Not by the book
Francesca Segré talked her way into becoming a reporter—now she’s writing her second novel about it
While at a convention for radio and television news directors 13 years ago, Francesca Segré scored herself a job she was “highly unqualified for.” That minor detail didn’t seem to bother her, as she literally talked her way into the wacky world of broadcast news.
She had no news experience. No experience in television. She was just 21 and fresh out of college, where she studied sociology. Segré said getting the job was the toughest part. After what Segré calls an “extraordinary coup"—essentially her schmoozing with the producer—she began her on-the-job training in 1994 as a news anchor at KCPN’s 24 Reports (now Channel 24 Action News) in Chico.
“One of the lead anchors, Brad Lasher, said he’d never seen anyone greener than me,” said Segré with a laugh from her home in Venice Beach. “But, they paid me to learn.”
She says her two years at the station turned out to be the best grad school ever. What she didn’t know was that those two years in Chico would inspire her to write a novel.
In the 11 years since she left Chico, Segré climbed the journalist’s ladder to New York City, where she covered Wall Street for Reuters TV. She’s since moved to Southern California, where she’s writing her second book, which is set in Chico—the small town that remains in her heart despite career changes.
Francesca Segré’s vibrant smile immediately directs your gaze to her deep brown eyes, which stay attentive and let you know she’s listening.
The 34-year-old grew up in Austin, Texas, before heading off to Brandeis University in Massachusetts in 1990. Out of college she said there were two things she would never accomplish—running a marathon and writing a novel. She’s since done both, but at the time Segré was dead set on reporting broadcast news.
The fast-paced atmosphere of TV satisfied her need for adrenaline. While walking to work from Bidwell Mills Creekside Apartments, on The Esplanade near Northern Star Mills, she was always excited to start the day. On her walk back she was tired, but ready to do it all over again.
While Segré read the 6 a.m. news so many years ago, Geoff Thomas, an intern at KCPN, was behind the camera. Thomas, who was 20 at the time, said he was a little less career-oriented than Segré, so they didn’t hang out much outside of work. But he remembered who she was.
Unlike Segré he chose to stay local while climbing the ranks and is now executive producer and news director for Channel 24 Action News. Segré reunited with Thomas while in Chico over the summer researching for her book.
The novel Segré is writing is not her first. Daughter of the Bride, published last year, is an expanded version of an essay she wrote for the Washington Post in September 2002 called “Bride and Joy: Guiding Mom Down the Aisle.” In 2004 MGM bought the rights to the concept, and just like that Segré had a movie deal.
Actress Goldie Hawn also liked what she read in the original article and has expressed interest in playing the bride, the character based on Segré's real-life mother.
Since it had already been picked up by MGM, Segré decided to turn it into a book. In Bride, Segré, now married herself, shares her story of being a 29-year-old single woman with a mother who is getting remarried at 60. With Hawn interested, Segré can’t help but think of the possibility of Kate Hudson playing her daughter in the film, but she admits she’d be happy just to see the movie made.
While the writers strike in Hollywood, which means no screenplay is being adapted from her book at the moment, Segré continues to freelance out of L.A. She can also be heard on National Public Radio’s Marketplace, and she recently saw her first two bylines in the New York Times. She is planning to expand one of those articles into a screenplay.
For now, though, Segré, who had her first baby, Lilah Segré Chen, Nov. 2, is focused on 24 Action News, one of the potential titles for the new book. She visited Chico twice last summer, and during her first visit back, she reacquainted herself with the city.
A lot has changed in Chico since Segré left, but TV news is still TV news—hectic, fast-paced, challenging, with technical difficulties galore.
Drawing from personal experiences for her new novel, Segré created a rookie news anchor who deals with the everyday conflict of producing and broadcasting television news. Ambitious and energetic, the reporter with potential loves the quirky Northern California college town that is Chico.
Among the characters are two homeless people, who will allow her to explore not only the trials and tribulations of news broadcasting, but also societal woes that are routinely dealt with in Butte County as well as large metropolitan cities. During her visit, Segré met with Torres Shelter service coordinator Patrick Clark to discuss the town’s homeless population.
She learned what resources are available, but more important how the homeless in Chico live—downtown, under the bridges along the creeks and in Bidwell Park—during the hot summers and wet winters.
These real people and small-town environment provide the cast of characters and circumstances that Segré hopes will make for a charming, funny read.
But a story about Chico wouldn’t be fit without some controversy—and art. When a series of provocative images are sprayed onto walls in public spaces, the debate emerges: Is it graffiti or is it art?
Chico is one of the top 10 small art towns in the country, and these images provoke emotion and cause people to think, one side argues. Others say Chico is a growing city that is experiencing higher violent crime rates, which are associated with gangs, which are associated with graffiti.
So with the town split or undecided, everyone wants to know who keeps painting the images that have the town buzzing. The budding journalist knows it’s her golden opportunity: If she discovers the culprit, she could move up the ladder to a bigger market. However, her journalism ethics are put to the test when a hot lead points to an acquaintance.
Segré says she’s finished the book “a few times,” but that until it goes to print she’ll continue to tinker with it. She says Chico will play a character in itself, explaining that it was easy to capture the true essence of the town.
“By the time you get to New York, everyone that you interview is so refined, and they say exactly what they want the reporter to hear,” Segré said. “Chico is more laid back, and the people are more human and real—not afraid to say exactly what’s on their mind.”