Ponces Duel: News at 10

Medill graduates and brothers Dan and Anthony Ponce report for competing Chicago television news stations, but after work, brotherly affection prevails.

ABC7 Chicago thinks it landed the better Ponce brother. NBC5 Chicago begs to differ.

But if you sit down and ask television broadcast reporters Anthony Ponce (GJ03) and Dan Ponce (GJ05) which of the two is better, they'll say neither one. They'll say the best broadcaster in the family is their dad, Phil Ponce, longtime Chicago Tonight anchor on WTTW11, Chicago's PBS station.

"People at both of our stations call it 'dueling Ponces,' but I think it's too early to make comparisons," says Anthony, the younger of the two Ponces. The brothers realize, though, that comparisons will be inevitable for two siblings with nearly identical careers.

Dan and Anthony, born two years apart, attended the same high school, New Trier, in Winnetka, Ill.; went to the same university, Indiana; earned degrees from the same graduate journalism program at the Medill School; worked in similar small markets, Lansing, Mich., and Fort Wayne; and now work at the top two television news stations in Chicago, their hometown.

ABC7 hired Dan two years after he earned a master's degree at Medill. At the time he got the call, he had only 15 months' experience as a general assignment reporter in Lansing.

It was a big jump, says Dan. "I think a lot of my co-workers in Lansing and Chicago questioned whether I had the necessary experience without going to a middle market. It may have been a little bit of a gamble on ABC's part, but I think I've met their expectations."

Anthony's career path took a little longer to develop. He spent 1½ years in Fort Wayne covering stories on small summer festivals and local elections before making the jump to a medium-size market in Indianapolis. Six months after Dan's jump, Anthony got the call from Channel 5.

"I think if Dan had crashed and burned, it might not have boded well for me," says Anthony.

With their return to Chicago, the brothers now share the airwaves with their dad, Phil, one of the city's most respected journalists. It is the first time in Chicago television news history that two siblings and their father report for competing stations at the same time.

As relatively new reporters at their respective stations, Dan and Anthony tend to meet each other at the scenes of the same stories every few weeks. But they both work for die-hard media competitors, so when they're on the job, their loyalties lie with their employers.

"We're not pointing each other in the right direction on stories ever," Anthony says. "I'm going to try and beat him on a story just like I'd try to beat any reporter from any other competing station."

The fast pace of Chicago news challenges the Ponces on a daily basis. The diversity of stories they cover keeps their assignments exciting. One day Anthony might cover a Barack Obama rally, and the next day Dan might be getting licked (literally) by an onlooker while live at Lollapalooza, a music festival held in Grant Park. On other days it might just be an easy weather story.

Most importantly, the brothers try not to bring their work home with them. The last few months have been an incredibly tough news cycle, says Anthony. Both Ponces covered the murders of five women in a Lane Bryant store in a Tinley Park, Ill., shopping mall and the shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., which left five students and the gunman dead and 18 wounded.

"It clearly can take a toll on your own heart and soul when you do two weeks of death in a row, which at our level happens pretty often," Dan says. "You've got to leave work behind in the newsroom."

Leaving work behind is a talent they learned from growing up with a prominent journalist as a father.

"He was much more into our family and home life than he was into talking about his career," Dan says. (The third sibling, Maria, never joined the family business.)

Today, the Ponce family is building what many consider an "on-air family dynasty."

But Phil insists this is no dynasty. Dynasty denotes some level of planning and scheming like that of Joseph Kennedy, he says. "Believe me, I'm not that good of a planner. This was not planned. It's completely accidental and funny and great at the same time."

Marcelino Benito (J10)