Growing up, she once dreamed of becoming a TV reporter. Flash forward a few years and she’s made a big splash in the Rockford area as part of 13WREX’s morning show.
Growing up in the Chicago area, Christie Battista often pondered a career in television broadcasting.
“I watched all the big-timers on the local news,” she says. “I remember telling my parents, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I was doing that?’ But like most kids, I got interested in other things and kind of forgot about it.”
That is, until she got to college and majored in journalism. The excitement she experienced as a child came rushing back. And now she’s a reporter on 13 News Today, 13WREX’s morning show that airs Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.
“I like to meet new people every day, hearing a little piece of their story,” she says of her career. “I get to know people by asking plenty of questions. Plus, it helps that I like to talk a lot.”
Battista has never been shy. That was evident at Trinity High School in River Forest, Ill., where she played volleyball and soccer and participated in theater. She performed in several musicals including “Honk!,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “The Sound of Music.”
“Theater is a big passion of mine,” she says. “I love performing for people.” In fact, Battista has sung at many family members’ weddings.
She remains tight with her family, including parents Jim and Gina, elder siblings Jimmy, Mary Jo and Danny, and their spouses, as well as her three nephews and one niece.
“We love to get together for dinner and just hang out,” she says. “They’re the main reason I came to work in Rockford – to be closer to family.” Battista’s parents watch her newscast every morning.
Following high school, Battista chose Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., on the advice of relatives who previously attended the Big Ten school. “The first time I visited, I knew it was for me,” she says. “I enjoyed the diversity of the student body. There were students from all over the world who came to Michigan State.” Battista lived in the same dorm as 13 News Today anchor Elliot Grandia, although they didn’t know each other at the time.
At Michigan State, Battista started out as a theater major, but quickly decided that journalism was a more attainable goal than Broadway. She studied mostly print journalism, but was able to parlay that experience into a TV career. One of her fondest memories was studying abroad in London and Dublin, Ireland, as part of a five-week journalism program.
Battista stayed plenty busy in college, juggling a full classload and three part-time jobs.
Battista wasted little time getting to work. Three days after graduating from college in December 2013, she joined 13WREX as an intern, eventually landing a position as a reporter/multi-media journalist. Eight months later, she was promoted to the station’s newly revamped morning show, joining Grandia and meteorologist Morgan Kolkmeyer on the news set.
“It came as a complete surprise,” she says. “I knew there was an opening, but I wasn’t thinking about it. When management asked me if I would be interested in becoming the morning reporter, I said, ‘Sure, I don’t mind getting up at 2 a.m.’ I was excited for the opportunity.”
With only one-and-a-half years of experience, Battista is sharpening her skills every day. Away from the camera, she studies her taped interviews, looking for ways to improve her work, including her writing skills.
“I’m pretty hard on myself,” she says. “I know there are things I need to do better. But watching the news in bigger markets helps. They’re not perfect and they make mistakes, too. I’m learning that we all make little mistakes, and it’s important to learn from them and move on.”
Battista has turned to a veteran broadcaster in her own newsroom for some guidance. Sean Muserallo, the station’s evening co-anchor, has mentored Battista since he joined WREX last year from a station in Greenville, S.C.
“I’m trying to help her find her voice,” he says. “The thing I stress the most to young reporters is ‘find a way to write that is distinctly you.’ How would you break someone the news about a car crash, a budget issue or a fun new attraction on the Rock River? As soon as they learn how to write using their own style, that’s the moment they really connect with the viewer. It takes time to get there, but it makes all the difference in the world.”
Battista mostly reports on upcoming community events and positive stories about the community. She also features a teacher of the week during the school year, and reports live, once a week, from a local business or event. She’s already helped to make cookies at a local bakery and jumped out of an airplane during Rockford AirFest. The latter presented a problem. “I’m terrified of heights,” she says, laughing. “But I’ll do anything for TV.”
Colleagues say Battista’s bubbly personality is starting to show in her work. “Christie’s strength is in her ability to make the viewer feel like a friend and not an audience member,” says Muserallo. “She has a great personality, and it shines on 13 News Today. One morning I happened to be up early and watched her do a live shot at the West Rock Wake Park. She was hooked up to cables, strapped into a wakeboard and all the while kept cool during the interview with the owner. That’s the moment I knew she was going places.”
Battista has adjusted to getting up in the middle of the night to head off to work. It helps, she says, to work with a tightly knit group, which includes the morning show’s on-air talent as well as directors and producers.
“We have a lot of fun,” she says. “We always find ways to get pumped up for the show. It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that people never see. It really feels like family on the morning show.”
During her short time in Rockford, Battista has found many ways to get involved in the community, like spending time at the Rockford City Market. And she volunteers for a number of local nonprofit organizations, such as Healing Pathways Cancer Resource Center, The Harkins Foundation and KFACT, a youth development and mentoring group that offers support to teenage girls attending Rockford Public Schools.
“There are so many great people here,” she says. “When I got here, people didn’t always say flattering things about Rockford. But I can’t tell you how many amazing, wonderful people I’ve met in my time here, who I will never forget.”
While she hones her skills in Rockford, Battista pays close attention to the happenings in her hometown. Like many young reporters, she wants to work in a larger television market one day. “My goal is to be in Chicago, eventually,” she says. “It’s my home, and it’s a great place to work in broadcasting.”
Muserallo has no doubt that will happen. “Christie has a solid future in broadcast news,” he says. “I think with her personality and infectious, positive energy, people want to see what she’s up to – even if they have to get up early in the morning to do so.”