Capitol Communicator has been interviewing people who are or have been in the media about their careers and the media. Below is our Q&A with Marianne Banister, the first Baltimore journalist in our series. She has worked as both an anchor and reporter in Los Angeles, Denver, Baltimore and Sacramento, including ABC7 in the nation’s second market, Los Angeles. For 15+ years she served as co-anchor of the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts at the top-ranked station in Baltimore, WBAL-TV.
Marianne, what are you doing now?
Nothing I would have expected 10 years ago that’s for sure! Currently, am infusing over 30 years of experience in television news as an anchor and reporter into two ventures: as Communications Coach, Trainer and Keynote Speaker through my boutique agency, Banister Media, LLC and as Co-Founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization; the Claire Marie Foundation. CMF is a cause extremely close to my heart. Along with my husband and oldest daughter, we established CMF in 2014 to prevent adolescent and young adult melanoma; the disease which claimed our beloved daughter Claire Wagonhurst when she was just 17. We were blindsided by her diagnosis, as Claire’s melanoma developed at the age of 14 due to hormonal changes that come with puberty. Her melanoma had absolutely nothing to do with the sun. It was a risk never reported in the press and unknown to many in the medical community at the time of her diagnosis. As a media family, committed to sharing important information, we knew we had to change that. With Claire’s passing we committed to do all we can to save other families from this devastating loss through awareness, education and prevention. Drawing from my communications expertise, we have been able to spread awareness globally through traditional and digital platforms, better educate the medical profession, and offer life saving free skin screenings to young people 13-29. By transferring my media expertise to the nonprofit spectrum, I am reminded of the universal value of solid communication skills; all of which I offer through my training programs with Banister Media.
How and where did you get your start?
A lifetime ago it seems! Growing up during the Watergate era, I knew I wanted to be a journalist since middle school. We lived in a small town in rural Northern Colorado where at the age of 16, I decided to take a broadcasting class at the local community college. That lead to an on-air job at the local radio station. I continued working as a radio reporter through college before landing a job as an anchor and reporter at KJCT TV in Grand Junction, Colorado, upon graduation.
Why did you want to go into news?
I’ve always had insatiable curiosity and a hunger to learn – to be in the middle of all the action! I was inspired early on by the concept of journalism as a calling and a privilege; a responsibility to be the eyes, ears and voice for the public. Coupled with my love of writing, interviewing and storytelling it was the perfect fit!
What are the best and worst parts of your current job?
Within the scope of my work through Banister Media, the best part is witnessing immediate change in a client I am coaching – that light bulb moment! Suddenly, he or she becomes empowered, confident and fully engaged by understanding they can have impactful control of their narrative and message if they have the right tools! It’s really wonderful!
As the CEO of the Claire Marie Foundation, the best part is seeing the direct, life changing impact of Claire’s story and our melanoma prevention programs. Thus far, we have offered free skin screenings to nearly a thousand young people in Maryland and South Carolina. Of those,14% were found to have atypical or early stage melanoma – essential detection which makes all the difference in stopping the disease. I miss my Claire every moment of every day but knowing we are saving young lives by sharing her story – and honoring her life – fills my heart.
The worst part of my dual ventures in both Banister Media and the Claire Marie Foundation is the administrative aspect of business details! There’s always something more to do which makes it hard to hit that off switch! I much preferred the schedule of the news cycle. With the exception of a breaking story, I knew my job was done when the newscast was put to bed and the studio lights went dark.
Who have been your role models?
Journalistically, I was blessed to come on the heels of those exceptional women who first broke through the gender barrier – Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and of course Oprah. But I also find great inspiration from contemporary influences such as Reese Witherspoon, Sheryl Sandburg and Melinda Gates; women who have pioneered paths and reinvented themselves as business women and philanthropists.
What stories moved you the most?
In my long tenure of news, I saw so much. I interviewed news leaders, celebrities, politicians, covered countless elections and court trials including those of the Menendez Brothers, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson. But coverage of breaking news always seemed to offer the most moving and memorable moments. During my time at ABC7 in Los Angeles, it seemed every day brought new challenges; the LA Riots, earthquakes, wildfires and flash floods. In every story, there was a defining moment, one clear voice, reflecting the common thread of humanity; stories of lives impacted, changed and perhaps even lost. Those are the stories – and people – you don’t forget.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the media going forward?
Rebuilding credibility and trust. It’s not going to be easy and it is going to take some time. The line between news, opinion and propaganda have become completely muddled. Consumers need to be educated on how to determine the validity of an information source. Fairly or not, it is on the shoulders of journalists to work harder than ever to remain objective in all aspects of reporting. I think the current surge in slander and libel lawsuits will work wonders to separate professional journalists from propagandists and ultimately, restore credibility to our profession. I am a purist, but in my heart, I believe truth always wins.
What would have been your second career choice?
I’m not sure I ever thought there was a second choice, but my parents certainly believed differently! They insisted on a fall-back plan and thus in addition to my Broadcast Journalism studies, I humored them by achieving a second degree in Speech Education. Interestingly enough, I find that academic training in semantics, speech writing, physiology of speaking along with engrained teaching skills to be invaluable! It sets me apart as a Communications Coach and Trainer. God forbid I acknowledge my parents were right, but it is proof no level of education or training is ever wasted!
What do you enjoy doing when not at work?
When the world is somewhat in balance and COVID free, I adore spending time with my family and friends; traveling, hiking, going to concerts, drinking really great wine, engaging in gatherings filled with wonderful conversations, laughter and joy.
In the meantime, during our COVID-remote existence, I have really appreciated the gift of “bubble” time with my husband Rocky Wagonhurst. We have spent a good share of it working remotely in Montana to be near our daughter Hillary and her family; special time that we know will not come again. We soak in the scenery, work-out, read, pray for a new Netflix release and dream of better days to come!
Is there anything else we should know about you?
I am always excited to collaborate with colleagues! Choosing new projects and creative partners is one of the perks of running your own company! Your readers can learn more about my work through Banister Media and the programs of the Claire Marie Foundation website.