By Monica Hannan
I hadn’t been at KFYR-TV very long and I was new to the business, having been plucked right out of college and the newspaper job that I thought would jump-start my career. The TV gig was an internship that would lead, instead, to a life in broadcasting and eventually, to television news management. I was assigned to cover Lawrence Welk’s homecoming at the Bismarck Airport. I was very young and unsure of myself, but I was taking my cue from my photographer, Dwayne Walker. Putting on my best reporter hat, I walked up to Mr. Welk and stuck out my hand, introducing myself and letting him know where I worked. He took my hand, but didn’t let it go. I pulled, he pulled back. Worse, he tucked my hand under his elbow and proceeded to drag me around the airport as he visited with fans. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing, and Dwayne just laughed.
I’m sure Mr. Welk was just teasing me, but that day I learned an important lesson about humility and the importance of not taking myself too seriously. That lesson has helped me in my years as news director, and now as managing editor at KFYR-TV.
Humility because people in my industry can often be guilty of hubris, of being impressed with our own importance. As in, “Make way, the media is here.” And the ability to laugh because let’s face it, even seasoned managers make mistakes. I’ve made a lot of them over the last two decades and my hope has always been that I did no lasting damage to anyone’s career or self-image.
I’ve learned to see people as individuals rather than just “employees,” and I now know that everybody has a story. Once you know the story, it’s often easier to view others with compassion. In writing my latest book, “Gift of Death,” I interviewed hundreds of people, including the young people who worked for me. I wanted to get their perspectives on the fear of death and their answers surprised me. It turns out they were much more bound by their particular faith traditions than I would have thought. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised because we’re taught in our industry to keep our opinions to ourselves, especially when it comes to religious beliefs. It turns out, though, that thoughts of death and anxiety surrounding it are universal, even among the young. The idea that they believe they’re invincible is, I believe, more myth than fact based on what they told me. They worry about the world, about their friends, about their relationships and the fragility of their parents and grandparents, and about their own mortality.
After writing the book, I’ve been asked to speak on death and dying to numerous groups of all ages. When one embarks on a publishing venture, the best way to get people to actually read a book is to promote it, promote it, and promote it again. That means Facebook, Twitter, Google-Plus, Pinterest, Reddit, Instagram…talking about my feelings. Yikes! Reporters aren’t supposed to have feelings.
To support what has become a new calling for me—speaking on topics of faith—I’ve gone back to school seeking a master’s degree in theology. Part of being a leader is preparing oneself through education. Before I became news director at KFYR-TV, I went back to school for a master’s degree in management and it’s served me well with those thorny issues that are part of everyday life for somebody who’s viewed as “the boss.” With theology that’s particularly important. Nobody wants to give a blank stare when they’re asked why they believe “that.”
I do have one advantage when it comes to speaking to the faithful, and I take comfort in it. I believe the Holy Spirit has my back. Talk about leadership!
Monica Hannan is an Emmy Award-winning television news manager, anchor, and talk show host at KFYR-TV in Bismarck, North Dakota and is also the author of several books, including her latest, “Gift of Death – A Message of Comfort and Hope.”