Today, the news finally broke that five of my friends and former co-workers will be losing their roles at the television station. All of them were main anchors. All of them were incredibly hard working, dedicated professionals. All of them were left blindsided.
The television news industry can be brutal. When a top-ranked company bought my former station not long ago, they had one goal in mind: make Action News number one in Jacksonville. Right now, the station is a solid three. The most difficult thing about that is that it has nothing to do with the talent. The station was my home for three and a half years. The employees became like family. We all worked our butts off every single day to tell important stories that matter to our community. And our product looked great. In my opinion, it far surpassed the competition. But this is a legacy market — a city that continues to do what it’s always done. And the fact of the matter is, another station has been doing it a lot longer. So that’s the one most choose to watch. It’s almost as if they don’t even realize there are two other stations out there.
Word spread like wildfire last week when my friends were informed their contracts were not being renewed and their final days on the anchor desk in Jacksonville were approaching. I could feel the heartbreak all the way across town. I know it must have stung much deeper for those sitting in the newsroom.
These friends are the rocks of the station. When things got rough and stressful and hard to handle, one anchor always told me, ‘sit tight. It’s going to get better.’ She was a voice of calm and reason. She knew how hard all of us were working. And she would encourage us every day. She didn’t report often, but when she did, I was always left mesmerized by her work. Even if she only had an hour to throw the story together, she found a way to make it so powerful. She is one of the most amazing and inspiring journalists I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. And I can say with confidence the station will be lost without her.
Two others were the first few I got to know when I started working at the station. We were all together on the same shift. Like a team within the team. They’re parents. They have family here. This was a place where they dreamed they’d be able to do what they loved forever. I spoke with one of them the night the news broke. And I fought back tears during that call. I truly feel her pain. She works so hard every day. She has a prominent role in the newscasts but she is far from one of those anchors that comes to work solely to “read the news.”
It saddens me that in a few short months, I won’t recognize most of the faces that appear on the screen. I won’t know their kids’s names. And they won’t even know I existed. They won’t know how all of us banded together to navigate rough waters. How many of us cried together in dressing rooms and bathrooms. How we would dance around the newsroom after putting together an incredible story. [OK, maybe that was just me?]
Just one day after learning about the decision to let them all go, one of my best friends called me with similar news in a different city. She too, left blindsided.
This industry can be brutal.
When I retired from the world of television news, I had no regrets. But I missed that TV family. Today, I am more thankful than ever that I got out of a business where decisions like these are commonplace. Jobs are temporary. Veterans get replaced by younger and cheaper journalists with half the knowledge or talent. Women are told to cut their hair. [It happened to me. At two of the three stations where I worked.] Appearance is everything when you’re sitting on that anchor desk.
I can’t tell you how much hate mail I received in my ten years in the business. Your dress is ugly. What’s wrong with your make-up? Your hair looks awful. I used to cry at some of the mean things people would say. ‘Don’t they realize we are people too,’ I would think to myself. But that’s the way it works. Nothing’s fair in love and war…and television news. No job is guaranteed…even for the length of the contract you had to sign.
Tonight, I say a prayer for all my friends who are now searching for their next new beginning. I know every one of them will land on their feet. They’re all great people. They made the station great. They helped make me a better journalist. I cherish those memories. I am interested to see what becomes of my old stomping ground. If there’s any glue left to hold it together. What becomes of a place after it hits the ‘reset button.’ In this industry, the saying goes, ‘the grass isn’t always greener…’