Shirley Min joined WHYY-TV and its weekly news magazine, “First,” in January 2011. Shirley, her husband, Neal, and toddler son, Levi, live in North Wilmington.
DT: Tell us about your family.
SM: My son, Levi, is 19 and a half months. My husband, Neal, is in the National Guard and is in Kuwait right now. So it’s been fun dealing with a toddler on my own. I give a lot of credit to single parents out there, that’s for sure.
DT: When does your husband come back?
SM: September. He left Nov. 30.
DT: How do you get through something like that?
SM: You just do. You can’t look at the big picture. You’re just so busy anyway, so you just get through one day at a time.
DT: You’re originally from Radnor. What was your experience with Delaware before you moved here?
SM: When I was in Radnor growing up, I was in high school and college. So I was at a selfish age. You don’t know much outside of your own world. (laughs) The only thing I knew about Delaware is that there was tax-free shopping there and that it was south of Pennsylvania.
DT: You were in Raleigh, N.C., before coming to Delaware?
SM: My husband—boyfriend at the time—was stationed at Fort Bragg, which is in Fayetteville, N.C. We had been doing long distance for so long. My job in Philly wasn’t really going anywhere, so I just figured, Let me go to North Carolina and be closer, in the same state for a change, with my boyfriend and see what I can find in that state. I worked traffic in Raleigh and eventually became a reporter down there.
DT: You had also done traffic at Channel 29?
SM: Yes. And John Mussoni (now her boss at WHYY) was my boss there, too.
DT: Do you miss doing the traffic report?
SM: No. (laughs) No, I don’t. Party of why I also wanted to work at WHYY was, because not only is my family here, and my in-laws live in Wilmington. So part of us wanting to come back home was that the schedule at WHYY was nice. When I was doing traffic, I was getting up every morning as early as 1:30 in the morning. I had been doing that shift for so long, I had had enough. Neal wanted to get out of the active duty Army and we wanted to go closer to home and start a family. That was a big part of why I decided to come back here.
DT: You’ve been here about three years. Do you feel like a Delawarean now?
SM: I definitely do. One, it helps that I live in the community that I report on. I really like Delaware. It’s very family friendly. It’s very community oriented. For me, Delaware does not seem pretentious. That’s what I like best about it. People are casual and pretty easygoing. From a reporter’s standpoint, sometimes I go to the grocery store and sometimes I see Gov. Markell, or you see Sen. Tom Carper at the Y working out right next to you. I just never experienced anything like that. In North Carolina, I had to jump through 20 hoops just to talk to then-Gov. Beverly Perdue at the time. It’s just really different.
DT: Do people recognize you on the street or bother you when you go out to dinner?
SM: Generally not. Some people recognize me at Panera Bread when I’m out to lunch. But I don’t get recognized very often. When I do, people will just ask, “Aren’t you on WHYY?” or, “I think I see you on television,” and that’s the extent of it.
DT: No autograph requests?
SM: No autographs, no pictures. Nothing. For being on TV, I still have a good deal of anonymity. Overall, I must be pretty bland. (laughs)
DT: What’s your favorite part of your job?
SM: It’s not predictable. There are days that I sit at a desk in front of the computer. But the majority of the time I travel throughout the state, meeting people, doing different things and then the next thing you know it’s time to go home. I’m all over the place. I get to see different parts of the state. I see parts of the state that my husband, who grew up in Delaware, hasn’t seen. That is what I really like about it. Just getting to meet people and talk to people and learn interesting things about Delaware. I am fascinated by how much I know about Delaware. It’s a small state, but it’s fun. You pick up all these little tidbits and facts just from talking to people. I think there’s something to be said for when you live in a state that you know so much about, it gives you that sense of ownership. I think that that’s what builds community. You have pride in where you are. You know what’s going on around you. There’s a lot of value in that.
DT: What are some of your favorite places in the state?
SM: A lot of them are food places. (laughs) Is that wrong? I love Lewes. I have a lot of fun in Rehoboth. The Leg Hall area is gorgeous. A lot of people, including my husband, I don’t think he’s ever been to Leg Hall. It surprises me since he grew up in Wilmington. Of course, Wilmington—walking along the Brandywine, downtown, Trolley Square is fun. It was probably more fun when I was a little younger. I like being able to walk places. If I had to pick one spot it would probably be Lewes. It’s family friendly and you have the beaches. And I love it at Cape Henlopen State Park. It’s gorgeous and the beaches are awesome.
DT: What are some of the tougher aspects of your job?
SM: Especially now, since it’s just me for the most part, stories break whenever they feel like. A lot of the big stories tend to break Friday at 4 in the afternoon. For me that’s hard because I want to do my job and I want to be committed to the story, but also in the back of my head, I know that my daycare closes at 5:45. That unpredictability that I noted as a positive is also a negative. Especially when you are single-parenting it. It’s really hard for me to find a negative. It’s not really so bad at WHYY, but at my past job for a commercial television state, a lot of the schedules can be not so family friendly. When I was on the morning shift, you miss breakfast with your kids. You pretty much are exhausted all the time. At night, you miss dinners with your kid and you can’t put them to bed. These are issues, the down sides of the field that I experienced before Levi, so I couldn’t imagine living my life that way now.
DT: Do you enjoy interviewing people or do you just pretend to enjoy it?
SM: (laughs) It depends on who I’m interviewing and what the subject is. For the most part, I enjoy it. It depends on the subject. For example, we were doing the Delaware Art Museum story (about the museum possibly selling some of its collection to pay off debt). It’s not that I don’t like interviewing people, but there is kind of an unspoken pressure because I am trying to learn as much as I can about what is going on. And generally when you have stories that are somewhat controversial…people with the art museum and then people who have an opposing view, in this case the art museum directors association—they are suspicious of what your motive is, so there’s a little bit of a tension. I’ve done stories back in the day when you’re covering fires or car accidents or, god forbid, deaths in the family, as your job, you have to approach people on the worst days of their lives and then asking them to talk to a reporter, who they don’t know from Adam, about what happened. Those interviews I don’t like at all.
DT: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve done in Delaware through the years?
SM: One story does stand out and I think it’s probably because I have that military connection. I had done a story with Nancy Lynch. She was a reporter for The News Journal back in the day. She had put together a book called “The Vietnam Mailbag.” Back during the Vietnam War, she had put this column together called “The Vietnam Mailbag.” It was all the correspondence she had developed between her and deployed soldiers from Delaware. We had done a story with her about her book that she had finally put together. It was this labor or love that she had started. Back when she was writing her column, she had promised all of these veterans she would collate all of these letters into a coffee table book. So she had done it. We decided to do a story on it. I really liked it because of the military angle and I just respected her tenacity and that sort of commitment of following through on something she promised. Because for me, if you say you’re going to do something, you’d better do it. Follow-through means everything to me. And to see her do that from start to finish was just amazing. And these letters were so cool. You see some of these original letters and writings from these guys who were in the weeds in Vietnam and still making connections back to Delaware. I felt a lot of pressure putting that story together. There were moments where I was like, Oh my gosh. Why did I do this story? It’s so hard. I can’t do it justice. But it was done. Still, I think about it. And I have a copy of the book at my house.
DT: At one time people were questioning WHYY’s commitment to Delaware and Delaware news. Do you still hear that? How would you respond?
SM: I would say change is really hard for a lot of people to accept. But that doesn’t mean that WHYY isn’t committed to Delaware. My defense to that argument is “First” is the only show on WHYY that is dedicated to one state and one state’s issues only. For me, because I wasn’t around during the “Delaware Tonight” days, I don’t know what that was like, but I do know that the stories that we are doing on our show are things that more than make up for the fact that we may not have a daily news show anymore. We’re a lot more in-depth and it’s just more intelligent programming, in my opinion.
DT: You seem to have a mix of hard-hitting pieces and lighter subject matter.
SM: That’s what we try to do. We do still hear, “We miss ‘Delaware Tonight.’ We miss having a daily news outlet.’ Unfortunately, technology works against us. What we’re trying to do is, if we can’t give you the news on TV every night…, which, frankly, who is always home at 5:30 every night, and ready to watch TV? For me, sometimes I’m home at 5:30 and when I am, I am scrambling to make dinner for my family or running errands and I’m not watching TV. So that’s why we have our online site. We’re trying to keep up with technology by providing people with news that they want, daily stuff, on our NewsWorks website.
DT: So since you’re shooting from the hip—got any good gossip from the set? Do you guys all get along?
SM: When I first started working here, Mark (co-host Mark Eichmann) was very much like, You are my co-worker and as soon as I leave this office building, that’s it. We talk the next day when you come in at 9. I will say after three years he’s become a very good friend of mine. We don’t really hang out outside of work, but I am making plans to go visit his church and we share pictures of our kids. So we do have that camaraderie. Nichelle (co-host Nichelle Polston) has been here two years. We don’t hang our or go out for drinks or anything. I think we have an overall friendly demeanor with each other. No catfights or anything. (laughs) I think we have our moments, but I think that’s anywhere.
DT: What are the three biggest Delaware stories in the news these days?
SM: In my world, I think the top three are obviously the ongoing issues with the Newark Data Center. Maybe the Delaware Art Museum, just because I’m in it. The Wilmington Cure Violence story.