An Emmy and an Air Mattress:  My Love Affair and Eventual Breakup with TV News

When I announced, publicly, I was leaving television news after a 13-year decorated career, my inboxes filled with former coworkers, managers and employees who had also left, welcoming me to “the dark side.” Then something else happened. Strangers started reaching out, asking for advice as they were considering a similar transition. The Facebook communities I had joined to celebrate and commiserate life in TV news turned into a support group for dozens, if not hundreds, of people considering their exit strategies.

Television news was quite a career. I had a front row seat to history, and a big seat at a big table that helped shape the news impacting the communities I served. I covered presidential, congressional and gubernatorial debates and elections; mass shootings, deadly tornado rampages, wildfires, floods and hurricanes; a total solar eclipse that captivated the nation; football championships, big events and big scandals. But the toll was also big.

I sacrificed all else for my career for a decade. I worked overnights in my 20s when my friends were at the bar. I worked holidays – forcing my family to adjust plans for presents and Thanksgiving feasts. I moved constantly, making any hopes of a serious relationship nonexistent. I moved nine times in 11 years, but that’s what you do to climb the ladder in television news. When I moved to Savannah, Georgia for my first management job as an executive producer, I packed my car, drove clear across the country from Denver, and arrived at my drafty old house with nothing more than an Emmy and an air mattress to start all over… again.

I clawed my way through tough shifts and bad managers. And I am not alone. Once I was no longer a newsroom manager, the stories came pouring in of others who dealt with similar frustrations. But I had made it. I was the assistant news director, managing a group of 62 incredible journalists at a wildly successful television station. We won big. We won national Edward R. Murrow awards for overall excellence, an impressive list of Emmy awards every year, and we won the ratings in our market – the ultimate prize daily.

Things change. I fell in love. I got married. I became a stepmom. Life changed. My priorities changed. And suddenly the sleepless nights, the break-neck pace, the always-on-call mentality, was no longer worth some statues to collect dust on a shelf. The public lost trust, the industry was losing people and I was losing my cool. For two years I talked about leaving, until finally, I did.

The day I made my decision, I cried. I cried for hours. I left work and cried in my car the whole way home. I opened a bottle of wine and got to it. I started reaching out to contacts who had left the industry before me. I sent out a dozen resumes in two hours. I started exploring how to use my skillset that I had developed for more than a decade in a different field. I considered government or education communications, internal corporate communications, non-profits or public relations. I cast a wide net.

And then I got my lifeline. My new boss, Kelly Fletcher, called me on a Saturday. She talked for an hour openly about her vision for her small women-led public relations firm. She believed in me instantly. She saw big things for me. She talked about the importance of work-life balance, leading with your heart, transparency, flexibility and helping people find their passions. Work-life balance? Is it possible? It’s a phrase I put in my annual review for years but believed was a myth. I thought to be truly successful, there is just no such thing as work-life balance. It seems maybe I was wrong.

After a few initial conversations and meeting the team, the decision was easy. The new team saw my value. They saw 13 years of experience on the inside of newsrooms as invaluable experience, and they offered me a position: Director of Media Relations and Business Development. I jumped at the opportunity and turned in my two-and-a-half weeks’ notice then I went home and slept like a baby for two solid nights.

It may have been an easy decision, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still hard. I was a valued newsroom manager. I knew I was good at what I did. I loved my team. I loved the purpose behind being a journalist. After 13 years, it was a part of my identity. Journalism was a deeply rooted part of who I am. But it wasn’t all I am.

The transition has been tough at times. I was anxious in my final weeks at my television station. There was so much to do. I had to get schedules fixed as far out as I could to set them up for success. I did the holiday schedules, handed off plans for big coverage coming in the next few months and said my goodbyes. There were tears from some of my closest team members, but the news churns on.

I was not confident I would be good at anything else. Being a journalist was all I’d ever done professionally. But it turns out, those skills are transferrable. I have hit the ground running in my new role. I’m not naïve. I know there have been and will be more missteps. I know I still have everything to learn about public relations. But one month in, I’m already feeling more confident.

I’m still getting used to the pace, longer deadlines and different workload. I’m going to have to retrain my brain to not run on adrenaline 24/7. I still want to send news tips to my friends in my old newsroom constantly. I check my email and my phone every few minutes, expecting to see breaking news alerts, sick calls, and small fires I need to put out until I remember that’s not my life anymore.

Working in television news was a gratifying career. I made lifelong friends and had once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Breaking news has a way of bonding you like nothing else. But I’m here to tell you, there is life after TV news. One of my former department heads once told me, “You can have it all, just not at the same time.” I never liked that philosophy and now I’m setting out to prove her wrong.

Women in journalism, television news, career move