Anchor overcomes, achieves dream

— Women’s History Month —

Editor’s note: First in a three part series about how women have made an impact in media in Southeast Texas.

Since she was a little girl, Jackie Simien wanted to be on TV. She watched the news as if it were a sitcom and was inspired by her local news anchor to pursue a career in broadcast journalism.

  “I grew up in Lake Charles and the main anchor there was — and still is — Cynthia Arceneaux,” Simien, KFDM Channel 6 lifestyle correspondent, said. “I grew up watching her and I remember telling my mom that I was going to be on TV one day.”

Simien began her career in media in college as a broadcast journalism major at Louisiana State University and through a scholarship sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists, earned her first job at an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Fla. as an intern before moving to Beaumont to be the weekend anchor for KFDM Channel 6 in 1994.

Simien left her position as co-anchor in 2007 and said the negative stories in the news impacted her psyche, and she had to leave in order to recover.

“It wasn’t bad when I started in the business, something major would happen maybe quarterly in a year and you could recover from it,” she said. “But now it’s like every second of the day something crazy is happening and there’s no recovery time.”

After working at KBMT Channel 12 and two non-profits, Simien returned to Channel 6 in November as the lifestyle correspondent.

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Jackie Simien reflects on her experiences as a woman in broadcast journalism, Friday, KFDM Channel 6 studio. UP photo by Olivia Malick

Simien said that television is not as glamorous as it may seem to be. She said there’s a lot of work that goes into being a broadcast journalist, and even after 25 years in the industry, she’s still learning new things.

“I’m having to learn how to use a new system because the graphics you see on the screen, the banners that have people’s names and who they are — the reporters and anchors are responsible for that,” she said.

Simien said it takes a long time to earn a well-paid position and that women have added challenges and expectations when entering the field.

“I have to worry about how I look a whole lot more than my male colleagues do,” she said. “I saw this experiment a couple of years ago where this anchor wore the exact same suit everyday for a whole year, he maybe only changed his tie, and nobody knew.

“There’s no way a woman could get away with that. We have to worry about what we’re wearing, our hair, even our nails — and we’re in HD now so I try to do my best.”

There are things that some women go through in all industries that men do not have to experience, Simien said.

“Right after I had my daughter, I was nursing, so after the six o’clock news every night during that time I would be in a conference room pumping . Tell me what man has to do that?” Simien said.

Sacrifice is a big part of the job, especially when it comes to family, Simien said.

“Women have personal responsibilities also that may impact them differently than men,” she said. “I hate to admit it, but sometimes you do have to choose between your career and your family.

“When I was growing up, women were being fed the belief that ‘You can have it all.’ I have tried to have it all — but I remember Oprah saying, ‘You can have it all just not all at the same time.’”

Simien said that after working every week night for 13 years of her daughter’s life, she realized that her sacrifice wasn’t worth it. But she kept coming back to broadcasting.

“The time I was in, it was worth it,” Simien said. “When I decided I had to go and get out, it was very scary getting out — I was always taught once you get out it’s hard to get back in.

“I’m not scared anymore. It scared me, getting older and being replaced by younger people, but there’s still something to be said for experience. I’ve been in this area for 25 years. There are things that I know that a younger, prettier, less expensive reporter just will not know so it’s up to them to decide do they want my experience or do they want to pay somebody less but not have the experience?”

The idea of what diversity actually is has been twisted in today’s society, Simien said.

“When people talk about diversity, they just mean it for diversity sake, you know just to say that we have one of everything, but that’s not what the point is,” she said. “The point is, if I’m a woman, then I may contribute something to the story that only women know or only women feel.

“If I’m a black woman, that’s another layer. I may know something that only black women have experienced. I’m also a mother. The way I told stories when I was in my 20s versus now in my 40s is totally different, it’s like day and night. The way I told stories when I was single versus now that I’m married is different.”

Simien said Women’s History Month is important because it gives the opportunity to tell stories that have never been told before.

“Women’s history, black history – it’s American history,” she said. “If American history were told the way it was supposed to be, we wouldn’t need Black History Month or Women’s History Month because we would know those stories already.”

Simien said the most important thing she’s learned throughout her career is the importance of knowing how to talk to people.

“That seems obvious, but everyone is different,” she said. “I’m still learning how to talk to people. I’m learning not to be upset anymore. I used to debate people all the time and I wanted to be right all the time, but I don’t argue anymore.”

Simien said she is happy with where her life and career are at and that she’s grateful to have been able to be a trusted local news anchor for the past 25 years.

“I always envisioned that this business would take me to a bunch of cities, but at the same time, I always wanted to be the trusted local news anchor just like the one I grew up watching,” she said. “I have fulfilled a childhood dream. How many people can say that they realized their childhood dream?”

Olivia Malick, UP managing editor

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