In 2014, as reporter for WJET-TV in Erie, Danielle Woods found herself stumbling over the name of a Pennsylvania town while recording a segment for the evening news.
It was a town she’d never heard of before but would soon call home: Lancaster.
“Do they really pronounce it like that?” Woods said she thought at the time. “I couldn’t even get it out of my mouth.”
And after her boss told her she’d pronounced it incorrectly, she recorded it again. That time, she said “Lancaster” just like a local would - LAN-kiss-tuhr.
A year later, she became quickly familiar with Lancaster after landing a job as traffic anchor for WGAL News 8.
“I got the job as traffic anchor, and, mind you, I am geographically challenged,” she said.
But since arriving in Lancaster County nearly six years ago, Woods, 32, has been moving up. She most recently became the weeknight anchor, replacing Ron Martin, who retired in December after spending 37 years with the station.
“Fortunately for her, she gets on the anchor desk at a young age; I didn’t get there until I was about 40,” Martin said. “I think there’s great things ahead for Danielle.”
Though Woods did not anticipate the transition from weekend anchor to weeknight, anchoring has always been her favorite aspect of the broadcasting business.
She becomes the second Black anchor, after Martin, in the weeknight role at WGAL.
“I’m usually not at a loss for words,” Woods said, after being informed of her new position. “But I was at a loss for words. I was just not expecting to hear that.”
At a time when Woods said she was feeling frustrated with her work, compromised by the pandemic, the new job was a much-needed step up.
Woods has not been able to officially start her position, as a direct result of COVID-19. For now, Woods and the additional WGAL News 8 staff work in rotations, anchoring multiple news hours several days of the week to limit the number of staffers in the studio at any given time. And as she anticipates the start of her new position, growing in recognition throughout the county, she has no plans of leaving Lancaster or her career in broadcasting anytime soon.
As the middle child of three, Woods grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, watching the morning news with her mother, Laura Woods, before school. She was passionate about English and writing and began to think about a career in reporting during high school.
“I remember seeing Black women on local news growing up,” she said. “It shows you that it is possible.”
When her elementary school gym teacher discouraged her, she became even more driven to accomplish her dream.
“That’s just you competing against a bunch of pretty girls to be on TV,” he said.
“I kind of love to prove people wrong,” Woods said. “I was a smart kid, so I kind of knew that there was a bright future.”
Woods’ college professors at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she majored in broadcasting, soon noticed her talent as well.
“She had a natural ‘nose’ for news and storytelling,” said Ernabel Demillo, chair of the department of communication and media culture at St. Peter’s. “Back then, I would say the only thing Danielle really needed to work at was staying motivated.”
Woods credits Demillo as playing an influential role in her career, even after graduation.
“But I gotta tell you, she omitted some things about getting into the business,” Woods said.
Woods remembers having lofty dreams of getting a behind-the-scenes job at Fox Five in New York City and working her way up.
“It just doesn’t work like that,” she said. “So I was frustrated after graduating from college.”
After graduation, Woods struggled to find work in broadcasting and eventually worked as a communications assistant for Rising Tide Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey, where her supervisor, a Syracuse alumnus, encouraged her to go to graduate school.
“Whenever I set a goal, I really will fight to accomplish it,” she said.
The second person in her family to attend college, Woods became the first person to attend graduate school, completing her master’s in broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University in 2012.
Six months after graduating from Syracuse University, Woods got her first job in Erie, where she was thrown into the fast-paced track of real-time reporting. But Woods learned that she didn’t like being six hours away from home, and she didn’t like Erie snow.
Calling Lancaster home
“Lancaster is such a vibrant little city. I love it,” she said. “I never had that love for Erie or even my hometown.”
For Woods, her six years in Lancaster have been the high point of her career. She once dreamed of making it to New York City, but plans have changed.
“It’s not on my list of things to do,” she said. “I don’t have that desire to move to that market.”
Beyond the anchor desk, Woods likes to invest in her community.
“She really acknowledged the fact that you’re not just a news anchor at WGAL but you’re representing the station on both sides of the camera,” Ron Martin said.
Her favorite stories to report on are those that take her into the community: Extraordinary Give and Children’s Miracle Network.
“I like to raise awareness about various issues,” she said. “And with any story, a strength of mine, maybe because I was the shy, bullied kid, is that I always want to make people feel as comfortable as possible. And that goes so far in getting the best story.”
Woods’ confidence on camera hides her quiet character off camera, she said.
“I’m really shy and also very sensitive, so sometimes it is kind of hard to do what I do,” she said. “The news can be heavy.”
As a millennial, Woods sees herself as being able to add her flavor and fresh perspective to her new job, recognizing her identity as being both Black and female.
“I definitely think that representation matters,” Woods said. “This area (Lancaster) is very diverse, and I think it’s so important for little girls to look at the TV and see someone who looks like them. That’s huge, to know that there is this opportunity to be a role model to girls of all colors.”
Woods reflects on her own experiences as a woman when asked about the #MeToo movement.
At WGAL, Woods says she appreciates the opportunity to do stories about local organizations working to fight sexual abuse and harassment, like the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“I’m happy that it is something that has come to the forefront and allows us to talk about it more openly in our reporting on air — not necessarily what is going on behind the scenes at this station or that station,” Woods says. “But with that platform, reaching heights that it has, I think it really allows us to shed light on this pervasive issue in a way that has never been done before.”
Away from the anchor desk
When she’s not reporting on local news, Woods dives into her hobbies and passions, like cooking and listening to music. She’s dedicated to fitness, too; in 2019, she participated in her first bodybuilding competition.
In 2018, she started the ketogenic diet — high fat, low carbs — and has raved about it ever since.
Her favorite dish to cook?
“I love making steaks, which used to terrify me,” she said. “My longtime boyfriend, Greg, has said my steaks (filet mignon or New York strip) are food magazine cover-worthy. I agree!”
And when she isn’t cooking steak, Woods shares her mother Laura’s love for baking.
All this happens with Panic! At the Disco in her ears.
“When it comes to music, there is a jukebox in my brain,” she said. “I’ve seen them three times and cannot wait to see them in person again.”
Woods also continues to invest in her passion for cheerleading. Before landing her new job, Woods coached with the Lancaster Recreation Commission.
“Once things calm down, I would love to get back involved in some capacity,” she said.
For now, the anchor desk provides a platform for addressing topics important to Woods.
Though she is still establishing her presence as a weeknight anchor, Woods has refined her image over time.
“TV Danielle is something I’ve worked on for so long — blending personality with journalistic integrity,” she said. “It’s a mix of some personality, some seriousness and a lot of professionalism all in a nice little package.”
Behind that is a deep desire to tell stories, and to tell them well.
“I never want to get a story wrong, including my own,” she said.
If she could write a book, Woods said she would encourage young people to have confidence in their dreams. She would illustrate, too.
“I’m just a regular old girl who followed a dream, and here we are,” she said.