My journalism career just ended, but this is what’s breaking my heart
I’ve debated hitting publish on this post for weeks. Shedding light on the corporate workings of a news organization isn’t exactly the best way to solidify your next gig. But it came to a point where I felt like not saying anything is doing more harm and pretty hypocritical. What is this platform of mine if I’m not willing to back the people and issues I’m passionate about? What was the point of it all if I’m not willing to try to make a difference when it matters most?
Photo Credit: Vocal Visions
The Pink Slip
A call came in from New York. I normally don’t answer the phone for numbers I don’t know, but with everything that’s going on with my mom right now, I answer the phone for everyone.
I said hello and waited for the monotonic voice of a recorded marketing call, but instead was greeted with a very professional, very down-to-business kind of voice from Spectrum News in New York.
It took a moment for it to all sink in.
“I was told you wanted to speak with me?” She added.
I had actually been awaiting this call weeks earlier. My news station–All the news stations under this umbrella were acquired as Charter bought Time Warner Cable. A mass of people had been let go and I had dodged a bullet. Or so I thought. This down-to-business woman from New York was calling to let me know my time was up.
“Oh yea, I heard all of the feature segments were getting canceled at our station, but I never got a call so I’ve just continued to do them,” I said.
Let me back up for a second. The feature segment–called Forever Families–is arguably the most important and impactful piece of work my station puts on the air. Not because it’s what I’m doing, but because of what it is.
A lot of people know about children in foster care who are waiting to return to their homes once things get better. What many people don’t realize is that there are thousands of foster children around the country who are *never* going back to their homes. Their parents or guardians have lost custody completely, and they don’t have other relatives to step up.
These are the children I meet every week. Children who are deemed “harder to adopt” by the state. Because most people who want to adopt are looking for babies, not teens. Or wanting a single child, not sibling groups. Or a “typical child” not one who has special needs.
For the last eight years of my life–before I even had my own children–These were the children I played with, and got to know for a short time before penning their narrates as best as I could. I told their stories in a segment to air on television. A special spot to help connect them to their forever family somewhere out there watching.
And it worked! Adoption rates went up. By a lot. We tore down barriers between those stigmatized and put a face and a voice with the names of these children who need homes.
So it made sense to me that they’d keep it on air. We did this important work. Every. Single. Week.
“Oh yea, you and just slipped through the cracks,” the woman from New York went on. “Everything going on down there in Texas is a mess. I didn’t even have your phone number until a few hours ago. You’re contract right?”
She wasn’t even sure of my position yet she was ready to lay me off.
“Well technically I’m part time–” I started.
“Yes, well we’ve done away with all the franchise segments. They were no longer sponsored…”
I wanted to cut her off. To tell her that for a time Forever Families was intentionally not sponsored because of the nature of the segment. I was debating if it was worth challenging in this moment when she said something that brought me back to the conversation.
“We’ll have several full-time positions opening up and I encourage you to apply for one of them.”
Full time? I didn’t want to laugh but at this point it became clear that she had no idea about my history with the station. It didn’t really matter, but perhaps if she had known that this segment wasn’t some kind of a stepping stone for me.–But something I continued to do out of love and passion after stepping down from a full-time position, maybe the chat would have gone a little differently.
The conversation was moving too quickly for me. Maybe it’s a New Yorker thing. I was barely able to process it all. I resolved this was a losing conversation and I’d just have to figure this out on my own. But I wasn’t giving up. I’m not giving up.
In case you’re wondering why this is a hill I’m willing to die on, let me share one example of the life-changing impact of this piece.
Several years ago I met a couple who had just adopted two girls. “My wife watched Forever Families religiously!” He told me. And one Sunday they saw two little girls playing at a rodeo and it struck them–That’s their girls. A year after I had met those girls to film that segment at the Star of Texas Rodeo, we met back to get their story.
I chose to pursue journalism because I loved the rush of learning about a topic I haven’t a clue about, interviewing different people every day, and piecing together a story to inform others about. My job as an anchor and reporter had its ups and downs for years, but taking charge of the Forever Families segment changed everything for me. I felt like I had a *real*, important story to tell. One that actually made a tangible difference. The stories of hundreds of foster children around Central Texas who need a family.
Forever Families aired every Sunday and it literally bought families together.
Now Sunday morning when you turn to channel 8 on Spectrum News you’ll still see weather, and politics, and news about the latest shooting or traffic accident, or another fire or… You know the drill. But the foster kids looking for families? Gone.
I’m currently working with the nonprofit Partnerships for Children, who facilitate organizing the filmings of these children.–They are absolutely the ones to thank for keeping this going as long as it did. We have a handful of segments that never ran on Spectrum, and I’ll be editing those in the meantime to put on their website and hopefully offer to other news stations.
Though this segment has a special place in my heart, I’m happy to pass the torch to good hands if that means it will keep running.–As Forever Families, Wednesday’s Child, or whatever it needs to be called.
I’ve been emailing and calling the new news director in charge at the local level to see if that’s something we can do. So far I’ve gotten no response. Next step is courting other stations and reaching out to you for help.
How You Can Help
Let them know you believe foster children are important, and Forever Families should be back on the air. You can submit feedback, contact them through their Facebook Page, tweet them, or if you’re into the kind of person who likes to pick up the phone, call them 512-965-8800.
Do you have connections to another news station, web channel, or other platform that would love to feature a different foster child every week? The more eyes the better. These stories were often the first impression, or the spark that got someone interested in adoption. Or to remind them of a friend who may be interested in adoption.
You can learn more about the Heart Gallery and the foster children who need families here, and more about the segment here.
Despite what is going on at a corporate level, these kids deserve their platform. I have no doubt this segment will make a comeback.–With whom and how I’m not so sure. But I’m hanging in there until I see it happen.
I went to college to study journalism because I wanted to be a reporter and make a difference. I never imagined I’d be going about it this way.
Tags: forever families, journalism, news business, news reporter, work
Thanks for sharing. I agree with your decision to talk about what happened and not just let it go! Best of luck!!
Thank you Aubrey. <3
We met briefly over the weekend at Mom2.0. I worked at a newspaper for 15 years, and the person who laid me off didn’t know who my supervisor was. I was the first of 8 in the newsroom being laid off (but I reported to someone not in the newsroom) and about mid-way through reading the paperwork that my job was being eliminated, I asked her if she knew who my boss was. I then leaned towards her and said, “don’t worry. I’ll let her know on my way out.” It was devastating because of the people I had to leave behind.
You’ve done amazing work and I do hope your segment can continue on SOME platform. The foster kids definitely need your voice.
Jamie it was great meeting you! I’m so so sorry to hear about you losing your job at the newspaper. It’s seriously never easy. Especially when you’ve been there for so long and your co-workers feel like family. Thanks for your sweet comment. I’ve gotten some great leads and I think these kids will have a fantastic new platform soon!
This is terrible news. Thank you for the years of care you put into humanizing the kids and I’m willing to take up the fight with you to see that it continues. Let’s talk.
Thank you Lisa! Miss you! And yes, let’s chat!
Just tweeted to them. I hope they will continue. I’m so sorry about your job but I really respect that this passion was born in your heart that you want to continue. Thank you for speaking up. My oldest was adopted from foster care so it’s close to my heart, too. On my own blog, I feature a foster child every week from a different city’s Wednesday’s Child segment, and also share to my facebook page. For people with platforms, just sharing photos or stories can make a huge difference. Wednesday’s Child segments can be found on YouTube and the Heart Gallery and Adopt-Us-Kids are also places to learn about kids who are waiting.
Totally going to connect with you on how you currently do this Kristen. I just got an email from the nonprofit I partner with on this that was forwarded from YOU! You do so many amazing things and I want in on helping! This segment is making a comeback (yay!) but seeing the impact this, and people like you have is making me want to continue to do more!
I love what you have and am doing for the children. I hope they found someone else with your passion so they don;t get left behind everyone deserves a family.
I totally agree with you Jerilyn! Good vibes are out there. I have a feeling this will be picked up very soon!
Thanks Jerilyn, good news! It’s making a comeback! I’m so excited!
I’d say it’s too early to write off your career in Journalism, Jenn. You are so outstanding at everything you do; with conviction and heart. Unfortunately, many corporate types in broadcast journalism can’t see past rhe bottom line. The importance and impact of your “Forever Families” program is beyond their comprehension. I know you’ll be guided by your faith in staying true to your ideals because I am blessed to know You.
Thank you Wes! Miss working with you! <3
Wes you are the best! I appreciate you and your kind words so much <3
Thank God we still have humanitarians on planet Earth. Keep on giving of your yourself to the nation’s children.
You’re very sweet Lusan. Things are in the works and I believe the segment will soon have a new home!
<3 thanks Lusan
It’s like you’re on a miossin to save me time and money!