Off the Job with
News 4’s Wendy Rieger
Living Local, Simple and Green
by Margaret Tearman Bay Weekly Staff Writer
If the pretty blond woman sitting at the next table looks familiar think television news.
Think popular news anchor.
Think Wendy Rieger.
It probably is Wendy, doing one of her favorite things … eating and gabbing with her Anne Arundel County neighbors.
Home Sweet Home
Wendy Rieger has been coming into our homes for 19 years as part of the popular news team on WRC-NBC Channel 4.
When her days’ work is done, Rieger wastes no time leaving the Washington, D.C. rat race, heading east on Route 50 to the sanctuary of her West River home.
That home is a charming 1920s’ waterfront bungalow she shares with her two rescued Maine coon cats, Buddy and Rudy. The gaily painted home is open and airy, with a view of South Creek from almost every room.
From the first step through the lavender portal, it is obvious family and friends are what Rieger values most. Framed photos fill every table.
“I love this house,” Rieger says. “It’s a home. I don’t like big houses. I’m a big fan of the small-house movement.”
The cottage is casual and without pretense. Guests are made to feel at home, ready to kick off city high heels in exchange for flip-flops. That beach feeling is exactly what Rieger set out to achieve.
“When my friends come out from the city, they can’t believe this paradise is so close to D.C.,” she says. “It’s hard to believe you can drive in the other direction for the same amount of time and still be in all of the congestion in Northern Virginia or Bethesda.”
Moving up, Moving in
Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, Rieger moved to D.C. for college at American University.
“I was on the five-year plan,” she laughs. “I dropped out once to pursue acting and took a job at a local radio station reading the news, just to earn money. Reading the news was so much fun I gave up acting, returned to college and received a degree in broadcast journalism.”
That was 27 years ago.
Rieger began her career in radio as a news writer for WAMU 88.5. She worked her way up to host Morning Edition, then to anchor the news for NPR and WTOP.
She made the jump from radio to television when she joined CNN’s Washington Bureau.
In 1988, Rieger was hired at WRC News 4, where she’s been ever since.
Rieger’s factual reporting style propelled her rise in the competitive world of television news and won viewers’ trust. She describes her job as providing information rather than color or commentary. She’ll call a plane crash just that, for example, leaving the horrifics to others.
With her television career going full speed, Rieger was at home in Bethesda. Until something in the air told her it was time to make a move.
“It was February 27, 1999,” Rieger says. “I was doing a stand-up on the Maryland General Assembly in front of the State House. “Suddenly a gust of briny air hit me. I turned to my cameraman and said I am going to move here. It was like a religious conversion, an epiphany.”
The very next day Rieger did something she never does: She called in sick so she could return to Annapolis and begin the search for her new home.
The following weekend, the paper advertised an open house in West River.
“I had never heard of West River,” Rieger recalls. “But I wanted to check it out.”
She and her boyfriend at the time drove out that Sunday in a torrential downpour.
“When we got to the house,” Rieger laughs, “my boyfriend wouldn’t even go in. He thought it was horrible.”
Rieger, however, thought the house was “just perfect.”
By March 13 she had a contract; on May 15 she moved in.
The following September Rieger’s brother asked if she could find a house for him. Now he’s her weekend next-door neighbor.
“This was just meant to be,” Rieger says. “It’s just been phenomenal. I have been able to watch my niece Shelby grow up over weekends.”
Rieger has no regrets about leaving behind the convenience and relatively short commute of Bethesda.
“Are you kidding? This is worth the hour drive,” she says. “Now I need the water to go to sleep, and I need to wake up on the water.”
In addition to her anchoring, Rieger reports on environmental issues in her regular series, Going Green.
“I came up with the Going Green idea in a meeting about new story ideas,” Rieger says. “The bosses initially shot me down. They said a recent survey by our marketing department indicated that no one was interested in the environment. But they told me I could do one story a month to see if there was any interest.
“By the time I was on my third story, Gore’s movie [An Inconvenient Truth] was out, and the wave was building. Now NBC has mandated that every station carry my stories, and Nightly News with Brian Williams is doing a Going Green segment. They got the name from us.”
Rieger’s Going Green airs every other Tuesday; she’d like to it to be weekly.
“I think the segment gives hope,” Rieger says. “As a newsperson, only reporting sad and horrific news wears you down. I think people will just give up if all they hear is bad news. Going Green is something hopeful. Look what people are doing with the belief they can make a difference. It’s anti-cynicism.”
Rieger contends that positive reporting takes journalism back to “the mission to enlighten and educate the public.”
“Reporters should be humble and report stories by learning. I was taught tell me what I don’t know. Tell me so I can tell them.”
Rieger says she’s always learning from Going Green. Her first segment covered a woman who was allergic to her own house and what she did to counteract her allergic reactions.
“When I began researching, I kept seeing references to low VOC. I didn’t know what that meant. Now I only use low-VOC paint.”
As proof she does more than talk, she shows off her bedroom, recently repainted with American Pride’s Wet Moccasin.
“The so-called green movement is not a choice. It is an awakening,” Rieger says. “It is going to take time to undo what we have done, but we don’t have a choice.”
To Rieger, environmental reporting helps people awaken to new choices; it’s not only educational but also motivational.
“It’s certainly motivated me,” she says. “I hope the stories will help people make good choices, choices that are beneficial to the planet.”
Rieger is doing more than talking about making good choices.
Two years ago she cancelled her lawn service. Now she doesn’t even water her small yard during the hot summer months.
“I let the grass and plants go dormant,” she says. “When the fall rains come, my yard will come back to life.”
To conserve water and minimize runoff, Rieger has a rain barrel. With small steps like that, a movement begins.
“There is a lot homeowners can do to help the Bay,” she says. “The Bay is sick because of our choices. If we make different choices, I believe we can make a difference.”
One of the things Rieger loves most about her life is the sound of the seasons on the water.
“In the winter I love the sound of the watermen’s boats,” she says. “I love to hear the putt-putt-putts as they head out in the morning. I call them farmers of the Bay.”
Their future has become her concern.
“I want the watermen to survive,” she says. “They’re another important reason to clean up the Bay.”
Restoring the Bay doesn’t mean putting a damper on fun or staying out of the water.
Water-skiers and kids squealing with joy are more of the sounds she loves: the sounds of summer on the Bay.
In spite of dirty water warnings, Rieger still swims off her dock in South Creek. Her yellow kayak is a preferred mode of transportation for getting around her close-knit neighborhood.
“I use my kayak to visit with my neighbors,” she says. “I just paddle from pier to pier, stopping to chat and catch up with everyone.”
She says she’s thinking of putting a new twist on the traditional neighborhood progressive dinner. “Instead of walking or driving to each house, we’ll kayak. We’ll plan it so there’s just enough distance between houses to get some exercise paddling, but not so much that it’s not fun.”
For an upcoming Going Green segment, Rieger has been researching green cuisine and profiling regional chefs who buy from local growers and fisheries.
One of those chefs is Haidar Karoum of Proof restaurant in northwest D.C.
“There are Amish farmers lined up at his back door,” Rieger says. “It is fresh food, it’s local food and it’s simple food.”
For Rieger it doesn’t get any better than that. She is a regular customer of local produce stands, where she loads up on fresh corn, peaches and “the best cantaloupe ever.”
Dinners for friends and family are simple. “I’ll make some crab cakes and corn on the cob,” Rieger says. “My life here is not about hot new restaurants. It’s about enjoying the fruits of the Bay and local farmers. My life is quiet and simple.”
In the last three years, Rieger has begun to be recognized when she’s out and about, running errands in Edgewater or eating dinner at Pirate’s Cove.
“This area used to be more of a Baltimore market,” Rieger explains, “so I wasn’t a really familiar face.”
But with more people moving in from the D.C. area, her anonymity is fading.
“I go out for some crabs wearing an old pair of shorts. I’ve been swimming, my hair is wet and clipped up, and I’m not wearing makeup,” she says. “People will stare at me, and I wonder if I should go out looking like this. I think Hello people: I live here. I’m a local. My spaceship didn’t just land. This is my home, and it always will be home.”