Alumni News

Ed Reilly, ’80: Focusing a lens on the events of the day

August 21, 2012 by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09

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It’s as if Ed Reilly, ’80, has always had a camera in his hand. From the time he was a child emulating his father, a newsman for several Western New York media outlets, to today, Ed has focused a lens on the events of the day.

As a multimedia journalist for WKBW-TV’s Eyewitness News in Buffalo, N.Y., Ed has covered such historic happenings as the environmental crisis at Love Canal, the first Gulf War, and the release of the American hostages from Iran. He has been part of an air force supply mission to war-torn Haiti; covered White House press conferences; reported on the visits to Miami, Detroit and Toronto by Pope John Paul II; and interviewed Hollywood stars in their homes.

“I never thought I’d have this career,” Ed says. “I never thought I’d go to the places I went or meet the people I did, or be behind the scenes of big stories, but I did. It’s been an amazing experience for me.”

One of Ed’s earliest forays into television was at Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara Falls (now Niagara Catholic Junior/Senior High). As a member of the Television Club, he would produce daily five-minute morning newscasts, coincidentally modeled after Eyewitness News.

After graduation, he enrolled at Niagara University, again following in the footsteps of his father, Ed Sr., a member of the Class of 1954. He began his studies as a liberal arts major, but soon changed his focus to English and communication studies after working with Herm Platt in what was then known as the campus television studio.

“Niagara University was the most important factor in my taking up a career in journalism,” Ed says. “My experience as a work-study student for four years with Herm Platt really allowed me to learn the intricacies of television production. Herm inspired me in so many different ways because he made television so exciting.”

A highlight of Ed’s NU experience was when Eyewitness News sports anchor Rick Azar requested a copy of his black-and-white videotape of the basketball game during which Phil Scaffidi set the school record for assists. Azar featured the video on his newscast that night.

This experience, and the recommendation of the Rev. Michael Tumulty, C.M., English department chair at that time, earned Ed an internship at WKBW during the last semester of his senior year. Just three months after graduation, Ed was hired by the station as a stringer, and three months after that, as a full-time news photographer/editor.

That was 32 years ago. Since then, Ed has covered all types of stories and seen many unusual things. His work has earned him awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, and the National Press Photographers Association, and he was nominated for a New York Emmy. In April, Ed was awarded the Backpack Multi-Media Journalist of the Year award from the inaugural Buffalo Excellence in Media Awards.

Most of these honors were for the kinds of stories Ed likes to do best: interesting people doing interesting things. It’s something he learned from his mentor, legendary Buffalo newscaster Irv Weinstein.

“Irv told me to go to where the people are,” Ed says. “You have to get the interesting people stories because that’s what people want to see on the news. We covered a lot of fires, we covered a lot of accidents, but he knew that you had to package the news so that people would watch it. He would always tell me to make sure I got close shots of people’s faces, because their faces are the story. So it stuck with me and that’s the kind of stories I try to do.”

For example, there’s the story he did on Gunter Heinze, a German immigrant who left his home country as part of “Operation Paperclip” (the codename under which the United States extricated scientists from Germany) at the end of WWII before coming to Western New York, where he helped to design navigation equipment for the Apollo moon missions and deep space probes.

And the one that featured a man battling cancer who built model airplanes to help him cope with the disease.

“I’m inspired by those types of people, people who are struggling with things in their life that are real challenges yet they don’t let them get them down,” he says.

Ed also enjoyed doing local ghost stories with reporter Mike Randall. “Those are always a lot of fun because you can use spooky lights and effects, and it’s just kind of creatively fun to tell ghost stories,” he says.

Of course, being in Buffalo, Ed has also covered his share of snowstorms. “Believe it or not, those end up on national news all the time,” he says.

Another of Ed’s videos that garnered national attention was the one he shot of Willie Williams, a Buffalo father who stabbed the man who abducted and raped his 10-year-old daughter. Ed was only 23 at the time and had been assigned to do a follow-up story on the girl’s abduction, but he ended up shooting exclusive video of the stabbing, which aired on ABC’s Nightline and on HBO.

Ed is especially proud of the stories that can positively impact others. His Cry for Life project on the dangers of drunk driving was shown in local high schools and earned him a special award from the White House.

His position as a journalist has also enabled him to enjoy certain perks, such as traveling with Niagara’s Purple Eagles when they went to the NCAAs in 2005.

Ed says that his success as a newsman comes from his role as a husband and father (two of his four children continued the Reilly family’s legacy by attending Niagara University). “What made me a good newsman is the fact I was grounded in real life. I wasn’t just a newsman. I came into the job as a family man who lived in a community and who also had things like Boy Scouts, my daughter’s dance class, school, and volunteering to pay attention to. I think that gives you a realistic look at life.”

After more than three decades in the business, Ed still finds the work fulfilling. “Most of all, I’m an artist,” he says. “I’m part newsman, but I’m definitely more artist than newsman. There’s a lot of creative satisfaction in making sure that the words and the interviews and the pictures flow together to tell a story. That’s what I look forward to and that’s the accomplishment and the satisfaction I get from the job every day.”

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