Chris Stanford is a journalist in Wichita who’s worked in couple top 25 markets, 10+ years experience.
I stole the title of this post from a chapter in Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life. At age 24 Jennings was an Canadian network TV anchor and by the time he was 26 he was anchoring for ABC. Then, he quit. He abandoned many journalists dream job because he wanted to become a better reporter. That sounds unheard of, because typically reporters work their tails off for a shot at becoming an anchor. But Jennings did it and well… now he’s a legend. In my mind, the greatest. End of discussion. I was a kid when he explained to us what Operation Desert Storm was about. I was glued to the TV set on 9/11 because I wanted to hear what was happening from Peter.
His decision to leave the desk had a major impact on my career path. A path that would impact my life immensely, not only in my carrer but my personal life; where I lived, the friends I made, and where my wife and I would raise our family.
I read that book when I was 23 and anchoring a morning show in Wisconsin in the market I grew up in. I felt at the time that if I didn’t make any huge mistakes, I could work there forever. I took another anchor job close by, and read Peter’s book again. This time, his choice to pursue reporting resonated. I got an agent and told him, “I want to report”. “I need to earn my stripes”. I understood that in order to make significant leaps in my career, that’s what I needed to do. So that’s what I did. I jumped from market 127 to 15, granted I also went from being a Main Anchor to Morning Reporter. And it was great.
I loved reporting and still do. In Minneapolis I was given valuable opportunities to anchor now and then in a huge market, for veteran producers. The people around you at work can either drive you to be better or drag you down. I’d never learned so much so quickly reporting in Minneapolis. I absorbed everything I could from other reporters, producers, photographers, you name it. The job was incredible. But I left. On my own. I needed to see how other news markets did it, so I took a job in St. Louis. The news was the opposite of what we were doing in the Twin Cities. That comparison could be its own post.
To sum it up, my managers demanded hard-assed reporting with an attitude. Funny, because you should’ve seen my resume tape, it was the opposite of that. But I learned their style, which when done responsibly and ethically can be great. Then, unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a Ferguson police officer. Journalists can go their entire careers without covering a story of that magnitude.
I would’ve never covered that story if I hadn’t left Minneapolis, had I never left the desk in Wisconsin, had I never read that book. Leaving the desk made me a better journalist. No doubt about it. It was the best career move I’ve ever made because it set up some incredible opportunities, to inform more people and better provide for my family.
Jennings inspired me to be better, to pursue a career of journalism and not anchoring. I believe whatever your job is in the newsroom, we should be journalists first. We owe it to Peter.