Seven Questions for Longtime Anchor Paula Francis

The newscaster on her CSI experience, hanging with Siegfried & Roy at midnight and her surprising obsession


Photo by Elizabeth Buehring

When you arrived here in 1985, did you think you’d stay this long? 

No, I intended to fulfill my three-year contract and move on. I got fired—let go—at Channel 13, but I had already fallen in love [with my husband-to-be]. So I wanted to stay. I did like it here. In 1985, it was different—there was this pioneer feeling. I applied for jobs elsewhere, but as soon as Channel 8 made me an offer, there was no question.

What have you learned about Vegas in 30 years?

It’s like a secret that we all have. There’s this Las Vegas that the rest of the world sees, but they don’t see the real Las Vegas. I love that feeling of sharing that with people. And it makes us a little defensive: Have you ever noticed how Las Vegans are sick of being the worst on a list? It’s part of that pioneer thing—don’t put us down!

I love the fact that there’s no real social hierarchy here. In this state, you also have the chance to talk to anyone in public office, and there’s just a more relaxed, Western feeling.

What stories get your pulse racing?

Stories about the proposed UNLV medical school and Switch technology’s expansion. It’s extremely exciting that we are starting to be this technological, solar-energy, alternative-thinking state, and it’s not just gambling anymore. Gambling was the way to get the money in. I’ve always thought of cash as being our natural resource. It’s like there’s this river of cash that runs through it, but we are turning that into a greater emphasis on the natural environment we’ve got.

How did you get through broadcasts on 9/11?

My parents called me [when the attacks occurred], and I went into the shower to come to work. In the shower, suddenly the enormity hit me and I realized I was not going to get through the day unless I had something to ground me. I called my parents back, and I said, “Dad, you have to describe for me what it was like to hear about Pearl Harbor and what you did to go forward with life after that.” And then I got Mom on the phone. She’s British, and she lived through the Battle of Britain when Hitler was carpet-bombing London. They saved me that day.

How has social media changed the way you do your job?

It’s eating up our lives. Everyone’s had the experience of going on Facebook and looking up five hours later and saying, “Whoa, what did I do today?” I try to limit it, but there is simply no denying the fact that the resources on the Internet have revolutionized this business. Newsgathering has never been more accessible. If we have a murder suspect, we can generally find a Facebook page that they’ve made.

It does give on-air people like me a chance to have a little more exposure of our personality to people who are interested. It lets us be more real to them. I like to post little behind-the-scenes photos, and people enjoy those.

How do you avoid getting bored in the job?

If you’re drawn to journalism, you just constantly have that need for information. You have to be the first one to get the information. It’s always exciting, and Las Vegas is unbelievable for news. Some days, we have three stories among which we have to choose for the lead story. That’s not the case in most TV towns.

What’s the most valid complaint people have about local TV news?

Too many murders. It’s not that we’re looking for those things. The impetus is that we need breaking news. That’s the mantra. We have to be first with whatever event is happening. So at 11 o’clock the events that are happening tend to be violent things. It’s sad because those are not the things that represent most people’s lives.

People are always saying, “All you guys do is the negative stuff,” and I always try to explain, “Well, unfortunately, the negative is generally what’s making news and what’s surprising.” The tables turned on me last year. Completely aside from the politics, I’m very excited about the Affordable Care Act, because for 25 years I have been answering phone calls from people who were losing their homes, losing their cars, losing everything they had, because they were bankrupt over medical bills. And now that’s ending. I know it’s a flawed bill, but I’m very excited about its instigation. Well, the news that we did on that bill was mostly negative. So when something bad happened, when the website went down, that’s what we’d report. And I found myself saying, “All we do is report the negative about this.” And then I realized, right, that’s what we do.

In 1985, there were three broadcasting giants anchoring national newscasts. Who did you like the best: Rather, Brokaw or Jennings?

I liked Dan Rather. He was an old-fashioned newscaster, and I liked that. He would never go with anything that wasn’t confirmed, and if his producers were pushing for something that wasn’t confirmed, he would reiterate 40 million times that it wasn’t confirmed. On Election Night, I loved those little Texasisms that he came up with.

Did you have any news media role models growing up?

John Chancellor on NBC. I’d watch him, and I could tell he had a sense of humor but he was reading really serious stuff, and I got the idea that he wanted us to know that if things were really bad, he wouldn’t be there reading the news. It would all be over. I thought, “What a great job. Not only does he get all the information first hand, but he gets to make it short and understandable, digestible and read it to people—fantastic job.” … And that’s my philosophy. I want the viewer to feel as though, as bad as the news is, I’m there for them. And it can’t be that bad if I’m still there reading it to them.

How do you deal with celebrity and criticism?

People are always nice to me in person; it’s the greatest job in the world for that. But online stuff is very dicey. People will say things online that are very mean. Some of it’s not even anonymous and I actually admire those people—at least they’re willing to sign their name. When I started in the business, I kept thinking, “I won’t make it to 40; I’ll be fired for my age before then.” And then it was 45, for sure I’m going to be fired. 50. 60. Now I’m 62, and some people don’t like that. Some people don’t want to see a 62-year-old woman on the news. I won’t be on the news forever, I know that, but I cannot believe the great run I’ve had.

How did your involvement with Race for a Cure begin?

We started the Buddy Check program for breast cancer awareness more than 20 years ago. The [Susan G. Komen] Race for the Cure came to town, they wanted to be cosponsors and so we’ve had this relationship with them. This May will be the 20th Race for the Cure. When you stand there on the Third Street stage on Fremont Street, you look at the thousands of people and know that they might be going through breast cancer or they might know someone [going through it], but they’re all having a great day. It is fantastic and 25 years ago, you couldn’t talk about cancer on the air. You certainly couldn’t talk about breasts. That’s one of the great things about modern news—the things you can talk about that will help people in their everyday lives.

You’ve appeared on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at least once every season for 15 years. Is there anything you won’t do for the sake of good fiction?

Our only requirement is that they don’t make fun of the media. Roger Daltrey of The Who was going to be on an episode, and they wanted me to come out to L.A. and interview [his character]. He was going to be a murderer or a gardener who found a body, but it was kind of stupid. It made me look like one of those reporters who hunts people down. I said I really wasn’t comfortable doing it, so I didn’t.

My dad always thought it was a mistake for me to do them at all; he said you are confusing the truth and drama. At first that worried me, but people have been so accepting of it that they definitely don’t have any [confusion].

What’s your favorite memory of New Year’s Eve broadcasts?

In the early ’90s, [former co-anchor Gary Waddell] and I were part of West Coast Live. I was onstage with Siegfried & Roy at midnight. We’re going live to the whole West Coast, and Roy says [feigning a German accent], “You must touch the white tiger’s tail. It means good luck for life.” So I touched the white tiger’s tail, and the audience goes crazy and there’s confetti. The curtains closed, we went backstage and then Roy says, “You must touch the tiger’s tail again for real.” So, like, the stage version wasn’t real. And I must say I have had good luck ever since.

What would surprise viewers the most about you?

I quote Bob Dylan constantly, ad nauseam, to my friends and husband. It’s really kind of verging on fanatical, although there is a much larger cult of fanaticism around him. I went to San Diego to see him last fall. He was great. I love his voice. … There’s a Bob Dylan line for every occasion.

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