CNN Chicago Bureau Senior Producer Bill Kirkos always knew he wanted to go into the news business. The Loyola alum never wavered in his decision to pursue journalism. And he knew Chicago was the place he wanted to do it.
“I knew in high school that I wanted to cover the news, and I think I got that instilled in me from my father who was a news junkie,” Kirkos said. “I grew up watching the Big Three network newscasts every day at 5:30 p.m. with him back before cable news network were really a mainstay. That transferred into college, I declared my major freshman year: Communications, journalism.”
Kirkos’ passion for the news translates every day into his work and his colleagues take notice.
“He’s a great worker,” Ted Rowlands, a CNN Chicago correspondent, said. “He enjoys his home life with his wife and two kids. He does a good job at work. He’s always in a good mood which helps, especially when working all hours of the night.”
Rowlands and Kirkos have known each other for five years. They’ve worked closely for the past two-and-a-half years, covering stories such as the Jodi Arias trial in Arizona. Arias was convicted of first degree murder in 2013 for killing her boyfriend.
Kirkos’ very first journalism experience started at Loyola University Chicago, where he graduated in 1990 with a degree in communications and a concentration in journalism.
While at Loyola, Kirkos wrote for the school newspaper, the “Loyola Phoenix.”
But it was broadcasting that caught his attention. He also worked at Loyola’s radio station, WLUW 88.7.
“When I was at the station, WLUW was the second most-listened to college radio station in the United States behind only, I think, Syracuse,” Kirkos said. “And it was a top-40 format back then, and it was really DJ and personality-driven with students being all the D.J.s.”
After he graduated from Loyola in 1990, Kirkos had trouble finding a full-time job initially. Instead, he found an unpaid internship at CNN Chicago and spent four to five months at the station.
“Having that internship is the best thing I ever did because it directly led to my [journalistic] ability,” Kirkos said. “It just gave me so much experience and let me meet a lot of people who I ended up working with down the road.”
About one year after that internship ended, Kirkos got his first paying job at the local Fox affiliate in Chicago. WFLD, was expanding their morning news programming, and included Kirkos as a new full-time production assistant. He spent five years at that station before he decided to move on.
In 1999, Kirkos moved to Dallas working for Fox News Channel as a national field producer. Kirkos covered news across the southern region of the U.S. His duties included covering the campaign of then-Gov. George W. Bush on his first run for president.
“That was also an incredible experience to cover a presidential campaign,” Kirkos said.
After 18 months in Dallas, he came back home to Chicago.
“I think Chicago is a fantastic news town,” Kirkos said. “I love living in the city. I’m a proud born-and-raised Chicagoan. I think covering news in Chicago and the Midwest is the most exciting thing I could ever do with my job and my career. I’m very happy here; I’ve had opportunities to move out east, but I’ve never wanted to leave the Chicago news arena.”
But sometimes big stories require him to leave town. In 2001, Kirkos covered the biggest story of his career—and hopes no story ever comes as close in terms of scope and tragedy.
At the time, Kirkos was working in local news once again with a local Fox affiliate, WFLD as a field producer.
“I was sitting at my desk and watching the images come down on the TV like all the rest of us in the newsroom,” Kirkos said. “As soon as we saw the second plane hit the [World Trade Center], our station management decided to send a reporter and team to New York to cover it, and I was the producer that went. I spent a week there covering 9/11 which was a massive story, the biggest story I’ve every covered in my life.”
Kirkos’ responsibility was preparing for the 9 p.m. news each day for the Fox affiliate, WFLD.
“We spent the day gathering elements and interviews and we got to a couple blocks within Ground Zero,” Kirkos said. “We had a relationship with a volunteer fireman who was helping clean up at Ground Zero and took photographs for us.
“Because of the impact on America and we knew it would be a permanent, landscape altering event, that’s the biggest story I’ve ever covered”
After years covering daily news, Kirkos made the decision to purse another passion of his.
“I always wanted to produce and shoot my own documentary and in 2005 I finally decided to do that,” Kirkos said.
Kirkos quit his job, bought a camera, some microphones, and with several cameramen friends’ help, he shot a one-hour documentary. In one year, Kirkos shot his entire documentary, traveled to more than 10 states for research, edited it.
The environmental documentary, entitled “Trash,” which aired on PBS stations across the nation and Kirkos it played in four film festivals across the nation, including the Newport Beach Film Festival in California.
“I think that the most enjoyable professional experience of my life was shooting ‘Trash,’ producing ‘Trash,’” Kirkos said. “It was a completely a self-funded, self-thought of, self-created project and I just loved it. I loved the people I met and I love environmental issues and I really loved exploring that issue of waste and overconsumption in the U.S. and its effects on the environment.”
But after a stint at independent filmmaking, Kirkos got back into the network news business. He returned to CNN, and his current job, in 2007. As a senior producer at CNN, Kirkos isn’t tied to one topic to report on. Instead, he calls himself a general assignment producer, so he reports on a wide variety of news stories across the region. Recently he’s covered the record-breaking cold in Minneapolis. He also interviewed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel about Chicago’s crime numbers at the end of 2013. In CNN’s structure, Chicago is a part of the western region, so Kirkos primarily covers stories within that region.
“I’m pretty much sent [out] on any given day a story between Chicago and Los Angeles or Portland,” Kirkos said. “The whole western region is part of our territory and I cover everything. Politics, campaigns, plane crashes, train accidents, human-interest stories. Anything we decide at CNN should make our air.”
As for what’s next, Kirkos said, “I don’t know where the future will take me,” Kirkos said. “I have a family and I can’t predict the future or the changes in our business so I can’t rule out moving again one day depending on how television and the news business evolves but right now I’m very happy and very content living and working in Chicago covering national news.”
By Emily Brown