Growing up in a small town with nothing to do, WISH-TV (Channel 8) news anchor Debby Knox turned to the media to learn what was happening in the outside world.
Today, her job is to inform others of current events.
Recently, she exchanged greetings with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on a trip to Los Angeles. She has interviewed former first lady Barbara Bush and was impressed upon interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "I thought he was really a magnetic, charming man who spoke eloquently."
Knox, the oldest of three children, grew up in the small town of Edwardsburg, Mich. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she majored in biology and journalism, later dropping biology when the math got too tough. She transferred to the University of Colorado and then back to Michigan, where she graduated.
Knox started out in radio and switched to television. She said the change was brought about because "you can do more with television. . . . It's a visible medium, and it involves pictures and writing, where with radio, it's just hearing it."
Knox said that aside from delivering the news, her job consists of reading magazines, newspapers, and computer information to know what's happening locally, nationally, and around the world.
"I like to do all kinds of news, but I do a lot of health-related stories. . . . I was sort of interested in medicine (as a child)," Knox continued. "My dad is a medical examiner. That carried over."
To Knox, one of the most important issues today is children born to children. "The rate of births among unwed young women is skyrocketing," she said. "I see that as a linchpin to so many problems in our society."
The news is filled with the reports of car accidents, murders, plane crashes, and other tragedies. She has found ways to deal with the bad news she must deliver. "You develop a way to bounce back from those things. You find comedy and humor in other areas that sort of help take the edge off," she explained.
"I work with some very funny people in the newsroom who are very talented. I have a lot of energy that I can put into my kids, and I also appreciate my life outside this building."
Knox's work doesn't interfere very much with her home life. "I have great hours because I get very long dinner hours," Knox explained. "I live five minutes from the station . . . and I spend most of the evening with (my children), get them ready for bed, read them a story, and they are about ready to go to bed by the time I'm going to work."
Being a celebrity
To many, local fame could be a burden, with people coming up to you all the time out in public, but Knox feels otherwise. "I think it's fun," she stated. "People are usually very kind for the most part, and they recognize you and . . . say `Hi, Debby! Hey, I saw you on the news last night.' They are very enthusiastic and very friendly. That's always a positive interaction.
"You get used to it. You realize that if people didn't recognize me, I'd have a problem. Then it would be like nobody knows who I am. And that can be a problem in my industry."
There can be a down side to all the publicity, according to Knox. "I wouldn't say I've been stalked," she said. "But I've had strange letters and telephone calls from mentally ill people. When that happened, we beefed up security at the station.
"There was one guy that we put a restraining order on. At the time it was pretty scary," Knox continued. "I didn't know what to do. I tried to not let it bother me. . . . Ninety-nine percent of the people out there are friendly and happy to see you. There are a few that need a little help."
That's one problem that female anchors have to deal with that males don't. Knox says that women also are held to different standards than men.
"There's is more importance placed on a female's looks than there is a man's," Knox says. "I think that women have to get in there and fight that. I think you're going to see . . . more people who aren't Miss America (in television news).
"I think that women have worked hard in the past 15 to 20 years to make a mark in journalism, and it's showing up. That's indicative of their commitment to the industry."
Career advice to beginners
Knox has advice to girls thinking about a career in journalism.
"Go to school and learn to write, and certainly you will know how to read, but be good at that as well," she instructed. "Be a good extemporaneous speaker. Take subjects like political science and history. Stay away from communications degrees. Work hard.
"When you first start in the business, realize that you have to be a reporter for a while usually. Learn how to report and be good at it. Value your profession and stick with it."
Where does Knox want to be 20 years from now? "Owning a television station," she says. "I may still be anchoring, I may be in a management position. I'd like to travel more. I don't know. Life is exciting."
Written word never obsolete
Will television ever wipe out the need for a newspaper? According to newscaster Debby Knox, it will not:
"You can still get much more in detail out of the written word. You need detail to really understand complex issues.
"Television is really, in a lot of ways, sort of the headline service. You get general stories. If you really want to know about something, read The New York Times, and all of a sudden the story becomes so much more alive."
EDITED BY: Lisa Schubert, 14; Josh Tatum, 14.