the stories that have stuck with him the most over the years are ones that impacted people’s lives.

He remembers sleeping at KATU during the flooding in 1996, as the station worked around the clock to report the latest updates. He recalls going undercover as a homeless person in the 1980s to learn about the plight of the city’s transient population.

But one of the stories that affected Gianola the most was one he did in 1994 to remember the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

Gianola says it was one of the most emotional stories he ever produced.

“I found local Oregon guys, including a guy in Tigard, who had been on Omaha beach,” he recalls. “These guys are crying and talking about what happened to them. One guy brought a diary and read from it and then says, ‘It was right here that a rocket hit us, and my friend died.’ He was reading his friend’s diary, and he hadn’t opened it since that day. It still had blood stains on it.”

Gianola is also passionate about his Wednesday’s Child Foundation, a nonprofit group he founded to help local foster children.

Wednesday’s Child has become a recurring segment during Gianola's newscasts over the past three decades. Gianola says it is important to tell the stories of local children looking for stable homes

“Telling their stories on the news has been amazing,” he says. “We made a big commitment to those kids.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden recognized Gianola’s work with foster children by naming him to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Angels in Adoption program.

Putting a kid on the air

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - KOIN anchor Jeff Gianola watches director Tom Westarp prepare for the evenings news broadcast.Growing up in a poor family in San Diego, Gianola says he knew from an early age he wanted to work in television.

“There was a television station near our house, and I had a newspaper route that would deliver the evening paper,” Gianola says. “I would go and raid their ice cream machine, go to the viewing room and watch the news. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Gianola worked for stations in San Diego and Santa Barbara before coming to Portland in 1983, at the age of 28.

“At the time, I thought I was old,” he says. “I had wanted to make anchor by the time I was 22. But I look back and, jeez, it was like putting a kid on the air.”

Gianola says a lot of his success comes down to luck and hard work. “I didn’t have the skills or the schooling or the money that other people did, so I just worked my tail off. I just loved it. When you love something, you really like (doing) it.”

Like a family

The newsroom is like a family, Gianola says, and the relationship between co-anchors can be a lot like a marriage.

“You spend almost more time with them than you do with your family,” he says.

Before setting foot in the studio, Gianola calls both his news director and nightly news co-anchor Kelley Day twice to learn what the stories will be that evening.

“Jeff is one of the best,” says KOIN assistant news director Jason Kravarik. “I have never seen anyone who is able to walk off the set in the middle of the weather forecast and buzz around the newsroom and be back on set by the time the weather’s over. He has been in my office talking to me, and I look up, and he’s back on TV.”

It’s not uncommon for Gianola to dance behind the scenes during meteorologist Bruce Sussman’s weather forecast, trying to make him laugh.

“We give each other crap all the time during the commercials,” Gianola says. “Most people don’t see that.”

Gianola says he strives to make his newscasts less of a lecture of the day’s news and more of a conversation with viewers. “You have to be extremely conversational and clear. When I read a story to myself, if I don’t get it in the first sentence, I’m going back and changing stuff.”

Gianola says he makes a point to step out from behind the anchor’s desk to write a few investigative reporting stories of his own every year.

“They are stories that really matter to me,” he says. “As long as I have that passion, I’m going to push myself to do that because that’s what I got into this for.”

“My mind is always going with ideas of stories we should be doing,” he says. “The day that stops, that’s when I’m done — when I don’t feel it anymore.”




Local Weather

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Tigard

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Humidity: 63%

Wind: 7 mph

  • 25 Jul 2014

    Partly Cloudy 80°F 56°F

  • 26 Jul 2014

    Sunny 82°F 56°F