Jane Pauley · 2009
“Mr. McConnell,” I said, “I’ve got a tape here of a young reporter applicant who has no television background or experience, but if we hire her I think she’s going to be so good we’ll never keep her.”
The videotape audition was of Jane Pauley, and as far as I knew, the first time she had actually been on camera reading a newscast she had written.
I was the news director of WISH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis. The boss was general manager Robert B. McConnell, who seemed not quite as impressed with Jane’s potential as was I at that moment. (He later was to prove an absolute bulldog in working to keep Jane at WISH when other stations started trying to “steal” her away.
Did I think then that Jane might end up reporting and anchoring network newscasts? Yes. But who would have thought (not even me on this one) that a little more than four years later Jane would be named co-host of NBC’s “Today” and catch the magic of her immediate connection with the nation’s television viewers.
That’s the stuff most of us only dream about.
And if Jane was a dreamer, she was very much an accomplished adventurer in the pursuit of her ambitions.
Jane was a native Hoosier, growing up on the Indianapolis eastside, attending school there and being graduated by Warren Central, competing as a member of the debate team and active in community, being elected Governor of Girls State, becoming an accomplished extemporaneous speaker, and earning a degree in political science from Indiana University in Bloomington.
She was a young woman excelling at all that she did.
WISH-TV’s Hall of Fame anchor Mike Ahern observed recently: “I suppose my most vivid first impression of Jane was at a charity luncheon we attended when she was still a HIGH SCHOOL student. Jane was Youth Chairperson of the event (and) she was bright, articulate, and literally lit up the room.
After IU, Jane tested that degree with a job in politics. But she soon seemed to become intrigued by the media, and especially TV news. (We learned later that another of Jane’s dreams was to go to law school. Jane Pauley, attorney at law? Think about that.)
But with a combination of classic timing and opportunity, you know what really happened.
I often have said, “We were so impressed with Jane’s persistence in seeking a TV news position, her serious interest in journalism, her accomplished interviewing skills and engaging personality, her sense of news judgment, her TV presence, and our belief in her potential, WISH offered her a temporary, probationary, 30-day (make it or break it) entry level reporting job at the salary of $125.00 a week.” (Jane still talks about that salary!)
Suffice to say, Jane and we at WISH found the good fortune to take a chance on each other, and Jane’s historic and pioneering broadcast-news profession was in first gear.
Looking back now, Ahern recalls: “What really impressed me during Jane’s career at WISH was what a quick study she was. She was, of course, ‘camera ready,’ but more than that, she was a skilled writer. That’s the one phase of her career for which I believe she never received proper credit.”
In less than three years with WISH, Jane was attracting both the attention of viewers and, not so by the way, competitors at other stations, including the NBC owned and operated station in Chicago.
It wasn’t really easy, but soon Jane got that “opportunity of a lifetime.” That’s what Bob McConnell finally told Jane it would take for us to release her from her employment contract to join WMAQ-TV, where she became the first female co-anchor of the major evening newscasts in the nation’s third largest television market.
It was another huge, pioneering step, but the biggest of all job offers for Jane-one that made morning television news history-was just ahead.
In a stunning rise to national television prominence, the next year Jane was named to replace the legendary Barbara Walters as co-host of NBC’s “Today,” beginning a 30-year career with the network, covering, writing, reporting, and anchoring the nation’s and the worlds major news events during the next three decades.
Jane went on to co-host “Today” for 13 years, and then from early mornings to prime time investigative journalism with “Dateline NBC.” She was also featured on “Real Life with Jane Pauley” and on MSNBC’s “Time and Again,” and was named deputy anchor to Tom Brokaw on the NBC “Nightly News.”
Surprising many, Jane decided to leave NBC News in 2003. She then authored an autobiography, “Skywriting, a Life Out of the Blue,” and hosted her own nationally syndicated television program, “The Jane Pauley Show.”
Always sensitive to diversity and opportunities for bright, young people in journalism, Jane during her career commissioned a national study group, “The Jane Pauley Task Force on Mass Communication Education.”
She then created a national TV news internship competition, putting up her own money to fund a stipened for the winning interns while away from their college studies.
And that connection has had lasting impact as Tom Brokaw reveals, wherever I go in America I encounter young women who say, “All I ever wanted to be in life was Jane Pauley.” I always respond, you couldn’t pick a better role model. She’s the consunmate pro bright, curious and committed to her profession.
As always, Jane’s more private priority has been her own three children with husband and “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau. With their children’s educational experiences still fresh, Jane often visits and speaks to students and faculty at colleges and universities, continuing her long dedication to this personal interest.
Being honored by the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame brings Jane back to DePauw University, where she was previously awarded an honorary Doctorate in Journalism degree.
Jane was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2006, and while her other broadcast journalism awards are too fulsome to detail here, some of those include The Paul White Award, the highest honor of the Radio Television News Directors Association; and Edward R. Murrow Award, also from the RTNDA; the first Matrix Award of the Association for Women in Communication; national Emmy awards and numerous other industry honors.
A life and career to have dreamed about? Oh, yes.
When Jane left WISH-TV, I remember the best advice I could think to give her was, “Just be yourself, and you’ll be OK.”
In all humility, whether I would have said it or not. I think that’s just what she did. Always true to herself on her “excellent adventure” earning historic recognition for her pioneering and professional achievements in broadcast journalism, all of which make her richly deserving of her induction into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
By Lee Giles, Retired Vice President & News Director, WISH-TV