Reporter reflects on famous Black Friday broadcast one year later
On a shivering November morning in northern Indiana, WNDU’s Joshua Short, a reporter at the time, stood outside of University Park Mall at 5:13 a.m. Even in 2017, he still expected there to be crowded lines of people bundled up as they anxiously anticipated the opening of the mall doors at 6 a.m. for Black Friday sales. However, all he could see were Christmas lights, red brick walls and a scarcity of vehicles in the parking lot. No one was there — or at least no one was outside.
That’s when his producer told him that he had three minutes — not six — to prepare to be live on-air.
“Jason, there’s nobody around me right now,” Josh replied.
“It’s only a minute,” replied his producer, Jason. “Just ad lib, and do what you do best.”
For one minute and eight seconds, that’s what he did.
“You know what, Alex,” he told the news anchor during the live shot, “I thought I was going to be inside and apparently I’m stuck outside. … I got up at three o’clock this morning expecting to do my first ever Black Friday, and ain’t nobody here. I am literally upset right now…”
He ended the segment by walking off camera, while Alex fought back laughter.
When Josh got back to the station, the anchors, producers and other reporters were giggling and cracking jokes. He was surprised his co-workers were making it out to be a much bigger deal than he thought it was. A little worried, he went to speak to the station’s general manager, just to be safe.
“I said, ‘look, I’m sorry, I was just goofing off,’” Josh says.
“He said, ‘I thought it was great. In fact, I think it’s going to go viral,” Josh says. “[I said,] Well, I don’t think that, but thank you. I appreciate that.”
Josh was wrong, and he knew it as soon as Twitter sent him a notification alerting him that he received an ‘abnormal’ number of messages.
His off-the-cuff antics resulted in a clip with more than 1.2 million views on Twitter and another 700,000 on Facebook, earning recognition from several celebrities and TV personalities with blue check marks next to their names.
“Josh was fresh out of you know whats,” wrote Jemele Hill, then with ESPN, when she retweeted the clip. “Candidate for live report of the year.”
“That’s when it went crazy,” Josh says. “Then you had D.L. Hughley retweet it. You had all these people retweet it and put it on Instagram. Then you had World Star HipHop, the Shade Room and B.E.T. share it. The Today Show ended up airing it on Monday.”
The next day, Josh went on air to assure viewers he wasn’t fired. In reality, he says that most people in South Bend and the greater Michiana area appreciated seeing someone be so “authentic.”
In part due to that live shot, the next news director at WNDU promoted Josh to morning news anchor a few months later, working alongside Tricia Sloma, who has been with the news station since 1993 — before now 23-year-old Josh was born.
Today, he is no longer a stranger to working at 5 a.m. As an anchor, his work days begins, ideally, at 2:30 a.m. As he opens his eyes, head still on the pillow, he checks his phone for texts and monitors Twitter to figure out what happened while he slept.
“I usually get a text from sources saying, ‘you need to look into this, this and this,’” he says. “They’ll tell me there was a fire or there was a crash or whatever went on.”
Living on the northwest side of South Bend, it only takes Josh about 10 minutes to drive to the WNDU studio on US-31, just off the University of Notre Dame’s campus. As a Chicago native, the first time Josh came to South Bend was after he was already employed by WNDU. It was his first job out of college.
To connect with the South Bend community, he explored his new city by driving around on his off days without a specific plan for where he was heading.
“Sometimes, I’ll see a restaurant and pull over and call a friend and ask them to meet me there,” Josh says.
That’s how he discovered Frankie’s BBQ at 1132 S. Bend Ave. on South Bend’s west side. Since then, he says he’s eaten at Frankie’s at least seven times. Even though he’s not a coffee drinker, he still enjoys cafes such as South Blend, and on a night out, he can occasionally be seen at downtown’s Whiskey Exchange.
“I want people to know not necessarily who I am, but why I do what I do,” Josh says. “I am not on TV just to be on TV. I am doing a job. I am a storyteller, and in order to tell stories you have to know about the community. … If someone recognizes me, that’s great because they know I’m not just a face on TV. I want to know the community and to be heavily involved with the stories I tell.”
For as much as Josh has been able to acclimate himself to South Bend, it’s a much larger television market than he expected to be in — at least not this early in his career.
“You never want to start off in Chicago because it’s market number three,” Josh says. “You’ve got over one million people watching a news cast every day. You don’t want to mess up or say something wrong because that will ruin your credibility forever. … You’d rather make a mistake in a smaller market. I thought this market, number 96, was still too high.”
But after getting a job here, Josh has run with the opportunity, which, in a way, he has been preparing for ever since he was a teenager.
Growing up on the southside of Chicago, he did everything with his twin brother, Julian, an avid athlete who stands at 6’ 6”, which is at least half-a-foot taller than Josh. His mother knew it wasn’t safe for them to travel home alone, so Josh attended all of his bother’s high school football and basketball practices and games as a team manager and videographer.
Then one day his brother suggested that he become their high school’s sideline reporter.
“Reporting? I never thought about reporting,” Josh says. “But then it came true.”
After high school, Josh attended Columbia College, where he learned from a number of professors with industry experience and interned as often as he could at places like CBS Chicago, Windy City Live, ABC7 and Comcast SportsNet, which is now called NBC Sports Chicago.
Another experience in college that prepared him to be on air was working as a tour guide on a double-decker bus in Chicago.
Josh knew the historical Chicago sites and could convey that to his audiences, but he wanted to make his tours exciting, so he added a personal touch, often by improvising.
“I would say, ‘you see Grant Park?’” he says. “‘Those stairs are historic,’ and I’d tell them why, but then I’d say, ‘they’re also historic because that’s where I scraped my knee as a kid when I tried to skateboard.’”
As an anchor with WNDU, his challenges are much more pressing and important than remembering the name of a Chicago monument. He has to cover the news fast and convey often heart-wrenching information to his audience.
He is also trying to engage a younger generations of viewers — ones that often don’t watch a traditional newscast. He frequently goes live on Facebook or engages with his followers on Twitter, sometimes just to thank them for a compliment.
“It’s a unique demographic, but I can still connect with them,” Josh says. “I think that’s the most important thing. I’m only 23. I’m a part of that demographic, and I am apart of that generation.”
He immerses himself into the community as much as he can, whether that means going to a high school for a football pep rally and crowd surfing, engaging with tailgaters at home Notre Dame football games or hopping on the set of ESPN’s College Gameday to take pictures of the crowd with his phone.
Josh isn’t sure where his career is headed or where he sees himself in 5, 10 or 20 years, but he can confidently say that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for Black Friday.
“It was the greatest thing to happen to my career [in South Bend]” he says. “No matter what happens here on out, whether it means I can’t get a job in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, it’s the best thing that happened to my career here in Michiana because I’ve developed so many sources and met so many great people.
“I could have met them in different ways, but now they understand who I really am, and it makes that interaction easier than it would have been otherwise.”
Photos by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios