Journalism 101. Start every story with your best sound and your best video. Don’t bury the lead. With that… this month is my last at KETV, after 15 years as a journalist at the only station I’ve ever known.
When I was a little girl, I used to sit on the stairs in our split level house in Papillion, with my legs dangling through the steps and a notebook in front of me. I would just write. I would write about my day. I would play the game Life by myself, and use each space as a prompt to write a fictional story. I’ve kept a journal since I had huge glasses and buck teeth. In college, long-form essays and papers weren’t hassles, I relished them; I love letting the words just HAPPEN, and the surge of accomplishment when those words come full circle and everything just FITS.
I’ve always been a natural ‘performer’. I was the ham hogging the attention for our 1st generation camcorder, jumping in front of my Dad with a goofy voice or song whenever he had the thing rolling. I tried out for show choir every year I could, and joined the speech team my very first year of high school. Speaking just came easily for me; and I was GOOD at it. Forensics, theater and choir were my LIFE in high school.
I was never in journalism. I didn’t carry around a Barbara Walters lunchbox. I floated around my first year of college not knowing where I belonged or what my future looked like. My sophomore year at UNL, I took Introduction to Broadcasting with Tom Spann, and was fascinated by a world of history, SHARING history, writing, and reporting. Somehow the idea of an internship surfaced, and KETV was the station I grew up watching. My mom bumped into longtime weekend anchor/reporter Pamela Jones at a city meeting, got contact information for the intern program, and I emailed Managing Editor Joe Kasmir the next day. I showed up for my interview a good half an hour early.. and I will never forget walking through the Newsplex doors, overwhelmed to see the same set and newsroom I had watched on TV for so long. Julie Cornell and Rob McCartney were just finishing the 6pm broadcast, and Julie looked up and smiled at me.
How do you sum up 15 years?
My first breaking news live shot at NP Dodge Park… that was God awful.
Covering my first night of tornadoes as an intern, Scott Buer at the wheel of the car, and me in the passenger seat wearing a green skirt suit and heels, trekking around in mud and rain COMPLETELY unprepared, but willing to stay out as long as Scott did.
Talking to a suspect in jail dubbed the ‘Bare Butt Bandit’, and hearing later from my best friend’s now-husband: ‘I said, Please God, let Brandi be doing that story..’
An Iowa shooting late at night with photojournalist Mike Richard, and then lying in the backseat on the way home with my eyes squeezed shut, battling a nauseous migraine.
Live shots on the field at Memorial Stadium with Rob on one side and Jon on the other.. when a stray football was punted right into the side of my face. Hearing my Assistant News Director Vonn Jones yelling in my ear ’30 seconds!!’ as I tried to regain my composure.. as did Jon and Rob (from dying laughing…)
Driving 8 hours throughout the night with Justin Riviera to cover an arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder in Boulder, Colorado. I was overwhelmed by literally HUNDREDS of rabid reporters; he shoved me and said ‘get in there, Petersen!’
Covering an afternoon and evening of tornado threats across western Iowa with photojournalist Dave Hynek. Laughs because of a nerve-wracking live shot.. laughing that turned to chaos and sheer sadness when we learned less than an hour later about the tragedy at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Camp. We worked through the night side by side, waiting for the details that would shake our community and the country.
Countless tears when things went wrong. Crying to my roommate, wondering what I should have done better. Coming home and sobbing to myself, questioning my decisions as not only a reporter, but a human being.
Westroads. Derek Ruth. The Butternut fire. The paralyzed bride. Clayton Hildreth. Evan Sharp. Pediatric brain cancer. Amber Harris. Baby Lawrence. La Paz, Mexico.
JP Carter. John Matya. Trisha Meuret. Tom Elser. Joe Kasmir. Cathy Beeler. Jay Roberts. Vonn Jones. Jon Schuetz. Sean McMahon. Justin Riviera. Renee Ludvik. Kristyna Engdahl. Jeremy Maskel. Adrian Whitsett. Andy Ozaki. Natalie Glucklich. Melissa Fry. ROB, ANDY, DAVE. My coworkers that have become my family.
Through KETV, I met my husband. I was on air throughout my pregnancies with both of my boys. We moved; twice. This is where we grew up; this is home.
At KETV we lost Joe, my mentor who hired me, fueled my passion for journalism, and always, ALWAYS pushed me to be better, while making me feel like I was really something special. I often wish he had been alive to see me anchor ‘the big show’.
We lost Jeff Frolio, the photographer who told me about jazz, and how special music was for him and his wife. It was the music at his final service that broke me down.
Just like my stories… in so many ways, THIS story has come full circle for me. My sweet ‘baby’ boy Easton will start Kindergarten in a few short weeks. Guys, I need to be here with my children. I need to hear about their days, I need to be there for school concerts and carnivals and dinner on our deck. I need to hear THEIR stories, and I need to be PART of their stories when they look back and share them throughout their lives. News is a business like no other; it never stops. Tornadoes don’t drop from the sky from 9-5, Monday through Friday. Tragedies don’t happen just while we’re on the clock. There will be another journalist, waiting and ready, to slide into that spot next to Rob to anchor our evening newscast every night, but I am my boys’ ONLY MOTHER. I am the ONLY MOMMA they will ever have.
God works in mysterious ways; he always has a plan, though we may not understand it as it’s unfolding. Next month, I will join the Communications team with Westside Community Schools. I still get to tell stories; GREAT stories about incredible students, teachers making a difference, programs that impact generations of kids. I get to showcase the GOOD in our world; I get to WRITE. But every day, I also get to go home to my family. We can eat dinner together. We can play at the park, and watch the sunset, wake up the next morning and do it all over again. I know I’ll be home every Christmas morning, I’ll get to watch fireworks with my kids every 4th of July, I get to stay at the pool with them Sunday mornings instead of putting on my makeup, straightening my hair and heading to the station. I need to say this: I have SO MUCH RESPECT for working parents, regardless of their shifts. People all over America work crazy hours, love what they do, and love their lives at home. I work with many of them here at 7!
For me.. it’s just time. Still, as I write this, I still feel the tears welling up behind my eyes. I am so excited for this new opportunity and new chapter in my life, but it truly is so hard to say goodbye. My fear is that I didn’t matter. That time will go on and it will be like I was never there. That sounds really narcissistic and egotistical; truly, I’ve tried to make a point in my career to NOT make everything about me, to make our stories about THE PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ISSUES we are sharing. But to everyone throughout these 15 years who’s made me feel ‘like a big deal’.. to everyone who has watched us, followed us, trusted us.. THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I don’t have words beyond that.. but I hope you understand the deep gratitude from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.
WATCH KETV. You will NEVER find a better journalist than Rob McCartney. This dude is one of the best human beings I have ever known; he cares, he listens, he is always asking questions and trying to dig a little deeper to share the most complete story possible, and I’d argue NO ONE is trusted as a journalist in our state more than Rob. He is noble, smart, a leader, compassionate. He is a good friend. Bill Randby is HANDS DOWN THE BEST meteorologist you could ever turn to; NO ONE cares more about providing people accurate information than this guy, and truly one of the most genuinely KIND people I have ever met. Kristyna Engdahl is BRILLIANT. Her writing is phenomenal, she’s fair, she has a GIFT for public speaking and thinking on her feet, and I WISH everyone at home could meet her and feel her energy in person.. because she makes EVERY DAY better when you’re around her. Andy Kendeigh is the big brother I never had–always supportive, always caring, just an AMAZING GUY and such a wonderful friend. And holy crap, is this guy GOOD. Athletes and coaches LOVE him for a reason–he’s hilarious, hard working, devoted to what he shares every night and throughout every season. In addition… our future is so very bright. Alexandra Stone, Chinh Doan, Laurann Robinson, Sean Everson, Matt Serwe, Cem Brinklow, Ashley Nodgaard, Josh Gear, Davonte McKenith, David Earl, Katie Bane, Tanner Kahler, Matt Lothrop, Camila Orti… all of the people you see and many you don’t… they are HUNGRY for good journalism. They want to tell good stories. They are willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, personal LIVES, to make KETV the best it can be. This team IS TRULY THE BEST. You will not find local news in our state that is better–YOU JUST WON’T.
I knew this day was coming. I didn’t think it would be this WEIRD. That’s the only word that makes sense. I don’t have enough words, and at the same time, I feel like I’ve said too much.
We’ve got a few weeks left, Omaha–let’s make it awesome. Westside, I hope to make you proud. KETV, I hope I’ve made a mark, some kind of difference.
And to my boys.. I love you. Let’s go hunt some pokemon and have a great morning together.
Photo courtesy Photography By CB