How I Went From Stay-At-Home-Mom to News Reporter
As a broadcast journalist people often asked me what college I attended. My response is always, "the same as Peter Jennings and Walter Cronkite." Who wouldn't be proud of that? Truth of the matter is, I was going through a divorce and after seven years of being a stay-at-home mom I knew I needed to get back into the workforce. I was a faithful watcher of the nightly news but honestly don't remember how I got it in my head that I could be a television reporter other than I thought I could do the job. I also knew I had the basic traits. People have told me I have a great voice since I was in fourth grade. Add an Iowa "accent" with being Asian and my potential only increased when combined with my natural curiosity, an above average ability to read and write, and the knack to talk to just about anyone.
I got my foot in the door as a part-time receptionist at the local CBS affiliate in the Twin Cities—thanks to some great women in charge of hiring who didn't see my time at home as a negative and didn't stop till they found a spot for me. From day one I used my lunch hour to sit in the control room for the noon newscast so I could observe. A couple months in I went undercover with our investigative team carrying a purse with a hidden camera for a story that uncovered a local bar that was discriminating against patrons based on race.
A few months later I moved from the front desk to the newsroom when I took a job as a production assistant for weekend news. My duties were similar to those of an associate producer working with our line producers writing or tweaking copy, making sure editors had the right tape, and engineers had the right soundbites ready to go. The GM of the station gave me permission to do an unofficial internship so when I learned our noon anchor and entertainment reporter would be without an intern during the fall term I offered to help him out. Within a few weeks, I was logging all his interview tapes and writing his daily and weekend entertainment packages. He would take me with him to interview celebrities in town for a theater production or Broadway tour—even letting me do a couple practice interviews once he was finished with his. That spring when he was out for a total of twelve weeks due to health issues I was able to keep his entertainment beat running using electronic press kits and his recorded voice tag.
I was also able to get to know a few reporters who let me follow them and watch them do their job firsthand. When Prince did his comeback concert at the University of Minnesota it was a rainy night. The reporter I was tagging along with used my idea to call the story Purple Rain. It was the only time I saw Prince perform. I was in the field with one reporter so often he had convinced a reporter at another local station that I was his field producer (an unimaginable luxury for a local dayside reporter so we had a good laugh over that one). One of my best practice stand-ups was coordinated by an Emmy-award winning journalist.
I was also able to field produce a 6-minute piece with our main anchor that featured a local elementary school where 18 different languages were spoken by students from 21 different countries. The Minnesota Historical Society liked the story so much they put it in their archives. I remember another production assistant asking me why I got to do so many things. I was being paid for 20 hours but at the station closer to 40. If my daughters were in school, I was at the station. I didn't wait for someone to ask me to do something, I created my own opportunities by asking what I could do. Eventually, my news director told me it was time to look out for myself and encouraged me to begin looking for a job as a reporter in a smaller market (you can't jump straight into the big leagues).
After a quick lesson from a photojournalist on how to shoot and another on how to edit I took a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Everyone teased me about covering tractor pulls, but I landed in Iowa smack in the middle of the political season. My very first live shot (when you see a reporter live on location) required a White House press pass because I was covering George W. Bush landing on Air Force One in Cedar Rapids. When John Kerry, Richard Gephardt, and Howard Dean joined together and announced their candidacy for president to the nation from Marion (a suburb of Cedar Rapids) I covered that event alongside CNN's senior political analyst, Candy Crowley. Another week I interviewed John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Iowa presented me with opportunities some life-long journalists will never have.
But I also covered stories the equivalent of a tractor pull. My schedule left little time with my daughters. On many weekends they were asleep when I left in the morning and asleep when I came home at night. Some Sundays were 11 to 12-hour days if a football game or golf ran late. I was literally letting babysitters raise my kids. Each day at least two other reporters in my market were covering the same story and mine probably weren't going to be remembered anymore than the others. From my perspective, the handful of stories that really meant something to me weren't worth letting others be the main influence on my daughters. Given how my daughters turned out (and the state of media today), I know I made the right choice when I walked away but a part of me will always wonder if I looked a gift horse in the mouth.