Baby on Board: Time to Leave?

Megyn Kelly / Fox News

Erin Burnett / CNN

Joan Lunden was one of the first network anchors to share her three pregnancies with viewers during the 1980’s. Up until that time a pregnant reporter was not a common sight on television. Lunden broke ground at the time by making a point of bringing her newborn babies to work and creating a nursery in her office.

Since then female anchors and reporters have happily shared their pregnancies with viewers – most recently Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and CNN’s Erin Burnett. These on-air talent have been great examples of women who haven’t missed a beat and have successfully been able to have both career and family.

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell recently told New York Magazine that it is by no means easy but that she is able to do it because of a strong support system at home and at work. I think most female anchors would agree with O’Donnell.

Unfortunately many female producers who comprise that support system can’t say the same. I have noticed time and again when a female producer starts a family she very often ends up leaving her job. It’s a real struggle. Cut backs in the industry have led to long hours and overworked producers. Twelve hour days in broadcast news are now the norm rather than the exception.

A pregnant producer friend and colleague recently had to take time off because the long days and stress are affecting her health. I’ve seen other female colleagues leave the industry for jobs outside of television before they even start a family because they see how difficult it is to be a producer while raising children. Sheryl Sandberg addresses this issue of women stepping back from their careers prior to having children in her book “Lean In”.

Look around any news room and you’ll see many women in their twenties but as you look for women in their thirties and forties the numbers significantly dwindle. This is unfortunate not just for these women but for the industry as a whole. Their voices, ideas and life experiences are missing from the stories covered each day. We need to find a way to support these women too.

Madam President

Kate O’Brian, President Al Jazeera America / photo: Donna Svennevik/ABC

Deborah Turness, President NBC News / photo: NBC News

I remember the media coverage in 2006 when Katie Couric was named the first female solo anchor of an evening newscast at CBS. A few years later Diane Sawyer took on the same job at ABC which was also met with similar excitement. Everyone talked about the significance of two women taking on jobs that had traditionally been held by men.

A similar scenario is now taking place but with a lot less fanfare. This week Kate O’Brian a senior VP at ABC News was named president of news for the soon to be launched Al Jazeera America. This announcement comes just two months after NBC named Deborah Turness  president of its news division. As someone who is in the business I feel these two hires are just as significant as Couric and Sawyer yet they seem to be missing the “oh wow” factor. Yes, I know the anchor position is the face the public sees but let’s think about it. O’Brian and Turness are now in charge of their respective news operations, determining editorial strategy and influencing what gets covered each day. An even bigger challenge for both women will be shaping the future of broadcast news in the world of new media.

What do you think about these recent hires? Big deal or not?

Look!

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I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. I look back on my 25 year career as a television producer and wonder has my work made a difference? How do I keep up? Is there a place for a middle-aged woman like me?  I look at female colleagues, those who have stuck it out and those who have moved on. Why did they stay? Where did they go? What can they teach me? I look at young female interns filled with enthusiasm and remember when that was once me. What’s their future like? What wisdom can I impart on them? What questions do they have for me? I look at television news, newspapers, websites, blogs and social media and wonder what influence will women have on this industry as it evolves? I hope other women will join me as we look to each other to find answers and make our way forward.

 

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