Some dear friends, a couple who live near me, regularly watch 11Alive News. Best I can tell, it’s mostly because they admire the work of Jaye Watson.
Jennifer “Jaye” Watson is a seventeen year reporter at 11Alive. In her earliest days there, a news director ordered her to assume the on-air name of “Jaye.” As the years passed, she evolved into a backup anchor. Under news director Ellen Crooke, she deservedly became a storytelling specialist. As such, she won a trove of writing and storytelling awards.
Her “moments” on TV typically involved wrenching stories of adversity / triumph of the human spirit, elegantly written and produced collaboratively with 11Alive’s best photographers.
She leaves WXIA Friday January 13th for a job at Emory University.
Our industry loses good people every day. It’s so commonplace that I have trouble even acknowledging them, much less writing about them.
The losses this coming month are glaring. Watson will blaze a trail for the exit, followed closely by Brenda Wood, Atlanta’s best news anchor. Brenda leaves February 7.
As good and as credible as Brenda is on-air, she is, like Watson, a force majeur when writing and producing stories. It’s a talent folks rarely get to see in Brenda. Major market news anchors are more consumed than you might think simply anchoring the news. Reporting and producing stories becomes secondary.
It shone when Brenda covered the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. She also produced top-notch segments in various documentaries, including the retrospective we made last year about the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
And while I’ve known Brenda since she first landed in 1989 at WAGA, Watson has been my day-to-day cubicle buddy — and family friend — for the last seven years.
Although she’s brilliant and gifted, Watson is also endearingly abrupt and unpredictable, a well-coiffed, walking non-sequitor in sensible shoes. She’s almost laughably warmhearted, passionate about politics, and has a lovely twisted streak. We are dissimilar enough to make the friendship very interesting.
She’s also extraordinarily humble. She has zero awards displayed at her house, though she and her husband Kenny Hamilton, WXIA’s former chief photographer, have probably won fifty Emmys between them, maybe more. When she wins an Emmy, she often gives the statue to the subject of the story.
Weirdly, some of my proudest professional moments have been when Watson has erupted in her cubicle, agitated and searching for a word or phrase in a story she’s writing, and insists upon my help. On a handful of occasions, she’s sent me a script she didn’t quite like, and asked me to fix it. Whenever it happened, and I could actually help, I found myself endlessly flattered. But to be clear: She very rarely needed my help.
Before I got to know her, during my 2008 TV news hiatus, I wrote a piece in this blog about Watson’s writing skills, putting side-by-side her coverage of some garden-variety mayhem against the earnest yet underwhelming coverage of a former WGCL reporter. The comparison showed there was no comparison.
I probably won’t see her this week. I’ll be ensconced at the Capitol. She will be, undoubtedly, receiving well-deserved accolades at work — just as Brenda will as February 7 nears. Although Watson is expected to retain an occasional on-air storytelling presence at WXIA, they will be irregular at best.
I could write a whole ‘nother post about how on-air women navigating middle age justifiably fear for their futures in TV news, regardless of their talent. As a greybeard TV news male, I’m keenly aware of a double standard. The recent abrupt exits of talented, veteran female anchors at a competing local station are all the evidence you need. To its credit, WXIA tried to keep Watson and Wood.
January 13 will be a rough day. Watson leaves, and so does promotions chica Lea-Anne Jackson, whom I’ve known since she was an 80s-era intern at WAGA. She is one of the most quick-witted people in the building; she memorably and adorably photobombed a live shot I did on St. Patrick’s Day a generation ago. One of my greatest pleasures in alighting at WXIA in 2009 was unexpectedly seeing Lea-Anne in a hallway and resuming our friendship. She is also pals with Watson; their hushed tete-a-tetes at Watson’s adjacent cube frequently led to imagined conspiracies against me.
There may be a public sendoff. Perhaps I’ll tip off my friends in the neighborhood.
To see Jennifer Watson’s take on her departure, click here.