Dan Rather recalled in his book, The Camera Never Blinks, the time he walked into his house when his son was 6 or 7 years old and he overheard his son nonchalantly tell a playmate that the man who just walked in was Dan Rather, the CBS news anchor — not dad.
NBC’s Tim Russert joked at a May 2005 awards ceremony that his teenage son wants to sell his infamous white board used during the 2004 election coverage on eBay.
But not all children of news families point proudly to dad. Many children channel their kudos to mom, too.
Sage Steele, 33, said that when she calls home every evening from work, her 3-year-old daughter, Quinn, compliments her on the outfits she wears after she has watched mom anchor the evening sportscasts at Comcast SportsNet/Mid-Atlantic in Baltimore.
Pat Carroll, 47, morning news anchor at WCBS-AM, New York City, said she and her peers jokingly call themselves “radio moms.” Carroll has two sons, ages 14 and soon-to-be 16.
During election and storm coverage, KQTV-TV, St. Joseph, Mo., news director Jill Jensen would let her daughter Taylor have a one-person sleepover in mom’s office, complete with a sleeping bag and mom’s TV, DVD player and computer.
These stories of maternal nuances are more common now that more women are in broadcast journalism. In fact, according to the Radio Television News Directors Association, about one-quarter of television news directors today are women. The same figure is true of radio news directors.
Of course, women who work and have children rarely have it easy, no matter which career a woman chooses. And that’s the first lesson broadcasters such as Steele, Carroll and Jensen said women contemplating children should remember.
The key is learning how to juggle career and family and doing it the way that suits you the best.
Steele and Viki Regan, vice president and general manager of WPBF-TV, West Palm Beach, Fla., are taking advantage of the latest trend in child care: stay-at-home dads.
Steele said that in the Washington, D.C., area, it’s common for families to hire a nanny or share one. But she said she and her husband, Jonathan, decided the best thing for their family was to have one parent at home. She made more money at the time, so together they decided that dad would stay home with their two children, Quinn and 22-month-old Nicholas. The two hardest issues for them are dealing with the public reaction and guilt. But that hasn’t stopped Sage and Jonathan from curtailing the growth of their family. Sage is pregnant with their third child, due in April.
Steele said they have heard all of the biting, stereotypical comments about Jonathan getting to stay at home all day to watch TV or how she’s the one who wears the pants in the family. But she said having her husband stay at home is the right thing for their family.
“He’s man enough to stay at home,” Steele said. “What he does is more important than what I do.”
Steele admitted that she sometimes feels guilty about going to work, but her consolation is that she has to work to support the family. Plus, she purposely gets up early in the morning to spend time with her son and daughter before she heads off to work at 2:30 p.m.
The advantage, Steele said, is that her children are growing up to see that “mommy and daddy are a team. I want (my children) to know we’re a team. I think they’ll see what a great team a marriage can be.”
Steele said she hopes someday her daughter will pick a nice guy who doesn’t have an ego problem and who is willing to support her when it’s time for her to marry.
“I want my daughter to see women can do anything. Obviously, I work in a male-dominated field. I’m in locker rooms once a week during the NFL season. I’m on the road on the team charter with the Baltimore Ravens. I’m with men all of the time. And I can obviously hold my own. But I want her to take those things as well,” Steele said.
Teamwork is what keeps Viki Regan going.
“When I got on the G.M. (general manager) track, we decided life was too short to have two demanding careers,” Regan said. “We wanted continuity.”
Married for 22 years to Tim, Regan said her husband runs a tight ship for their 9-year-old daughter and 16- and 18-year-old sons.
“Marriage is a team effort. It’s the one thing my kids will walk away with,” Regan said. “Men and women don’t have to be in conventional roles. It’s important to compliment each other’s strengths.”
But not all women are lucky enough to have someone who is available day and night.
Today, WCBS’s Carroll settles for nights. Now that she is divorced and the mother of two teenage sons, she hires a college student to spend the night to help get her sons going in the morning. She’s out the door by 3 a.m. to anchor the morning newscast on WCBS-AM and usually doesn’t get home until noon. The important thing for Carroll is that she is home for her children in the afternoons.
Carroll had worked full time for eight years in radio news when she and her husband decided to have children. That’s when she learned to take advantage of broadcasting’s odd shifts and freelance opportunities.
“I was always on a weird shift so I could be home part time,” Carroll said. At the time, her husband also was able to help with the children when he worked part time or was between jobs.
“I had been lucky to work weekends, nights, freelance. It helps to have a loose schedule,” Carroll said. “I once worked at three or four places freelance, so I had freedom (to be with her children).”
Her advice: “Figure out what works for you.”
Now that Carroll’s sons are older, she’s back to full time. She admitted her current early-morning shift is tiring and forces her to live a “jet-lag kind of life,” but she said she’s willing to pay the price to have it all, something she says women can have if they want it. But, Carroll cautioned, most women can’t have it all at once.
“I’m not a reporter. I don’t work overtime hours. I don’t travel,” Carroll said. “I can’t do that. I’ve limited my options, but it’s specifically tailored to my situation.”
That’s what WCBS-AM anchor Deborah Rodriguez did. She said she purposely traded her full-time job for a freelance job at the station so she could have more time with her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. Rodriguez, 44, took a cut in pay, but her husband’s full-time job helps pay for a nanny. She said her husband often can’t help with the children because of his consuming job as a doctor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Now with a set eight-hour shift as a freelancer, she can take her children to school in the mornings and rely on her babysitter to pick them up in the afternoons. When Rodriguez worked full time, her nanny had to be there for her children on both ends. The freelancing schedule also has helped Rodriguez find some “me” time so she has the energy to spend time with her children and husband in the evenings.
She doesn’t regret her decision to continue working. She said it’s important for her children to see that she works and to “see my work ethic and that I’m contributing to the world.” Rodriguez said she empathizes with women who feel guilt, remembering when she was in her ninth month of pregnancy with her first child and how she was torn about going back to work. But, Rodriguez said, “It’s easier when you know you have to. You just do it and deal with it.”
KQTV’s Jensen had no choice but to deal with it. When she and her husband divorced, she admitted it was tough to rush to her young daughter’s after-school program to pick her up before she anchored the 6 p.m. newscast. Like many single mothers, she discovered the importance of asking for help and would often rely on neighbors to pick up her daughter. Now she has moved on to the management track.
“I do think working news director mothers have a challenge balancing the nature of the business with Mother Nature. Taylor (13-year-old daughter) has learned that her wants and needs sometimes have to wait until after the breaking news. I have felt guilty sometimes, but I am growing a strong little girl who is interested in world and current events,” Jensen said.
Jensen said that with more women in newsrooms, the more family-friendly they will become. She said she allows her employees to juggle family and their jobs. She recalled when KQTV-TV covered an explosion that blocked a main street in St. Joseph, Mo., during the noon hour, she asked the station’s live truck operator to work overtime. In return, she carried his 2-year-old daughter around the newsroom so he could work.
Her family-friendly attitude has been reciprocated. Her station’s chief meteorologist has helped her daughter with her science homework, and the assignment editor and an anchor have helped with her math problems.
“This is a tough career, and you need the support of family. So far, my employees thrive on their family-friends support systems,” Jensen said. “I do think women can have it all in this business, but you have to make your own support. I’m encouraged that women can do this, but it is a new kind of ‘broadcasting’ ground that we’re treading on.”
She credits the women in upper management at her station and company (Nexstar) for supporting women with children.
The operative word here is women.
Jensen recalled talking to a general manager of another television station for a news director position more than two years ago. She said they hit it off and agreed on management style, goals and objectives, and he seemed impressed with her accomplishments. He was ready to fly her out for an interview. Then she asked him about his views on families.
“The interview ended suddenly and abruptly when I mentioned my daughter and how she spent time with me at work. He was done. Children were not permitted in his newsroom. Period. The thought of me with a child apparently altered his ‘vision’ of who I was,” Jensen said.
She didn’t get the job despite her master’s degree and 20 years in the business.
“Our viewers have children. Our key demographic is working mothers (like me),” Jensen said. “How sad to not have a grasp on the majority of the world’s reality.”
But one reality of the broadcast news business is long hours and stress. That’s why Paula Pendarvis and Betsy Ashton decided not to have children.
Pendarvis left her news director position at WGNO-TV in New Orleans more than a year ago. She had been in television news for 24 years, living the typical broadcaster’s nomadic lifestyle, spending half of the time as a producer before getting into management. But she said news directors don’t deal with journalism anymore.
“I loved news and serving the community,” Pendarvis said. “But I was in a corner office analyzing ratings and helping the sales department. News directors have too many other pressures.”
How about adding children to the mix? She said she knows of one female news director in her former market who had her secretary pick up her children at school. And another news director mom was “freaking out about taking care of her child,” Pendarvis said. “I don’t know how moms do it. Whether you’re a man or a woman, this is a tough business for anyone with families.”
Betsy Ashton said she chose not to have children because of clashing responsibilities.
“I did not see how I could possibly be a mother and pursue an all-encompassing career and not feel guilty all of the time that I was neglecting one or the other,” she said. Ashton’s career included more than 17 years as a reporter and anchor in radio and TV in Washington, D.C., then she was a consumer reporter for WCBS-TV in New York, and later joined the CBS Morning News. She is currently producing a lengthy documentary for PBS.
As far as Ashton is concerned, she advises young women contemplating children to know thyself.
“Know whether you are prepared to give quality time to children, which they require,” Ashton said. “Know that an on-air or management job in television will demand much of your time. As a reporter, you’ll have to stay on the story until it ends, which means when they pull the survivors, or their bodies, out of the mine, and that could take two hours … or two weeks.”
The pressures of the business won’t let up, according to Alfred Geller, who at the age of 73 still runs a media management firm.
“It is not easy. It is not supposed to be,” he said. “I view being in the business as a privilege, as a calling. It is enormously important work.”
But he said numbers alone will ensure there will be women who are willing to have it all. More women than ever are graduating from journalism schools across the country.
“For every woman who wants to raise a family and not go into management, there is a much larger number that does,” Geller said.
He cites Diane Doctor, WCBS-TV news director, a mother who has reached management status in the country’s No. 1 market.
Regan, in top management at WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, Fla., said women can have it all, but she agrees: “It’s hard. Anyone who believes you can have it all without (making) adjustments is fooling themselves. The reality of life doesn’t always balance out.”
She admitted that not all women can have a stay-at-home husband or juggle career and children.
“Women shouldn’t feel they have to do it all and then end up feeling resentful,” Regan said.
Karin Schwanbeck, a former TV reporter, is an assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn. She advises the university’s SPJ chapter.
Tagged under: Freelancing