Dennis Morgigno – Profile
Digging for news and features no other media has time for
By Donna Marganella
“We look for the city within the city,” says Dennis Morgigno, station manager at Channel 4 San Diego. He’s describing “San Diego Insider,” the award-winning local news magazine show he created in 1998 and still hosts. “Our goal is to try and show how people are really living their lives here. It may take some extra digging to find these smaller stories, but it brings out a side of San Diego that’s otherwise not reported,” he says.
That local focus encompasses all aspects of Morgigno’s multifunctional role at Channel 4, which includes managing day-to-day operations and overall responsibility for developing original programming. When asked to elaborate on this close-in look, Morgigno cites a recent story featuring a local post office employee. “Her sole responsibility is to reunite people with things that have somehow become lost in the mail, the result of either damaged or otherwise undeliverable packaging,” he says. “It was fascinating to learn about this connection — one woman working behind the scenes in San Diego to solve these mysteries and reconnect people with their stuff, and then to see how appreciative customers were of her efforts.”
Still part of the regular programming at Channel 4, “San Diego Insider” features stories about education, environmental issues, historic landmarks and inspiring citizens who are making a difference in their communities. “We’re not a replacement for daily news but we do see ourselves as an enhancement to that kind of reporting,” says Morgigno. “Other networks are designed to chase breaking news events as they happen, while we’re set up for more in-depth coverage, to address larger issues and do stories that local affiliates don’t have time for.”
The Channel 4 team is a relatively small group that operates within the much larger Cox Communications parent company. Morgigno sees this as an advantage, particularly in light of the current economic climate. “Let’s face it, ad revenues are a primary support of our programming, so when revenues are down it’s hard to expand and create more programming,” he says. “But I think our size means we’re better equipped to operate in these lean and mean times.” Citing a noticeable lack of prima donas on staff at Channel 4, Morgigno says that his team is already right-sized to withstand a difficult budget-constrained year, yet still deliver as innovative storytellers.
“We’re able to cast far and wide around the county in terms of story and coverage,” he says. “And we try to reach out to communities and cover stories other than hard news.” For Morgigno, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. “Many neighborhood organizations have told us that they get plenty of media attention for bad news, like crime, but we’re one of the few stations that show up to do a positive story about something good that’s happening in the community. It’s rewarding to hear that, to know that we’re telling another side of the story for so many neighborhoods in San Diego.”
In addition to “San Diego Insider,” Channel 4 features the in-depth interview show, “Forefront,” and the uber-popular “Sam the Cooking Guy” featuring host Sam Zien and his signature red kitchen. These programs were developed following the sports-centric 1997 launch of Channel 4, which broadcast mostly live local sports, including the Padres games. Current sports programming includes pre- and post-game shows, live televised high school football and basketball games, and “One on One” with host Jane Mitchell.
Hired after leaving KUSI to help the fledgling Channel 4 strengthen community ties, Morgigno began as the designated intermediary with other local media. What started as a consulting gig quickly turned into something more. The question became, “How do we gain traction with the local community, improve relationships with the city, and actually become part of the community,” says Morgigno.
Local sports was the answer and as luck would have it, Channel 8 wanted out of its contract with the Padres, just as Channel 4 was interested in working with the team as a way to drop anchor in San Diego. Concurrent with the opening of Petco Park in 2004, the station began broadcasting the Padres in high definition, one of the first stations to do so, with the most HD games shown at the time.
As part of their agreement with the Padres, Channel 4 also agreed to tenancy in one of the ballpark-related redevelopment buildings. The station now occupies three floors in the DiamondView Tower at Tenth Avenue and J Street, a prime location overlooking Petco. For Morgigno, a Kensington resident, it’s the perfect commute for him and his wife, Jennifer Stone, who also works Downtown. A long-time mid-city resident, Morgigno says he’s “happy to reside in the middle of the city” which makes so much of San Diego easily accessible. “I really enjoy the diversity of San Diego and I have no problem putting up with a little congestion if that’s the price I pay for being so close to all the city has to offer.”
Since moving to San Diego in 1978, Morgigno has witnessed the many positive changes. Most notable he says is that “San Diego has become much more cosmopolitan with a vastly improved cultural scene that now has lots of options, mostly due to all the Downtown redevelopment.” Morgigno laughingly recalls the inaugural trip to San Diego for his first interview and being told to “avoid Downtown.” “Fortunately,” he says, “you’d never get that advice today.”
When asked about San Diego’s biggest drawback, or the thing he would list as the most negative change to the city, Morgigno answers without hesitation. “Sprawl,” he says. “I don’t think the local governments have done a very good job of working together to accomplish intelligent development,” he says citing unmanaged growth and a lack of meaningful public transportation as the only major issue with San Diego living.
Morgigno’s career in broadcasting tracks right alongside San Diego’s evolution as a Southern California city on the move. He served as anchor and editorial consultant covering the 1996 Republican National Convention, and was part of the Cox team that created Channel 4 Super Bowl, an innovative partnership with the NFL for Super Bowls XXXII and XXXVII. As host of “San Diego Insider” and “Forefront,” Morgigno has earned multiple Emmy awards, Golden Mikes and San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism awards including the 2003 Harold Keen Award for Career Achievement in Journalism. His 2004 induction into the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Pacific Southwest Chapter, recognized Morgigno’s contributions to San Diego television over 25 years.
A broadcast journalist since 1974, Morgigno also acts as host for the annual “Salute to Teachers” live telecast. And you can continue to expect more local focus from the award-winning team at Channel 4. Morgigno and company are committed to covering the revitalization currently encompassing San Diego neighborhoods, exploring communities as they start to change in a positive way due to new businesses or development.
“We won’t focus on a specific new company and its success, but when change takes shape in the form of several businesses that are popping up and transforming a neighborhood, that’s the kind of change that we do want to cover,” Morgigno notes. “Overall, our goal at Channel 4 is to reflect the community back to the viewers and to keep telling stories that help people connect with the community.”