Brandi Hitt was sound asleep in her Los Angeles home when the phone rang. She glanced at the clock: 2:30 a.m. For most people, calls after midnight mean a family emergency, or terrible news. For Hitt, they mean a job assignment.
“Hello?” she answered.
It was her producers. There had been a shooting in Aurora, Colo. A gunman in a movie theater playing “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hitt woke up her husband, Christopher Allen Poe, who helped her pack a bag while she gleaned any information she could on the incident and bought a plane ticket for the next flight out.
“We were trying to get details from TV, radio, online. When we landed and turned our phones back on, that’s when we realized how bad it was,” she said.
Hitt was in Colorado for a week, interviewing survivors of the attack that killed 12 people and injured 70 others. That same year she covered three presidential debates, President Obama’s inauguration and the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon.
For many people, that kind of pressure and responsibility would be overwhelming. For steady and sure Hitt, who grew up in Lodi, it’s the perfect job.
She is a nationally-known broadcast reporter for ABC Network News One, and covers national and international stories for dozens of major and affiliate stations.The job requires long hours, continual poise and a dedication to uncovering the story.
“This is my ultimate dream and I’m fortunate to be living it,” she said.
Getting her start
Hitt knew from a young age what she wanted in a career. She was 8 years old, watching “Murphy Brown,” and she watched the local news every night with her parents.
In school, she dove into every reporting opportunity she could find. That includes a bi-annual newspaper in middle school, and the Tokay Press in high school.
Selecting a college was a major decision for Hitt, because she knew it would be the first step to her career.
She chose California State University, Fresno for their journalism program and the surrounding news market, and dove into the industry.
At 19, she landed her first internship at KNPH Fox 26 in Fresno.
“It was for minimum wage. I could have made 10 times more waiting tables, but I picked up a weekend desk job nobody wanted,” she said. Three months later, her supervisor asked if she could edit video and write stores. Thanks to her training, she was able to say yes. A weekend producer had called in sick, and Hitt was asked to fill in.
“It’s live television. If something goes wrong on live television, it can go bad fast,” she said. “But it went off without a hitch. I got a huge jumpstart on my career with that one opening.”
Hitt’s first on-camera job was as a weekend anchor for a small market in the Tri-Cities area in Washington. A tri-pod, camera, and other equipment weighed 55 pounds. She had to lug it all around from one assignment to the next by herself.
“I was in the best shape of my life, carrying all this gear,” she said. “For a small market, you’re a one-man band; you do it all.”
As her career progressed, Hitt worked with larger teams at larger networks, allowing her to be creative with a team and share ideas.
The life of a broadcast reporter
Today, she’s working for ABC Network News One. The team reports stories that go out to local affiliates across the country. That includes radio stations, local news channels and shows like “Good Morning America.”
In broadcast journalism, there’s no such thing as a typical news day. At any time, there might be a phone call from a producer, requiring Hitt to get on a plane and fly out to a breaking story.
Though she sticks to a 9-to-5 schedule while she’s in the office, Hitt travels across the country and around the world frequently when interesting stories crop up.
Once, she was enjoying a weekend with her husband when she got a call that 19 firefighters had been killed in Arizona. She flew out to cover the tragic story. Hitt filed her stories, finished up her assignments and flew back home to rejoin her husband on vacation. That lasted one day, before Hitt was called to another assignment in San Francisco. She was there for a week before going back home and restarting her vacation for the third time.
“Every day is different,” she said. “This job is so unpredictable.”
Some of her stories are, inevitably, about tragedy and loss. Reporters end up in the middle of heartbreaking scenarios and can’t help but get caught up in the emotion. Hitt traveled to Connecticut to cover the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. She was struck by the size of the memorial upon her arrival.
“The first thing I did was to buy some flowers and take some time in from of the memorial,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is not a reporting day. This is a human being day.’”
The next day, she went out and did her job, able to keep her composure even while speaking with friends and family of the victims.
Hitt’s work has earned her a Peabody award, three Emmys, and a Golden Mic award.
Part of the job description is putting on the appearance of a broadcasting reporter. Early on, Hitt was caught up in the idea of a typical anchor, and chopped her hair short. On a limited budget, she wore the same suit coat with as many different shirts as she could. With modern high definition cameras, anchors actually wear less makeup, so their skin looks more natural than when it is caked on, said Hitt. And yes, she does it herself.
She’s never had a major on-air blooper, save for one case of the giggles while broadcasting in her first year.
“There was something about a hamster, and I couldn’t stop laughing,” she said. Fortunately, this was pre-YouTube, so the record of her faux pas isn’t public.
That’s not to say her work is without technical difficulties. When doing a live broadcast in the field, the voice of a producer is in Hitt’s earpiece to keep her on point. Sometimes that connection drops, and Hitt can’t hear any directions from the station.
“When you first start, you freak out and try to run from it,” she said. “I’ve learned to just stay silent, from watching other people look dumb on air.”
Hitt grew up on her parent’s ranch in Morada. She still remembers her fifth-grade teacher, Catherine Pennington, who now works as the assistant superintendent of elementary education for Lodi Unified School District. Hitt attended Tokay High School, where she worked on the student newspaper still run by Roger Woo.
Woo remembers Hitt as a responsible, put-together teen who always made deadlines. He has followed her career closely, and is proud of her success.
“For her, she was a no excuse person. She definitely has earned every bit of what she has. No one is going to outwork her,” Woo said.
Her parents were instrumental in her early career, driving her from one job to the next and helping out with every major move.
“I was fortunate to grow up in an area where I felt safe,” she said. “I knew I wanted something bigger, but it’s nice to come home and feel at home.”
Lodi is still Hitt’s hometown, and she visits twice a year.
Hitt met her husband Poe while both were attending CSU Fresno. They married in 2006. Poe is an author whose second novel is coming out in April.
Their relationship has a great balance, says Hitt.
“This is an unpredictable business. He is the most supportive person behind my career,” she said.
Soon, Hitt and Poe will be showing a new face around Lodi during upcoming visits — the couple are expecting their first child later this month.
Making a name for herself
As a young woman coming into her own in a male dominated industry, Hitt chose to focus on herself and her skills.
“I knew I wanted to learn how to do every aspect of the job, because I knew the business was changing when I started,” she said.
The other challenge is being willing to pick up and move to a new city every few years. Hitt repeatedly got settled into a job she loved, knowing it was time to look for the next rung up the ladder to get to her goal.
“There are a lot more women now applying for positions than men,” she said. “Thirty years ago, there were only so many Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyers to look up to.”
But now, as technology is changing and the nature of competition has changed, those who hire journalists are looking for reporters who can do it all.
Her advice for aspiring broadcasters is the same as the rules she followed for herself: Because the industry is still constantly changing, young journalists need to be competent in a wide variety of skills.
Learn how to do everything, from creating video, writing for a website, for radio and for a broadcast, and learning to take photos.
“There are so many more positions opening up for people who are open-minded and determined,” she said. “We didn’t know if the Internet was going to take off when I first started. Now younger people are more tech savvy, and they’re teaching me how to do a lot more.”