It seems lately like more and more local TV news personnel are marching off to The Dark Side, the colorful way media members have for generations described employment in the field of public relations.
In the past 18 months, Channel 4 co-anchor Victoria Hong left to work in public relations for Delaware North Cos.; Channel 4 reporter Lorey Schultz left to work for Mayor Byron W. Brown; Channel 2 co-anchor Jodi Johnston left to work for First Niagara Bank; and Channel 2 reporter Pete Gallivan left to work for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
They join a long list of former local news personnel who have joined The Dark Side that includes former Channel 7 anchor Jean Hill; former Channel 2 and Empire Sports Network anchor Mike DeGeorge; former Channel 4 reporters Kathy Swenson and Michele Mehaffy (formerly Michele McClintick); former Channel 7 reporters Laura Gray and Helen Tederous; former Channel 2 traffic reporter Christie Witt; former YNN reporter Kate McGowan; and several others.
They left to work in marketing and public relations for banks (Hill, Tederous, Johnston), politicians (DeGeorge, Schultz, Gallivan), nonprofits (Swenson, Mehaffy and McGowan), private companies (Hong, Gray) and lawyers (Witt).
Their departures from live shots at the Skyway, Team Coverage and anchor desks are the result of a variety of issues connected to working in TV news: too much stress, too many lousy hours, too much uncertainty, and not enough time for family in a business that is trying to reinvent itself in the face of increased competition from the Internet and cable.
While they may differ on why they left TV, those interviewed for this story have things in common: They say they still work very hard but are incredibly happy in their new jobs, have their lives back and are flattered when fans come up to them and think they are still on the air.
“I moved from The Dark Side to The Light Side,” cracked Hong, the former co-anchor of the early morning “Wake Up!” show. “I meant it literally, too. I went from waking up in the middle of the night to a normal life of getting up at 6 or 7 a.m.”
“I had the perfect offer from the only company that allowed me to have such a smooth transition,” she said. “I do something different all the time, and it is so exciting to be in my company. I’m not blowing smoke. It’s a really great company. There hasn’t been one day that I regretted leaving TV.”
“I can go to anything that is after 8 p.m. and not keep looking at my watch,” she said. “And I can actually think straight now. Ten years of getting four or five hours of sleep a night really does something to your whole personality.”
What did it do to her personality? “Well, talk about dark,” she said with a laugh. “My patience was very short. I was forgetting things. It was just hard to have fun. Everything revolved around my schedule. I really feel that I have my life back. I can think straight, I can lead a normal life.”
“I love it,” said Johnston. “I’m working at a place with a wonderful culture and leadership. And I am still dealing with the media from a different perspective, and it is a way to be involved in the community.”
She can also be more involved in family life. She can sit through her son’s entire swimming meet, play tennis and live a less stressful life.
“I think TV has a larger degree of stress that we don’t always realize,” said Johnston. “The constant deadlines and competitive nature makes it incredibly stressful. I’m still working hard and a lot, but now I have a better life with balance.”
“It was too tough on my family life,” said Mehaffy, a mother of two, of her TV days.
She calls working for the nonprofit “rewarding” and adds she still deals with the media in her part-time job.
Gallivan said he gave someone a Halloween reference recently when asked about the move to The Dark Side. “I said ‘nobody wants to dress up as Obi-Wan Kenobi, they want to dress up as Darth Vader,’ ” cracked Gallivan.
Gallivan, a well-liked guy who is anything but Darth Vader, said he has had to transition from the media side to the PR and political sides.
“I was a foot soldier before, and now I am more on the planning side of things,” said Gallivan. “So there have been several transitions that I am still trying to make.”
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say yes,” said Gallivan. “There are certain things I miss. My favorite thing about TV is being a storyteller. I miss that creative aspect of it. I was in the business for 20 odd years, so there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t miss something.”
Hill, a former Channel 7 anchor, has been away from TV for more than a decade and even she gets people who still believe she is still on TV. She left WKBW after 12 years in 2001 for a public relations job at M&T Bank and now is in the compliance department.
“I must admit when you are 25 and someone tells you you’ll come in at 3 p.m. and leave at 12:30 you don’t think very much of it,” said Hill. “As you get older, you start thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I’m missing out on everything because I am sleeping late and everyone else is on a different schedule.’ ”
She doesn’t miss local news and watches less than 30 minutes a week.
“I think when you go through life, there is a time for everything,” philosophized Hill. “At different times in life you prefer to do something else. I’m accepting of those changes in life.”
Those in TV who have followed Hill seem to be enjoying their changes as well. Is it just PR talk or does Hill think they really are all happy to have gone to The Dark Side?
“I think they are all happy,” said Hill.
Mehaffy agrees. “Work in TV for a few years and then in PR and ask that question. There is no comparison. Life is much better after TV.”