This story appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Texoma Living! Magazine.
Exclusive Report: Why she left Channel 12 after 11 years and how she ended up on Channel 10.
“My alarm went off at 2:30 that morning, just like any other day. Actually, I got into work a little early, about 3:30. Nicole Holt, my co-anchor, came in, and I started putting together the show. I did the last cut-in [a five-minute local news break] at 8:55, and walked off the set. I never imagined it would be my last time on the air at Channel 12.”
It was Wednesday, December 3. The day before had been an anniversary of sorts, eleven years to the day since Lisanne Anderson had gone to work at Channel 12, KXII-TV in Sherman. During those eleven years, first in the prestige slot as the co-anchor of the news at six and ten and for the last three years, at her request, as the anchor of the morning show, Anderson had become the most recognizable personality on Texoma television.
She had been off for Thanksgiving and had worked the day after. She took a holiday on Monday, stayed home with a sick daughter on Tuesday and went back to work on Wednesday. Her three-year employment contract with the station had run its course on December 2, so she was, to put it in proper legalese, an employee at will—she could quit or be discharged without cause—when she set about preparing for the morning show.
Although she had asked about a new contract several times and had given the station the proper, formal notice in writing that she wanted to continue working at KXII, no meeting to discuss terms had been set. “I didn’t worry about it. It was no big deal. There had never been any problems in the past. I’d done many contracts with them. It had always been very simple, no fussing, no fighting.”
Like the other news people, Anderson worked at a desk in the newsroom. From the end of the morning show until she did the last cut in, she worked on the next day’s morning lineup and made assignments to the reporters.
When she went back to the newsroom at nine, there was a message from the evening before on her desk telephone asking her to come to the conference room for a meeting with General Manager Rick Dean. Anderson walked down the hall, meeting Dean at the conference room door. They exchanged greetings and went in.
The station’s human resources manager and Charlie Haldeman, the station’s news director, were already in the room. Their presence was unusual. They had not been involved in contract negotiations before, but Anderson’s only thought was that Dean would say they could not give her a raise and that he had invited the others for support. She could not have been more wrong.
After a round of good mornings, the general manager said, “There’s no easy way to put this, but we’re going to have to lay you off.”
Anderson was stunned. “I never moved. I just sat in the chair and stared at the table.”
Dean talked about the economy, the tight budgets, the layoffs the station had already made, but the explanations, however logical they might have been, merely provided background noise for Anderson’s thoughts—“Why me? I’ve been here eleven years.”
“He kept saying the same things over and over. ‘It’s corporate wide…you’re not the only one…there are other people who have been here longer than you have,’ adding that the timing, the day after my contract had expired, was just ironic.” The other two people in the room said nothing. “Charlie didn’t even look at me,” Anderson said.
She peppered her now former boss with questions. “I wanted to know more, but he said my questions were irrelevant. At that point, he said the words that I will never forget. ‘I’m going to ask that you leave the building. You will be escorted out.’ And I was asked to go back to the newsroom, pick up my purse, and leave.”
Reporters get used to the shock of unpleasant situations. They see them, they hear about them and then they go back and write about them. They learn to separate their own feelings from their stories so they can judge the facts fairly, not without compassion to be sure, but objectively.
Anderson’s reporter’s instincts raised unanswered questions, and her reporter’s detachment allowed her to control her demeanor as she tried to make sense, or order, or reason out of what had just happened. She asked about her things in the newsroom, pictures, books, the accumulated belongings of eleven years, and was told, “We will make sure you get your things.”
“I said, ‘You got it.’ I didn’t cry. I think I got a little misty eyed there at the end, but I didn’t cry.” And then it overwhelmed her.
“When I started walking down the hall, the tears just started coming. I remember seeing my feet walking quickly and hearing the person behind me trying to keep up. I kept saying to myself, ‘Don’t fall apart. Just get the hell out of here.’”
Anderson walked into the newsroom where it was business as usual. No one knew what was happening. No one turned around. She picked up her purse, some clothes and her makeup kit and walked back down the hall and out the door, escorted all the way to her car by her temporary shadow. Eleven years had been closed out in twenty minutes.
The Back Story
Lisanne Anderson is an Oklahoma girl. She graduated from Plainview High School in Ardmore and the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, a short drive north of Oklahoma City. She was not planning on a career in television when she started college. “I was a public relations major, and I was required to take a radio news class. One day, I was editing my story in the booth and the professor came up and said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’”
UCO had a student-run television station called UCentral, which provided news and music shows for the campus and was carried by the local cable company. When the teacher mentioned the station, Anderson was quick to accept. It promised to be more interesting than her part-time job selling jeans at the mall.
UCentral was hands-on TV. The students working for the news department scouted out the stories, shot them, edited the video, wrote the copy and did them on the air. “I did everything,” Anderson said. “I shot my own stuff. I was an anchor; I was a reporter. I worked in the control room. I directed; I did audio, I edited tape. I was a one-man band at the state capitol, a twenty-year-old nobody carrying the camera, the run bag, the deck, the tripod and wandering the halls. And I loved it.”
Lisanne Anderson had found her niche early in the game, and it was exciting. “It’s so creative, and you get to know people. You really become part of the community, and you can make a difference, or at least you feel like you can make a difference.”
The college station experience led to a weekend job at KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, writing copy for the station’s news shows. When Anderson graduated from UCO in 1996, the KFOR news director asked her to audition for the weekend morning show. “I had just finished college, and I found myself anchoring a three hour show in a top forty market. That wasn’t enough. I was young and naïve and I wanted more. I wanted to report.”
The news director didn’t think Anderson was quite ready for more—“Looking back, I see what she was trying to do. She was trying to mold me”—but youth will be served, and when a friend in Sherman told Anderson that KXII was looking for a main anchor, she did what a lot of people in a hurry and on the go have done for 175 years. She picked up and went to Texas. Oh, yes, she got the job. She was twenty-three and on a roll.
GTT (Gone to Texas)
It helps to be a multi-tasker in small market television. The on-air people do more than just show up and read the news. They also research, report, write and produce. Even the most visible of the news staff, the principal anchors, do a little bit of it all.
Producing short news pieces is a quick-fix high for a person with a creative bent. Most stories are done in a hurry, on tight, unforgiving deadlines. Broadcast journalism is “now or never,” and mistakes are very public indeed. That always hovering element of danger, embarrassment really, can be electric, and pulling it off, finding a way to bring something fresh to a piece, even if the innovation escapes most of the viewers, can be very rewarding.
The feature producer has different challenges. Like a good print editor, a television producer gathers the diverse elements of the story and arranges them in a way that will entertain as well as inform the audience. She assembles the whole from the parts.
“I love producing. That’s where I really love the business,” Anderson said. “I like putting the shows together. I started out just being the anchor and doing some special series pieces, but as things evolved, I began producing the shows as well. I produced the six and ten and anchored the six and ten as well.”
Anderson wrote, produced and reported a lot of stories during eleven years on Channel 12, but one in particular stands out in her mind. “I know exactly what it was,” she said.
“A little girl in Gainesville, Jordan Saager, was murdered by her babysitter. I can say that now, because she was convicted, but at the time I did the piece the police had not arrested the babysitter yet. There was a stack of evidence against her, and yet Child Protective Services had taken the other children away from the parents. The parents had to see their three-year-old child murdered, and then they lost their other children to the state. I think the piece I did helped focus attention back on the babysitter. My own daughter was about the same age, and I was really passionate about the story, about getting to the truth about it.”
Other stories were not as successful. “Theatricks in Sherman was doing Peter Pan, and when I was in high school, I played Wendy in Peter Pan. I thought it would be cool to be sixteen again and fl y, so they strapped me in the harness and hauled me up in the air. The entire piece was just me screaming. People probably liked that part best.”
With that line, she laughed. She has an easy laugh, big and bold and quick, that suggests that she is not particularly taken with herself. She takes what she does most seriously, however, and when asked what she wants to do that she hasn’t done yet, she can’t quite pin down a specific.
“I think it’s the things I’ve come to appreciate in the last three years, especially being on the morning show and talking to more people. It’s telling—no, not telling, sharing—sharing the human stories out there, things that make a difference. “
Napoleon’s insight on ambition was that every soldier should carry a marshal’s baton in his pack. Just as surely, young news reporters looking earnestly into the camera to report on city council meetings probably see a network anchor desk in the penumbra of the key lights above their heads.
“I may have thought about that when I first started out,” Anderson said, “but I never had the desire to move around the country. In this business, to move up, you have to move out, and when my daughter came along, that was it. I’ve had some offers, but in eleven years I have never purposefully looked for a job somewhere else.”
Anderson lives in Southern Oklahoma, across the Willis Bridge north of Whitesboro, with her husband Jason, a recruiter for the National Guard, and their three children, Brooklyn, nine, who is Anderson’s daughter from a previous marriage, her stepson Jordan, nine, and stepdaughter Kaitlyn, ten. “We’ve got the third, fourth and fifth grades covered. We get along great with the exes and all the in-laws and, that’s how I can handle my career. I have a great support group.”
In the days immediately after her discharge, she did not watch a lot of news on television. “I flipped on the morning show once or twice, and it was hard. When I took over the morning show, I revamped it all, changed it all, and now it’s hard for me to watch. But I’ll tell you this. When that tornado came through Denison, I watched. I was chomping at the bit. It’s an adrenaline thing. Oh, I wanted to be part of all that!”
When Anderson found herself unexpectedly “at liberty,” she used the time to reexamine some things. “The next day, I said I would get out and start looking for a job. I tried, but I got caught up being a mom, and I loved being a mom. Recently, a very good friend of mine defined my misguided passion for perfection, for raising the bar, for wanting to do more, and when I’m at work, that’s what I do. I’m that way at home too. My friend really opened my eyes as to where to put the passion in life. Nothing makes you reevaluate your priorities like having eleven years of your life erased in a matter of minutes.”
The day after
“Erased in a matter of minutes,” says a lot, but it was more than that. In the Soviet Union, when Nikita Khrushchev fell from grace, he was not only lost his job, he became a non person. Overnight his pictures came down, his name was removed from signs and directories and his page in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was torn out. As far as officialdom was concerned, he was not just gone, he never was.
Lisanne Anderson got much the same treatment from KXII. All references to her immediately disappeared from the station’s website, and when viewers called to find out what had happened to her and where she was, they were told only, “She no longer works here.” The station even took the plaques and awards with Anderson’s name on them off the wall and sent them to her house. As far as Channel 12 was concerned, she was not just gone, she never was.
On the same day Anderson left the station, an e-mail arrived at several local media outlets suggesting that the layoffs were fallout from a variety of problems at both the local station and KXII’s corporate owner, Gray Television of Atlanta. The sender mentioned several rumors already floating around about Anderson and the layoffs and included web links to outside stories detailing recent financial difficulties at the parent company. The sender finished with “I am a station insider and wish to remain anonymous for fear of losing my job as well.” A return e-mail from Texoma Living! asking for a meeting with the sender went unanswered, as did a hand-delivered letter to General Manager Rick Dean asking to talk with a station representative.
Several weeks later, following two interviews with Anderson, Texoma Living! got a telephone call from a source who worked at the station and who wanted to talk. A meeting was arranged for the next day.
“I’m here in the interests of the station,” said the source. “We got the letter, the managers talked about it, and they sent me. That’s all I know. I was there. There were company-wide layoffs. Not all of us in the media are going to keep our jobs. We had to downsize our staff. Five people were laid off, and she happened to be one of them. It wasn’t for improper conduct or anything like that. It was a business move. Her contract was up.
“I was there the last day. Nobody really knew what was going on. She [Anderson] came back to the newsroom in tears. Our business manager was there kind of standing off in the back watching. Lisanne didn’t say anything to anyone in the newsroom. She got together her wardrobe out of the dressing room and her personal belongings and left. That’s the last time I saw her.”
After the word got out of Anderson’s departure, the rumors started flying. On the City of Sherman’s Internet forum, “Topix,” and the Herald-Democrat’s website, people speculated about what had happened. Speculations included that perhaps Anderson had been in an on-air fight with a reporter, to having used inappropriate language on camera. One rumor had her making off with the money raised for “Toys for Tots.” The public’s exercises in imagination proved once again that a total lack of knowledge is no bar to seriously silly speculation.
There were suggestions that Anderson was on the scout for another job. The station source confirmed that some people at KXII-TV believed that. “She had made it known to everyone there, dropping subtle hints that she was looking for another job. She would leave up job postings on the computer on the anchor desk where other anchors could come in and see where the last person was on the computer. There would be jobs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and bigger markets.”
Anderson denies the allegation. “I was not actively looking for a job before I was laid off. I had submitted, on line, a résumé to the Chickasaw Nation. They do everything, PR, marketing. I don’t even remember when I did that, but I never heard anything back from them. But no, I was not looking for another job in TV. There was a résumé that I had created. I never did anything with it, but I would be stupid not to have something ready if I needed it. I don’t know about Oklahoma City or Tulsa, because I never looked anywhere on the Internet for a job.”
And office rumors can make unconnected acts seem part of a grand scheme. “She had her desk all cleared out,” the source said. “She worked there for twelve years, and she had her stuff all over the place. Then suddenly one day everything was put away. About seventy percent of what was on the wall was gone. That happened sometime in the summer.”
Was Anderson preparing for a quick getaway when bigger opportunities beckoned? “I had cleaned my desk off last summer and dusted it off. There were two boxes of stuff underneath my desk. You couldn’t even see my desk at one point, so I just cleaned it off. I got rid of all the trash.”
But putting the wild rumors and unsupported guesses aside, there is truth in the idea that there were tensions in the Channel 12 news room, at least over the past couple of years.
“Matt Brown used to be the news director, and I thought those were the glory days of Channel 12,” said the source. “We had some of the highest ratings we’ve ever had. He and Lisanne were considered one of the top news teams in our whole region. They were very well thought of.” Then Brown left the station and things changed.
“At one point I knew they were looking at Charlie [Haldeman] to be the news director,” said Anderson, “and Matt told me to back off and let Charlie do it and see if he could do it. And that’s what I did. Charlie was already there. He was my colleague in the morning, and then he took over as news director and anchor.”
But that was not how some saw the change of leadership.
“Lisanne did not pursue the news director’s position, but she sort of acted like one,” the source said. “For a while in our newsroom it was like we had a news director A and a news director B, and one actually held the title. It caused a lot of unfair working conditions for the kids just out of college who were trying to break into TV. You had someone in the morning telling them what a story is and then someone in the afternoon saying no, it wasn’t. She undermined the authority of her boss on almost a daily basis. In my opinion, that is what cost her her job, and that opinion is shared by a lot of people.”
There is an old law school stunt where the professor has someone burst into an evidence class, run screaming around the room and then beat a hasty retreat. Immediately, the teacher has each of the students write down what happened.
If there are twenty students, there will be twenty different versions of the event. It is a matter of perspective and a subtle lesson on the vagaries of perception.
“My duties were in the morning,” said Anderson, “and Charlie told me this, that I’m in charge in the morning. I get the stories out. I get the reporters where they’re going. I’m in charge. I’m the point person, and if I need to, I can contact him. There were difficulties scheduling-wise. He was up late, I was up early. So there was a problem there.”
“When Charlie took over, he and I never sat down and said, ‘OK, this is the business of the news room. This is what we’ve done for so long.’ Now he’s taking over, and we never sat down and had a conversation about how this is going to work. I had never been in a situation with a news director like that. We probably had different philosophies about news here in this area. Not all the time. Sometimes we were right on.”
But as time went on, the “right ons” became scarce. “The last few months she was there, she and the news director were not on speaking terms,” said the source.
The silence was noticed by many, and Anderson readily acknowledged it. “We did not communicate very much,” she said. “I thought there was a slide in the quality of the stories we were putting on. There was no guidance for the reporters. It was, ‘Here’s a story. Go do it.’ These are people right out of college, and they need guidance, and they needed to be taught, and they weren’t getting that.”
And Anderson had deeper concerns. “I questioned some of the stories we were covering and how we presented those stories. I’m not always right. I’ll admit that. But I’ve lived here a long time and I know the people here. I stood up for what I believed in.”
Where was the general manager, Rick Dean, while the news room simmered? “He comes from a sales background,” Anderson said. “He’s the first to admit he doesn’t have the news experience. He knows what he hears from people, and he goes by that. Rick would say, ‘You and Charlie have to work this out. You have to get together and communicate about it.’ He talked to Charlie a lot, which he should have.”
After eleven years, Anderson may have felt her experience and time in grade gave her the weight to press for those things she thought important. “I thought it would be better for me to keep pushing. Let’s try this. Let’s do this. We can do this. Why are we doing it that way? The news room was my baby. I took that and I dedicated everything to the job. I think it probably cost me my first marriage, because that was where my passion was, and like I said—perhaps a misguided passion.”
“In retrospect, I think that might have played a part in their decision. And I will admit it was how I handled a lot of things. I am a very honest person. If I think it, I usually say it. That’s one of my big faults. There were times when it just came out, and I don’t think management appreciated that.”
Breakin’ up is hard to do
Sometimes business and professional relationships end like love affairs that have gone sour. The good things that were so obvious in the beginning get lost in the confusion and acrimony of the end. Channel 12 has dominated the Texoma television market for years, and Lisanne Anderson’s contributions to that dominance have been substantial. But because both parties chose to remain close-mouthed about the events until now, rumors, speculation and gossip have had a good run.
“That was a decision of the staff and managers,” said the source. “We knew there would be thousands of questions and thousands of phone calls. We were told by management to say, ‘Lisanne Anderson no longer works for Channel 12,’ that’s all. That’s the line we were told to give out.”
And as for Anderson, “To keep from starting a bunch of stuff and looking like the vengeful, hurt, pitiful victim here, when anyone asked me what happened, I just said I got laid off. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s not to save my face, but there are things that just don’t need to come out in public. It’s nobody’s business.”
“I don’t want this to bash on Channel 12, but to set the record straight, I was very frustrated when I was there because I thought the quality was slipping, and the people in a position to do something about it were not doing something about it. I wasn’t perfect. They weren’t perfect. It was just a bad deal.”
News at Ten
Lisanne Anderson’s estrangement from Texoma TV audiences was short-lived indeed. Seven and a half hours after she was escorted out of KXII, the telephone rang in her Oklahoma home. KTEN-TV, her long time rival, was calling.
And what did they say? “They asked, ‘What do you want?’” said Anderson with a laugh. It took a couple of months to iron out the details, but two months after she disappeared from the public eye, two months after she became a non person, she was back. Nikita Khrushchev would have been envious.