Catching up with former WISN-TV reporter Ben Tracy
Ben Tracy was born in St. Paul, Minn., but he graduated from Marquette University and worked as a reporter at WISN-TV and a public relations professional at his alma mater, too.
Tracy left Milwaukee in 2004 to work at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and as of last December is a national CBS News correspondent. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the western United States, primarily for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and The Early Show.
We caught up the former Milwaukeean and five-time Emmy award-winner recently to ask him about his time here, his current gig in L.A. and a few other things.
OnMilwaukee.com: What do you miss most about Milwaukee and least?
Ben Tracy: There are so many things. I miss how easy it was to step out of the front door of my condo on the East Side and be running on a path along Lake Michigan five minutes later. In L.A., we have great weather all year long for running but unless you are at the beach, you have to run alongside the traffic and inhale exhaust!
I miss the great vibe the different neighborhoods of Milwaukee have ... from the Third Ward to the East Side. I miss living in a city small enough that I truly felt a part of it. I miss Jo-Cat's Pub, Alterra on the Lake, Botanas and Marquette basketball. Most of all, I miss the people. From my friends to my colleagues at Marquette to the divorcees perched on the corner of the bar at Victor's!
OMC: What, if anything, frustrated you during your time in Milwaukee? What about L.A.?
BT: The lack of awareness of how great a city Milwaukee really is -- from both outsiders and those who live there. I hope the inferiority complex is easing as the city continues to improve.
However, I do believe the one real obstacle to Milwaukee's growth is transit. When you travel the country and see how far ahead other cities are, it should scare people in Milwaukee. However, both the leadership (most of it, at least) and a good chunk of the population seem indifferent. Sometimes making a city better involves spending money.
OMC: How's the West Coast living treating you?
BT: So far, I am really enjoying Los Angeles. More than I thought I would, actually. I had never been to L.A. before I accepted the job and my vision of the city was what you see on TV: insane traffic, horrendous smog and really shallow people. All of those things exist. However, you learn how and when to use the freeways, the smog is not as bad as it looks (non-existent in the winter), and the people are actually pretty cool, because nobody is really from L.A.
In fact, I have already met two people from Milwaukee! The best part of living here is the sheer size and scope of the city. There is always a new place to see. New restaurants open every day. The beach is amazing and the weather sure is nice in January. There is, however, a lack of a sense of place. It is true that large parts of L.A. are just giant strip malls. When you find a neighborhood with character, you go back there a lot.
Living on the West Coast in general is amazing. In less than four hours, I can drive to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, etc.
OMC: Compare and contrast your current national media job with your local TV job(s). Do you have a preference?
BT: They both are about finding the most compelling stories and telling them in an engaging way. However, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" does open doors. We cover 12 states out west and get to travel pretty extensively. Newsmakers want to talk to us because our show reaches more than 6 million people each night (I try not to think about that during live-shots). What I miss about local news is the connection you have to the city / area you are covering. It's impossible to feel that you really know the cares and concerns of the nation as a whole. Locally, especially when I worked in the Twin Cities -- my hometown -- you feel as though you really know the people because you are one of them.
OMC: What's next for you? Goals, aspirations?
BT: What I am doing now was my ultimate career goal back in college, so I am just enjoying the ride. I just turned 32 so I probably need to figure out a new goal, though. Perhaps the head of a new transit authority in Milwaukee developing a viable rail system?
OMC: What stories have been your favorites to cover? What are looking forward to?
BT: My first big assignment for CBS was covering last year's Super Bowl. That was pretty amazing. I got to actually sit in the stands and watch the game for free and then interview the players on the field. I also snagged both Eli and Peyton Manning by waiting for them outside of the locker room for an hour. That's one of those moments when you remind yourself that you get paid to do this job.
I have also done profiles of Suze Orman, Ed Begley Jr. and Steve Carell. I love "The Office," so that one was very cool. He's a great guy and yes, he is funny in person.
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In 1971, Atlanta voted on paying a penny more in sales tax to fund rapid transit for four counties. It needed to pass in the two counties with the most population, while the other two counties were not required, although it would have been nice for then to go along too. There was a recount, but it pasted in those two big counties. The following year one of the other two counties tried again, but it it did not pass there. The traffic is heavy in Atlanta, but it is over five million people and the rapid transit carries many people who would have an even harder time getting around if they did not have the rapid transit. Since one track of trains can carry as many people as 20 lanes of cars, it cost much less than building all those highways. These days the government can NOT go into a neighborhood and tear down that many houses, apartments, and businesses to build that many highways. Look at how people in Europe are able to get around on trains. The longer cities wait to build these trains, the more costs go up, and the more people wait in traffic even longer than before.
Thanks for the article on Ben! He was a definite loss to Milwaukee when he left! I miss him from the old YPM days! Glad to see he's doing so well!
I like his transit perspective. It is clear we need to improve, and sometimes an outside voice is the one worth listening to. I hope the powers that be read this interview. And the victor's line is priceless.
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