This is from the one of the last photo shoots I did at WESH-TV (NBC Orlando). As another former news anchor described photos like this, it’s from when I “used to be Wendy Chioji.” I worked in local tv news for 25 years, 20 of them at WESH. I mostly loved, LOVED that job. I loved meeting new people, telling stories, synthesizing information from a 5 hour city council meeting into a 1:20 story. I loved being part of The Big Story, from shuttle disasters (2) to the Olympics (2), to the Pope going to Cuba (1) to political conventions (3) to the Orlando Magic (many!). I loved the 12-hours on and 12-hours off coverage of hurricanes (don’t miss them!) and helping sister station WDSU do news when Hurricane Katrina blew their station down in New Orleans. I loved representing the station at charity events, corporate events, social gatherings. I loved having the platform of the station to help Livestrong, Canine Companions for Independence, the Hope and Help Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Ripple Effect and countless other social service agencies. I loved getting the opportunity to do cool things like sit in the Shuttle Columbia, try Sea World’s Discovery Cove first, go to the Daytona 500, be at Disney for the millenium, and so much more. I loved local television news.
Until I didn’t.
The realization that my dream job had started to unravel around the edges came a couple of years before I left the station in 2008. It’s not that it was no longer challenging or fun… In fact, it was, and still is. But these days, the challenges often come from having to fill hours of news a day with shrinking staffs and resources, and frankly, rarely enough relevant news to do it. That was a big part of the problem. Our station had always prided itself on being the “Big J (Journalism)” operation. But slowly, Brittney Spears hair-shaving incident merited not only a news story, but a news tease (as in “Coming up, YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT BRITTNEY DONE TO HER HAIR!” Exaggerating, of course. A little.) You can blame the stations for this evolving into infotainment, but it’s what the viewers expect as well. And I will say, my station was among the last to cave.
At the same time, management and staffing at my station changed in ways that made my decision to get off the merry-go-round easy. People are/were always saying that I was so brave to dive in to something completely foreign, to leave the security of a career and a city that I’d loved for 20 years. But truly, it was less about bravery than choice. Why would I choose to stay in a job that didn’t fit anymore, when I could create options? I did still love parts of the job. I had a terrific, passionate young producer who helped me with “The 6:00 News with Wendy Chioji” for a year. I still worked with smart, talented, funny people every day. It still wasn’t enough. I’d survived Stage II breast cancer a few years before. That taught me that you may NOT get a second chance, so you’d better find your life fulfilling every damn day. The ownership of my station, Hearst-Argyle, was accommodating and generous, and allowed me to leave the station in 2008, leave Orlando, leave television news, and start my second act.
Here’s a life screen-grab of my second act. We had just skinned up Jupiter Peak, the top of Park City Mountain Resort, I think three winters ago. Skinning requires putting adhesive “skins” on the bottom of your skis. The bindings are special touring bindings, which release the heel so you can, well, walk up the mountain. Then you take off the skins and ski back down in piles of powder. The more you work up, the longer the ride down. It’s about 40 degrees this day, so no jacket. I’m flying Livestrong yellow, as usual, Radioshack Bike Team hat, standard uniform since I left the Armani and Valentino behind. (Confession: I couldn’t bring myself to leave the Armani and Valentino behind. It’s all still in my closet, where I admire it, occasionally.) This is where I’m coming from these days. So grateful for my years in tv news, especially at WESH, because everything that happened there brought me here. People ask if I miss working daily in a news operation. What do you think?