All About...Jane Pauley

Award-winning broadcaster and keynote speaker for Tapestry: A Day For You 2015
Feb 1, 2015
Stacey Root
All About...Jane Pauley

Jane Pauley is a woman of many talents—news anchor, journalist, author and health and education advocate. She got her start broadcasting in Indianapolis and quickly made her way to the “Today Show” with Tom Brokaw and, later, Bryant Gumbel. After 13 years, she left the “Today Show” and started a successful weekly series for NBC called “Real Life with Jane Pauley,” which went on to become “Dateline.” She currently contributes on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.”

Along with her extensive television career, education advocacy work and health centers that she’s developed throughout the Indianapolis area, Pauley has written two books, “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue” and “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life.” Her career has earned her an Emmy award and an American Women in Radio and Television Award among many others.

Fort Wayne Living (FWL): Do you visit Indiana often?

Pauley: I do for business. I'm on the board of an organization called the Mind Trust, which is education related, so I get home a couple times a year for that. I also have The Jane Pauley Community Health Centers, which are amongst a dozen now. And they're all on my side of town. I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis, which it needs attention. And it deserves attention. Those health centers are extraordinary. It's typical of Indianapolis to do phenomenal things and then not demand attention for them. Prior to that I didn't have much of a reason to come home and I didn't very often. Now I'm just astonished. That's not the Indianapolis I grew up in. 

FWL: Who is your favorite person that you've ever interviewed?

Pauley: That would be Michael J. Fox. And probably others who I have forgot. That might me possible. A second celebrity comes to mind and that's Meryl Streep. Some people are just so rich with insight, experiences, articulate, charismatic, that they're just wonderful to interview. So I guess its not terribly surprising that two performers, people high in creativity would be so high up on my list. Having interviewed thousands of people, forgive me but actors aren't generally a category that interests me. I would interview an actor who made a movie and shot it probably two years before and its just now being released and they've done other projects since then and it's early in the morning and making it interesting is hard. And they may have great acting chops, but they're not that insightful when it’s the screenwriter who’s made the movie so great. 

FWL: If you could go back and give 25-year-old Jane advice, what would you say?

Pauley: Relax. Breathe. At 25 I had had astonishing good fortune. I was sitting beside Tom Brockaw in a chair recently vacated by Barbara Walters at the “Today Show.” 

A year from then I had been the anchor of the weekend edition of the big news at channel 8 in Indianapolis. I arrived at a time when women were almost recruited in the newsroom. When the year before I arrived we were still a rarity. 

I didn't delude myself into thinking ‘boy you’re darn special.’ It was a mystery to me how I got there. And I probably suffered inwardly for 20 years over the mystery of how it happened. I spent 20 years worrying over that kind of feeling like I wasn't quite worthy. And I've always attributed this to being from Indiana and this may not be fair. It may be because it’s a quirk of me, but I like things to add up. I like things to make sense. And that made no sense whatsoever, according to any data I possessed. Twenty-five years later I probably did figure how it happened—I was lucky. I figured out how it happened and came to terms with it and I'm lucky it happened to me. 

So I would definitely say just relax and grow into your life Jane. It’s my understanding that one of the benefits of aging is that you worry less. You suffer less anxiety. I think bad dreams peak in your 20s. So it was natural that whatever had become of me in my twenties, I was probably going to be anxious and worried about it. It was just in my nature. And now, I've got a lot to worry about and sometimes I do, but in general I'm just far more comfortable that, whatever happens, I have the resources to deal with it. 

FWL: Is there anything you accredit your good fortune to at such a young age?

Pauley: It started when I was 15 years old and didn’t make cheerleader at Warren Central High School as a sophomore. I had been a junior high school cheerleader—a very mediocre one, but one nonetheless. That was my life plan—to be a varsity high school cheerleader at Warren Central. But alas the student body had other plans for me. 

Warren township had excellent schools and had the best speech and debate team in the state of Indiana, which I joined after not making cheerleading. It had some competition from one or two schools in the Fort Wayne area, which as a teenager I visited. I knew Shelley Long. I would go up to Fort Wayne and other central Indiana places and compete in speech events. And I was really good at it. I was state champion in 1968 in extemporaneous speaking, which is current events. And the summer before I'd been governor of Hoosier Girl State based on my ability to make speeches. 

So my speech and debate experience in high school probably more than anything got me my first job in television. It was not a journalism credential; I'd never studied journalism; I had no journalism experience. And the news director who hired me at approximately $100 a week told me then that I was the first he had ever interviewed who had neither a journalism degree nor experience. He expected one if not both. But then he went and told the general manager at channel 8 that he wanted to hire me, but he was giving the general manager a heads up saying ‘I think that if we hire her we won't keep her long.’ So he recognized talent I guess and I owe that to high school speech and debate. 


"I'm unpacking a bag in a hotel room.

The phone rings. Its my sister in Pittsburg

and she’s kind of mad at me because

I haven’t told her I’m auditioning

for Barbara Walters job. And why didn't

I tell her? I said because nobody told me."

FWL: What got you recognition to take on a national platform?

Pauley: Then the Indianapolis 500 comes into play. The weekend of the 500, population of Indianapolis swells by about a half a million. And I'm doing the big news, the weekend news on a Saturday night and at that time CBS had a Saturday night television juggernaut. Shows like “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Bob Newhart,” “Carol Burnett,” and then me. I had the most watched newscast in the state of Indiana. I did not know this. Not just on the weekends, but overall because I inherited this tsunami of viewers.

The weekend of the 500, I had this thought, ‘I wonder who's in town watching.’ Because anybody in their hotel room getting ready for dinner or coming back from dinner on Saturday night, if they turned on the TV more likely than not they were gonna see me. And sure enough about a week later, this would have been 1975 or 1974, I got a phone call from the NBC-owned and operated station in Chicago, WMAQ, and a guy who ultimately hired me said, “Miss Pauley I'm sorry I don't know your first name, but I hear you're pretty good.”

Within a few months I was the first woman to anchor an evening newscast in Chicago. That’s how NBC learned of me, despite the fact that I was a disaster; it was an experiment that did not go well. It started well, but the local press hated me because I wasn't from Chicago. The ratings actually were pretty good to begin with, but they got worse and worse and worse. I was doing two newscasts the 5 and the 10 o’clock, and I was taken off the 5 o’clock so I was being demoted. And when the executive producer of the news walked into my office one day in the spring, I thought he was there to fire me. The paper said I was gonna be fired. I believed I was gonna be fired. And instead he asks if I would mind going to New York City for a few days to fill in for Betty Furness who was sitting in for Barbara Walters who had been hired by ABC to be the first woman to anchor a network newscast. So instead of being fired I go to New York just to fill in for Betty. 

I'm unpacking a bag in a hotel room. The phone rings. Its my sister in Pittsburg and she’s kind of mad at me because I haven’t told her I’m auditioning for Barbara Walters job. And why didn't I tell her? I said because nobody told me. 

I slept for about 45 minutes that night. But I was really relaxed because who was gonna give the job to me? I was 25 years old. I’d been in the business for what four years. I didn’t have anything to lose and I had a good time. 

Now there were half a dozen women auditioning for this position. Candice Bergen actually was a candidate too, and they did audience research and I won every category except one! I did not know this until years later. 

It was a time when my generation arrived. We weren't talking about women too much then, but youth, yes. So my youth was an advantage not a disadvantage. And from high school I knew how to talk about current events and for at least seven minutes sound like I knew what I was talking about.

FWL: Well that says a lot about how talented you were at such a young age. 

Pauley: It was developed at Warren Central High School by the speech and debate coach, Harry Wilson. We'd get into a school bus and I'd go somewhere like Fort Wayne, Anderson or a school in Indianapolis and compete and get better. And have confidence building experiences by receiving a blue ribbon or trophy. That's life changing when you're a teenager. So that was a huge opportunity, but until I didn't make cheerleader I didn't know a speech and debate team existed.

FWL: So it was a blessing in disguise. 

Pauley: It absolutely was. It was a talent I had no reason to know I had. And had I made cheerleader and gone on to be the mediocre cheerleader I had been, I might never have known I had a talent for that stuff. Which is kind of a message I tell people of all ages. Sometimes we have to wait for our talents to cross our field of vision before we know we have that.

FWL: That's very true. It's interesting how sometimes paths can take you in a direction you didn't even know existed. 

Pauley: Yes. But if we follow a routine path you have no reason to look left or right. 

I've interviewed a man in my book who had a career and was very good at it. Not particularly happy with it, but he made a living at it building furniture. He was trained in the art and design, but he was unhappy, really unhappy. So, he goes to the beach because he lives in California and builds a sand castle. Long story short, he is probably one of the top 20 sand carvers in the world. 

Well, he told me the story with tears in his eyes because he finds so much joy in this, but regrets that it was something he discovered so late in his life. Sand carving didn't exist five years before he found it. Nobody was a sand carver. So, of course it wasn't going to cross his field of vision. I've gotten a lot of stories of people who've had to wait for opportunity and contingency to intersect in such a way that they would discover something they hadn't been looking for.  

FWL: And that's a theme in your books.

Pauley: Yes. There are 25 stories or more. All together in a series I did on the “Today Show.” We did 37 different stories and they were all different. There is no one message; it's not a how-to book, 5 steps or do this. All the stories are different. But there are things to be learned from each of them.

FWL: You wrote “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue” in 2005 and “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life” in 2014. Why did you choose those two points in your life to come out with your books? 

Pauley: Well, Skywriting was a memoir and I think in your 40s and 50s you start thinking like that. Whether you’re keeping a diary or journaling, inevitably you start seeing a book. And that's what happened to be. 

Then, I had train wreck of a health crisis and put the book on hold. I was very sick in 2000 and 2001. And after six months of what became medical sabbatical, I went back to work on September 10th, 2001. The next day was 9/11. And while I had this memoir idea, I mean after 9/11 who cared about my life story. It was three years until I was inspired to return to the topic. So it came out in 2005. 

I never thought I'd write a book at all because, in my 20s, I had no memory. I didn't need it. I was doing live television. And in live television you're not thinking about what you've done. You're thinking about what I'm gonna do now and what I'm gonna do as soon as they stop talking. I wasn't making mental notes. I don’t journal; I wasn't writing stuff down. I remembered nothing to quote Nora Ephron.  

And yet, in kind of an abstract way, I was thinking a lot about careers and life paths and motivation, transition. “Your Life Calling” is based on ideas that I have had recreationally for decades when career transitions would have been on my mind. It's about the life transition that does not yet have a name. We still talk about retiring, but my generation is the first to get a heads up that there's a lot more to come. The future is probably for most of us going to be longer than our parents or grandparents would have expected. And what are you gonna do? So we still retire, but are more likely to retire from something to something new. 


"What caused the bipolar was a treatment 

for hives, which sounds so innocuous, but 

I had been in an emergency room two times 

when hives attacked my throat and 

my throat was swelling and that can kill you. 

So the treatment was pretty aggressive and 

it was the medicine for hives that flipped a switch 

and flipped me into hypomania."

FWL: That sounds like a topic people don't really talk about or even realize is something they're going to face in the future. 

Pauley: Tests have been done where people were asked to think about themselves in the future and then asked to imagine a stranger. The brain lights up in a neurologically identical pattern for both. So, in other words, when you think about yourself in the future it’s like you're thinking about a stranger. 

FWL: You've been vocal about your struggle with bipolar disorder. How has that affected your path in life? 

Pauley: I don't see that its affected my career greatly at all. I have had opportunities even since my illness that I would have never expected to have. I had a daytime show and wrote another book and then last spring I suddenly turn up on CBS after 40 years at NBC. Frankly, I never thought I’d have a television career again but now I’m on CBS “Sunday Morning.”

I've not had a recurrence of the episode that had me really sick for 6 months of 2001, but I'm told that I have insight as a patient. I am very alert to my mood to symptoms to sleep. Sleep is number one. And I take medication daily, even though I feel well. 

And when we hang up, I will do a little, you know, ‘was I talking too loud or too fast’ or ‘was I a little too impressed with my stories.’ So I do these little gages to see if I'm in the realm of normal. 

I had a real scare the first week of the new year.

What caused the bipolar was a treatment for hives, which sounds so innocuous, but I had been in an emergency room two times when hives attacked my throat and my throat was swelling and that can kill you. So the treatment was pretty aggressive and it was the medicine for hives that flipped a switch and flipped me into hypomania. That's how I first learned that I had a mood disorder. I’ve had four discreet episodes of hives—7 years old, 14 years old, a brief one at 21 and then not again until 1999, which presented the bipolar. 

Hives came back last December after 15 years in a more aggressive form than I had ever seen them. I thought well so much for CBS, so much for Fort Wayne. I just knew we were off to the races and I knew there was nothing that could be done. I really thought those hives were going to eliminate everything on my 2015 calendar. 

And unbeknownst to me, a medication that people with asthma have been taking was approved last summer for treating idiopathic chronic urticaria that has been resistant to every other form of treatment. Which is me! I was given the medication and within 24 hours, I’m okay! I seem to be okay. If I had these hives one year before there was nothing.

FWL: You mentioned earlier having an insight into mental health. 

Pauley: I've been told as a patient I have reasonable insight. I don't have any insight generally into everyone else’s mental health problems. I have the ability to look after myself.

And by the way, I think this is important, no doctor has ever told me that I won't have another recurrence or that anything I am doing will prevent that. But its my view that if there is anything I can do, like monitoring my sleep and taking meds and being aware of my changes and my moods, I will do them.

FWL: Do you feel there's a stigma around mental health that people have in society? It's almost a taboo to talk about and you've been so vocal about your mental health, do you feel that's a challenge you've faced?

Pauley: Evidently not! People will routinely recognize me and pull me aside and tell me stories that they've not told anybody else about their mental health or somebody they know with mental disorders. They ask my advice and I make a joke sometimes of a celebrity mental patient being the last person I personally would seek for medical advice.

My message is let's stop talking about stigma. I despise the word. I think its counterproductive. It’s a little counterintuitive. Because every time I hear the word it makes me feel worse. Every time you hear the word, it reminds you of every stereotype you've ever had about mental illness. 

It's like Michael J. Fox stuff. We know that he has a very serious illness and yet you say his name and people smile. A generation ahead of you would have felt the same way about Betty Ford. She had breast cancer and she came forward and it was shocking because when she did “60 Minutes” and talked about breast cancer, talk about a stigma. My mother had ovarian cancer and we didn't talk about it. My father wouldn't use the word ‘cancer.’ There was a stigma about cancer. 

Then Betty had addiction and now people who don't really remember her personally know that the Betty Ford is where the celebrities go to seek treatment for substance abuse. We associate her with hope. Not stigma and stereotype. So that's what I'm saying. 

FWL: Do you have any mentors?

Pauley: Never really had mentor. As an advice machine, I've probably been a mentor to numerous people. 

FWL: What do you do in your free time?

Pauley: Read. Lots. And give advice freely. Try to exercise. Sort of got out of the routine; Habits are so easy to make. But I try to swim or go to the gym or something. But I famously, and I say famously because it’s a chapter in my book, I don't have hobbies. 

FWL: Why is that?

Pauley: I don't know. I started playing golf when I was 45 and my goal at the time was when I turn 65 I'd be able to say I'd been playing golf for 20 years and the last time I played golf it was so bad I told my husband just wait until I'm 65 then I'm throwing these things away. And I think I will. 

I never had hobbies. I should just lie.

FWL: So you've mentioned several times that you enjoy giving advice to people, is there a particular group that you enjoy giving advice to? Friends, family, strangers?

Pauley: Friends not so much. I mostly give advice to strangers. And it may be if I'm sitting next to you on a plane and we fall into conversation, I will end up giving you some advice. I am told by colleagues who were younger that I have a good reputation for giving advice. I sometimes even take my own advice.

FWL: What did you want to be as a child when you grew up?

Pauley: Connie Stevens. She was the star of a show called “Hawaiian Eye.” She was a big star and when I was 10 years old she came to the Indianapolis 500. She was in the parade and she waved at me. She was an interior decorator. So that's what I wanted to be. I have no gift at interior decoration. I love moving furniture. I mean I really love moving furniture. And unfortunately I'm married to someone who doesn't like change and if I moved a candlestick on the mantle, within five hours it would be moved back. 

So moving furniture, can that qualify as a hobby? My nephew whose now in his mid-twenties, when he was about 5 years old remembers when Aunt Jane came to Pittsburg to visit and my bag was packed and I was waiting for a car to take me to the airport. There was about 20 minutes. I moved their living room furniture and then I left. And he can't believe Aunt Jane came, she moved our furniture and then she left. So I get very little chance to express that. I'm a better than average singer. And I do like to sing but I ought to join something and have more singing in my life. That could be something that I would have to look forward to. 


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