By Adina Solomon, SPJ Georgia member and co-founder of SPJ Georgia
Chris Monroe began his career on the radio at 17 years old with WSB radio in Atlanta.
In the 25 years since he first worked as a music researcher for the radio, Monroe fulfilled his love for cars, planes and trains by becoming a traffic reporter. He now works for Salem Media Group, including as a traffic reporter 104.7 The Fish.
In his free time, Monroe founded the Gift of Music Foundation, a non-profit that provides instruments, grants and education for young musicians and music programs.
Monroe spoke with SPeachJ about his career in traffic reporting,
Describe your typical workday.
Traffic reporting has changed a lot of in the past two decades I’ve done it. A typical day now is basically sitting in front of a computer for six, seven, eight hours with very little movement. Two hours will go by, and I’ll figure I really got to go to the bathroom or get coffee or something. Especially during the rush hour, you’re so tied to everything. I work out of our traffic command center, which is at the Salem studios here in Atlanta.
Most of my workflow is really based upon three main components. One of them is really computer-driven now because I have access to all the live DOT cameras. There’s hundreds, if not thousands, of live cameras now that we’re able to access. There’s a lot of real time traffic information sources, not the least of which is utilizing mapping technology and that kind of thing. The other part of that would be we still listen to the police and fire scanners. That’s still a big part of what we do, which I have done my whole career for gathering news, so I’m still a real big breaking news buff when it comes to spot news and breaking local developing stories. So obviously, you hear a little bit of everything when you’re monitoring five, six, seven, right police and fire channels at one time. And then the other, which is not really as big as it used to be, are phone calls from people out there on the roads.
Do you compete with apps such as Waze where people self-report traffic?
We’ve actually worked with companies like Waze and that kind of thing, and it’s certainly a part of what we do, but a lot of what Waze does is amateur reports from different people all over the place, and there’s so much information to sift through because on a Waze-type app, you’re getting reports of there’s a cop here and there’s a piece of metal on the road here and there’s so much. It’s so much information that’s an overload-type of scenario where my expertise comes in. I’m able to pare that down into what’s important.
While those apps are out there, it’s still dangerous and illegal for these people to be using a lot of that stuff behind the wheel. That’s where radio traffic reports still have a very big place for people commuting, especially in the car.
What lessons have you learned during your career?
You just never stop learning – that’s the one thing that for me, you kind of get into this at a young age, and you think you know a lot, but you really don’t. And the one thing that I’ve always tried to strive for in my career is to always look for ways to be better – better for my team, better personally. I do a lot of research of other markets. I listen. It used to be a lot of fun to listen to other traffic reports at night on the big AM stations where you could just skip in…I would do a lot of research to listen to how other reporters did things, and I still do that. I still listen to my own tapes. I still air-check. I still am always critical and always looking for better ways to be a reporter. So if I had one thing that I could tell anybody in the business, it’s just don’t stop looking for ways to tell the story better and to be a better overall journalist and reporter.
Why are you a member of SPJ Georgia?
I’ve always known about SPJ, and again, I think it goes back to I wanted to be more affiliated with other broadcasters that share my profession because we really are kind of a very small group of people; whether it’s written word or whether it’s broadcast media, we’re really kind of a small group of people. The industry is changing so rapidly now. You’re watching the way people absorb and use information differently, and I knew it would be a good resource that not only could I learn but maybe I could help other journalists in and around the Atlanta area and the state of Georgia.
Here’s another reason for joining SPJ: I would really like to see the ethics of journalism kind of pulled back the way that they used to be. Today, there’s a lot of fuzzy, gray area in a lot of reporting. The whole basis of journalism is to present a story, is to tell people what happened – the what, where, when, why and how. Let’s face it, we all have personal biases one way or another on certain things, but it’s our job as journalists to bring people the accurate story and to adhere to that code of ethics, and that’s one thing that I really believe in.