When photojournalist Jeff Jewell left Milwaukee to take a new job in Detroit, his soon-to-be fellow crew members at WDIV-TV knew they would be getting both a creative shooter and a devoted union man. Sunny Shields, a Local 600 NEB member and the shop steward at WDIV, reached out to Jewell immediately to gauge his interest in joining the local.
“It wasn’t a tough sell,” said Jewell.
“I think I talked to Sunny before I even talked to the news director,” said Jewell, who started his new job at WDIV on January 10 and joined Local 600 about a month later. “As soon as he called and left a message, I thought, ‘I’ll bet this is the union rep,’ and as soon as we touched base, I told him, ‘Whatever you need, I’m in.’”
Jewell had been a member of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) during his years at WJBK in Detroit. When he left Detroit to follow his wife to a job at WITI in Milwaukee, Jewell brought his passion for union solidarity along with him.
“I had been a NABET member in Detroit, and happily so,” said Jewell, a Grand Rapids native. “Wisconsin is also a right-to-work state, and there’s not a lot of union activity. After I had been there for about a year, I became painfully aware of some of the issues that I felt like NABET or another union could have addressed, but we just didn’t have the resources.”
Seeing the need, Jewell began talking to coworkers and led the campaign to bring NABET to the station. The effort took more than a year, but a close election in favor of unionizing was certified about two weeks before Jewell decamped for his new post at WDIV.
Jeff Jewell with wife Hannah Saunders Jewell.
Now he’s back in his home state of Michigan, where he learned the trade and covered such events as the bankruptcy of the city of Detroit and the 2016 presidential election. During his previous stint in Detroit, Jewell earned three Emmy Awards for features and investigative pieces.
“I’ve gotten to do some pretty big events in sports, covering the Lions, the Tigers and Pistons and interviewing the governor one-on-one on a couple of occasions,” said Jewell. “I like being at the center of what’s going on.”
Jewell didn’t necessarily know from the start of his career that TV news would be his path. Some 15 years ago, he was a recent college graduate and was floating around as a freelancer. He found a trade school, the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, and enrolled in the nine-month hands-on program that helped him learn the trade. It led to an internship at FOX station WJBK in Detroit.
“I came in and hustled my way into doing what I do now,” said Jewell. “From that job, I started doing copywriting for newscasts. Around that time, studios were getting their websites up and running, and I realized that would be the future. So, I transitioned over to that side of things partly out of a desire to shoot and because there were going to be some opportunities to get out and create some web-only content.
“I jumped at the opportunity, and I was on that team for a while, but I just kept asking over and over if I could get out and actually shoot for news,” he continued. “Eventually, the news director gave me the opportunity.”
Jewell and his wife, Hannah, are the parents of two daughters, age 4 and 1. He also has a 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. While Jewell is entrenched in news, he’s also a confirmed film buff who has made a couple of short films that have played in local festivals.
“For a brief period in Michigan, we had a tax incentive to bring more Hollywood movies to the area,” said Jewell. “This was around the time of the financial crisis, when a lot of the auto workers were trying to figure out what to do, and they were going to retrain everybody to be movie people. I got involved in a few movie shoots in town, thinking I might eventually work my way up the chain to do something like that.
“But then, the tax incentive ended, the governor was not reelected, and the new governor canceled that. Around that time, I thought I’d better get into this news thing full-time. It’s more steady.”