In the fall of 2000, however, I got my big break as a reporter for the FOX affiliate in my hometown of Portland. Well aware that most of my peers were forced to slog it out for years in Tiny Town, USA, I felt lucky to get the gig. And it didn’t take long to get into the groove of my new job because, frankly, there wasn’t time for a learning curve. My life soon became a blur of live shots in horizontal rain from I-5 overpasses (rubber boots from Kmart) and meth-lab busts (track shoes are best). I delivered warnings about sex offenders and burglars on the loose (I’m never quite sure: low, wedge heels or comfy flats?) and “Winter Blast” dispatches from a Troutdale truck stop (definitely snow boots).
Sure, my job can be tough—working nearly every Friday night throughout my twenties was a drag—but through it all, there’s been one reassuring constant: the discerning attention of Portland viewers.
Whether asking me about my eyelashes when they see me on the streets (they are real, for the record), cornering me in bar bathrooms (“Hey, TV lady!”) or e-mailing me messages of support (“Thanks for sticking it out in the snow!”) or utter disgust (“I’m never watching you again!”), Portlanders have really been watching me.
This first sank in during the spring of 2001, when I reported a two-part series on the possible connection between autism and vaccines. Exasperated parents of autistic children thanked me via e-mail and phone for finally talking about the issue. But I received equally emotional feedback from angry viewers in Portland’s medical community, one of whom promised I would be solely responsible for the deaths of thousands because I scared parents away from vaccinating their children.
Then, after September 11, 2001, being a television journalist suddenly had new meaning. As the profile of certain flag-waving, right-leaning political pundits on cable news heightened, Portland viewers became increasingly aware that KPTV’s newscast happened to air on a FOX station. It amazed me that so many folks in liberal Portland thought—and still think—that I share a cubicle wall with Bill O’Reilly or that Rupert Murdoch himself leads our editorial meetings. I know this because many of you have transmitted your feelings on the matter using spirited finger gestures when you see the FOX 12 news truck in traffic. Message received, loud and clear!
(By the way, my station is owned by the Meredith Corporation, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa. I’m pretty sure O’Reilly has his own office in New York, and that he doesn’t even have to think about what shoes he wears to work each day.)
‘Um, now we’re running! I have to go.’
Of course, there are some days when Portlanders would rather not watch us at all. On November 7, 2006, the day Democrats reclaimed power in Congress and Nancy Pelosi was named the first female Speaker of the House, I was assigned to cover the Oregon Democrats’ party at the Benson Hotel. By 9 p.m., Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski had won re-election, and rumors quickly spread through the festive crowd that he was ready to make a victory speech.
By 9:30, we’d broken into FOX’s primetime programming, the über-popular medical drama “House,” to carry the speech live. There was one problem: Politicians are never on time. So there was yours truly, performing a 10-minute verbal tap-dance routine (no, I don’t own tap shoes, but I would have given up my microphone-holding right hand for a pair) to keep viewers interested until the governor showed. By the end of the night, our station had received 40,000 calls from viewers complaining that I’d ruined their evening.
Note to self: Never come between the Rose City and its favorite television drama, even on election night.
I hardly let such setbacks deter me, though. As a TV reporter in Portland, every day is another opportunity for adventure, whether it’s being spat upon by Critical Mass cyclists, dissed by city officials or helping the police to find a missing child—maybe even saving someone’s life.
All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, anything is possible, and I don’t plan on trading my Adidas in for Manolos anytime soon.