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 Suzanne Kennedy, a three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist with more than three decades of broadcast experience. During her 20-plus years at the ABC affiliate in Washington D.C., she covered major news stories ranging from politics to natural disasters, includes coverage of 9/11, multiple presidential elections and inaugurations, hurricanes and playoff sporting events.
Suzanne, what are you doing now?
I am a freelance strategic communications and PR professional. During the past year I led a crisis communications team for Montgomery County’s COVID-19 response, provided media relations, support and strategy to Broadcast Management Group, where I am their media relations director. I also work with a longtime ABC7 colleague, Julie Parker, as a strategic partner for her company for which I do individual public speaking, and crisis communications training as well as talent coaching. I like having an evolving roster of clients. It reminds me a lot of being a general assignment reporter and having my hands in a variety of stories, but yet still with a singular focus of providing great content.
Where did you get your start?
I like to say I got my start at the kitchen table. Both of my parents were in the industry. My dad was a television talk show host in Chicago where he hosted both a morning and evening talk show for the ABC affiliate, WLS-TV. My mom was also in news. She was an executive producer for WLS-TV at a time when there were few females in senior management roles in newsrooms. My first job in broadcasting was at the CBS affiliate in Florence, South Carolina. It was huge change for a big-city girl, but I got great experience there shooting, writing and editing my own reporter packages.
Why did you want to go into news?
Growing up in a news family, it was always in my blood. The news was on the TV, we listened to all-news radio in the car and I was taught at an early age the importance of being aware of current events. I always loved being in my dad’s studio and visiting my mom in the newsroom, so I caught the bug early.
What were the best and worst parts of the job?
The best part of the job is having a front-row seat to history and having the opportunity to have experiences that most people don’t have. I’ve covered inaugurations, impeachments, hurricanes, tsunamis, pulled 9Gs on an F-16, landed in a tailhook plane on an aircraft carrier and met several US presidents. And, I pulled 9Gs in an F-16!
I feel so fortunate to have had these experiences.
The worst part of the job is meeting people and having to tell their story at the lowest point of their lives. I’ve met countless parents who are grieving the loss of their children through gun violence, overdoses and accidents. It’s gut wrenching having to knock on those doors when people are in such a terrible state.
Who have been your media role models ?
My parents were my early role models. In later years, however, it was the women in the newsrooms I worked in who were working hard for their day jobs and then went home to mother their children. I had both my children, now 16 and 19, when I worked at ABC7. Women like Kathleen Matthews, Gail Pennybacker and Greta Kreuz showed me you can be a working journalist and a working mother and do them both well.
What stories moved you the most?
The stories that moved me most were those that involved human resilience, people who struggled through tragedy and found their way back. An example of that, albeit on a large scale, was when I traveled to Phuket, Thailand, to cover the December 2004 tsunami. The Thai people showed such grace and resilience to the loss of 5,000 people there. I think their spirituality played a big part in that. I was struck by their perseverance and calm nature in the face of such adversity.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the media going forward?
I think the insatiable desire for content, content, content is causing news stories to have less substance and meaning. The 24-hour news cycle means the constant churning out of material and I think as a result, quality is being sacrificed. I think the challenge lies in stemming the tide of quantity over quality.
What would have been your second career choice?
I always wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I started out with that goal in college, but at some point, changed lanes to news. I’m an avid sports fan, so I think it would have been a good fit.
What do you enjoy doing when not at work?
That’s somewhat of a challenge to answer as we come out of this pandemic. I’ve spent a lot of time since April 2020 with my family and neighbors in a makeshift bistro in my driveway we jokingly call Le Driveway. Pre-pandemic I enjoyed open water swimming. I completed the 4.4 miles Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim in 2017. I also like cycling, traveling, reading and going to Nats games. I’m looking forward to getting back to all of those.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the news business. I miss the great professionals, awesome friends and the adrenaline charge that you get from telling a great story under impossible circumstances and deadlines. But I didn’t want to miss the last few years of my kids, Will and Kate, being at home before they left for college. This was the right decision for me personally, but professionally it was hard to walk away.