Posted Jul 14 2016 02:10PM PDT
Updated Jul 14 2016 04:46PM PDT
Follow Leigh on: Twitter | Facebook
A long time ago, I had set up two goals for myself: become a professional TV journalist and United States Peace Corps volunteer.
I grew up in New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia. My parents are two of the most informed people I’ve ever known: every morning they read the paper and every evening they watch all of the local and national newscasts. They value information and I grew up appreciating the hard work of journalists.
My younger brother valued superhero cartoons. Most of his favorite comics featured strong female journalists such as Lois Lane and April O’Neil. I was delegated to play the roles of these characters in childhood make-believe games and that solidified my idea that reporting was the most fun career.
I owe a lot of my career to two veteran newsmen.
Len Lannon was a freelance photographer at WPVI in Philadelphia. I met him while I was interning at the station and our first introduction happened to be on a day he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Len was not happy to be “babysitting an intern” he had said. At one point, I asked if he could record a stand-up (reporter talking on-camera) for my demo reel. He was not thrilled to do this, so I promised I’d do it in one take. “No one does it in one take,” he grumbled, but reluctantly set up the camera.
I said my memorized lines. It wasn’t great, but I did it in one take and threw up my arms and said, “What now, Old Man?”
He liked me after that. Len invited me to tag along for his Friday 11pm to 6am shift to keep him company and in exchange, he’d teach me how to shoot a camera and edit tape.
We ended up becoming great friends. I rode along with Len every Friday for a year, before he helped me land my first job as a photographer in Sarasota, FL.
In Florida, Tom Sharkey was my first news boss and the greatest influence on my reporting style. Sharkey was a former NFL Films photographer and NPPA Photographer of the Year, who trained me to see video photography as art and use natural sound to immerse the audience into the storytelling. I worked as one of the few female photographers in the Sarasota-Tampa market. The only reason I left was to enter the U.S. Peace Corps.
I spent two years in the Republic of Armenia teaching English, but ended up with an invaluable education myself in patience, compassion, and perspective. I loved every second of it. I keep in regular contact with my Armenian host family and students. The name of my host village “Goght” is tattooed on my wrist.
Sadly, before I returned to work again in American media, my two mentors Len and Sharkey passed away.
Following the news jobs, I spent the majority of my career in California’s Central Valley.
The most important story I feel I produced was on heroin addiction. It was information I personally needed after my brother’s death.
Jared was a Marine who suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving war in Afghanistan in 2009. He was not the same superhero-loving little brother when he returned home and he suffered from flashbacks and survivor’s guilt. He used drugs to cope with PTSD. After a year of sobriety, he died of a heroin overdose on March 6, 2014. No one knew if he had ever used heroin before that day.
Before he died, my brother wrote on Facebook that he was working on a very personal PTSD awareness art project. I searched his things, but never found any sign of the project.
Jared’s friends and I now use social media to bring awareness to veterans’ PTSD each June for PTSD Awareness Month. It’s become a mission ours to find a way to realize my brother’s project.
Reporting for KTVU is a dream come true. I’m very happy to be living and working in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ve traveled a lot and this is my favorite place in the world.
Outside of work, I enjoy weight lifting, running, and adventure sports (sky-diving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, hang gliding). My best adventure was climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome in the dark to reach the top for sunrise. I highly recommend that!