News anchor Jadiann Thompson, 33, is a three-time Emmy-award winner and works for Channel 7 (WHDH-TV). Born and raised in Arkansas, she graduated from the University of Arkansas and spent a year teaching English in Madrid before launching her career in broadcast journalism. She was a multimedia journalist—writing, filming, reporting and editing her own stories—in Casper, Wyoming, before moving to Phoenix. From there, she became the anchor for the NBC affiliate in Kansas City and later landed Boston in 2015. She anchors four weekday newscasts, including the 9 pm show, which began when the station switched to an all-news format at the start of this year.
Jonathan Soroff: Let’s start with your name. Where did it come from and how many people pronounce it correctly on the first try?
Jadiann Thompson: No one pronounces it correctly. One of the first things you’ll learn about me is that I don’t fit into any molds or stereotypes. I was raised on a small horse farm in Arkansas, and I was a no-name baby. I think it took until three weeks after I was born. I’ve been told that my mother found a translation of a Hebrew name she liked, “Jadiel,” but that was masculine. My grandmother’s name was JoAnn, so she just sort of combined those two. She says it means “Living a graceful life.”
How did you lose your Arkansas accent? Thank you for saying I don’t have one. TV news kinda beat it out of me. I had a news director who forced me to take voice lessons. I was horrified at how much they cost. Anyway, I’ve worked hard on it, but it helps being out of Arkansas. When I come back from a visit home, I have to go through language detox.
What do you do with your downtime? I’m always on the Esplanade, biking or running. I’m on the Cape in the summer. I go to New Hampshire and ski in the winter. I just soak it all in.
Sports loyalties? Oh, I genuinely love all the Boston teams. It’s a lot easier being from Arkansas, because we have no real pro teams, so it’s not like I’m betraying any allegiances. I can still watch my Razorbacks. “Go, hogs! Woo, pig!” And I can still be a Patriots fan.
Biggest story of your career? It’s hard to single out just one; there’s not one thing that made everything different. But the first that comes to mind was when I was new at my job in Phoenix. I’d gone from market 197 in Casper, Wyoming, to the country’s number 12 market, which everyone had told me would never happen. Not long after, I was sent out to cover the state’s largest wildfire. I was shooting, writing and editing my own stuff, and we were getting woken up at 2 am, being told to evacuate our hotel, while I’m trying to do all that. It was pretty intense.
Biggest nonstory of your career? In Casper, I worked my way up from beat reporter to main anchor, and I was working weekends, too, doing everything. If the weatherman didn’t show up, I had to do it. But there was this one weekend when there was just nothing going on. And I’m the assignment desk. There was a beaded jewelry convention in town, and I went and did a story on that. I didn’t actually cry, but I did think to myself, driving back in an all-out blizzard, “I hope it’s going to be worth it someday.”
So you can single-handedly produce a newscast? In Wyoming, I was producing, anchoring, running my own prompter, cutting video, shooting stories. I was working really hard, and I was very into politics, and I cultivated a great relationship with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso. He was the one who made the call on my behalf that convinced the news director in Phoenix to pull me up 180 markets.
Is there a color you’d never wear on air? There used to be. When I started out, it was “Cut your hair, change your name, don’t wear big jewelry and don’t wear white.” Now, with the evolution of HDTV and the capabilities of our cameras, it’s not true. They can adjust the cameras so that if you do wear a bright white, they can tone it down so that it actually looks nice on set.
Piece of news you’d most like to deliver? Well, I’ve gotten myself to where I am, and I know what it’s like to be poor. I grew up with no money. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I watched my father work extremely hard. He still does. So it breaks my heart to see people who are hungry or homeless or both. I can barely handle it. So if I could say, “Everyone has shelter and food,” that would be a perfect world.
If you could interview anyone, who would it be and why? If you asked me that a year ago or a year from now, I might have a different answer, but I’m going to say right now? Maya Angelou. She spent a part of her childhood in a small town in Arkansas. I find so much inspiration in her. I mentor a lot of young women who are starting in journalism, and I like to tell them this quote from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” She was such a champion of children, too. She said she wished people interacted with children every day to affirm their worth. How powerful would it be if we had a society where every time you saw a child, you said something encouraging to them?
Story from history you’d most like to have seen firsthand and reported on? I think I’m saying this because I’ve really embraced living in New England. I’ve walked the Freedom Trail. I’m one of the best tour guides in Boston. I’ve really rekindled my love for early American history, so I’m going to say the American Revolution. That’s a moment in time like no other.
Most danger you’ve ever been in on assignment? Well, I’ve always told myself that at some point in my career, I should go to war zones and report on that. I think it’s really important, and I appreciate the work our armed forces do so much. I’ve always weirdly wanted to be a part of it.
What’s the greatest lengths you’ve gone to for a story? Well, this isn’t all that exciting, but for a lot of my career, I’ve been a multimedia journalist, where I wear all the hats, and there was a time in Kansas City when the FAA had decided to loosen restrictions on cellphones on airline flights. I wanted to tell an interesting story about it. I spent hours, but somehow, I found a guy who worked on airplanes, and there was one on the tarmac. I convinced him to let me bring my camera guy and allow me on the plane. Then I needed people on the plane talking on their cellphones, so I could see what it was like. And I convinced all the mechanics to take their lunch break on the plane and actually make phone calls. I wrote the story in the car. Barely made our slot. And then anchored the next newscast. But I ended up winning an Emmy for it.
Biggest on-air faux pas? Oh, god! Everyone is going to Google it and now it will come up again at the top of searches for me, but I once had to say, “A billion dollar pitch,” and I said, “A billion dollar bitch.” It was awful. I was just so tongue-tied. My phone rang immediately during the commercial break, and it was my boss, mad. Then someone graciously put it on YouTube, and it went like wildfire. So now when my dad tells someone back home that I’m on Channel 7, when they Google me, guess what pops up?
Thing people would be most surprised to learn about you? I think people are surprised to know that I have a black belt in karate. As a little girl, I wanted to do ballet and all sorts of stuff. My dad had done karate, and he convinced me to do it. I just went headfirst into it, and I got my black belt. I taught self-defense in college and situational awareness techniques. Then I ended up doing some boxing, and it really built my confidence. I’ve been on a lot of stories where it wasn’t super safe and having that confidence is nice. I also had a really great relationship with my sensei, and I still do. He was like my Mister Miyagi, so it’s a very cool part of my life.
Professional role models? A lot of people might answer that by naming other journalists, and I clearly respect, admire and owe a lot to the women in my business who were trailblazers. People like Barbara Walters, who started out doing the traffic because women weren’t taken seriously. But I’ve drawn inspiration from a lot of people: Malala, this young girl shot in the head, fighting for education. If she can persevere in the search for truth, isn’t that what we as journalists strive to do every day? And then there’s my family. She passed two years ago, but I still want to make my grandmother proud. I draw from a lot of different sources in dealing with daily struggles.
How do you keep emotion out of delivering the news? That’s a tough question. I speak only for myself, not all journalists, but I definitely do feel the news. I can’t help it. When you see a family that’s lost its home because of a fire, or children who are sick, or things like that, you carry it with you. But I’ve chosen a profession where people trust that I’m there to find the information and tell them. So if I were to get emotional on the desk, as the anchor, it would be like your doctor breaking down while telling you that you need surgery. That’s not the person you need at that moment. So I am perfectly capable of being professional in the moment, and presenting the information. But there are nights when I’ll go home, and the story is just heavy. And I kinda let it be heavy. I’m human.
When you go to the supermarket, do people expect you to know everything? I haven’t gotten that so much as people looking at me for an extended period before saying anything. I feel like people are wondering if it’s me, and I see people looking at their phone, then looking at each other, then looking at me, and I almost want to say, “If you’re wondering if I’m the news anchor on Channel 7, I am.” But that would be awkward. I love it when people come up and talk to me, though. I got in an Uber the other night, and my driver had one of my talent cards in his visor, I don’t know why, and he sang my name to me the entire ride home.
You lived in Kansas City before this. Best place in Boston for barbecue? I’m going to get myself in trouble here, but I haven’t found one. If there’s a chef out there who thinks they have it, I’m willing to try, but I’ve not found that kind of barbecue in this area yet. I’m still looking.
Favorite thing about Boston? I am absolutely in love with this city: the people, the city itself, my job. I’ve worked so hard, and I always wondered, “Is it going to be worth it?” I’m finally in a place and a city where I wake up every day feeling grateful.
Describe Bostonians. Bostonians are real. You know exactly where you stand with them. Growing up in the South, there are a lot of very friendly people, and you might not get that warm and fuzzy feeling right off the bat here, but what you do get is totally genuine.
What are your news sources? You’ve gotta go all over the map. Growing up, we talked about religion and politics at the table, and that’s one of the reasons I got into this business. We talked about the hard subjects. I read George Orwell’s 1984 at way too early an age. I’ve always questioned everything. I take nothing at face value. I always want to know the truth. So if I can, I go to primary sources. We’re in a very polarized society right now, so you have to have sources that cover the spectrum. I watch the networks, CNN and Fox. I go to the AP. I read a ton: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg. I sift through a lot. But if I can get my hands on the police report, I want to read that police report. I’m an anchor, but I think a good anchor is a good reporter first and foremost.
Where do you keep your Emmys? They’re on a shelf in the living room, but only my closest friends and family come to my house, so it’s not like they’re in people’s faces. I like having them there. Sometimes when you have a hard day, they’re a nice reminder that you’re doing something right.
Tell me a secret about Ryan Schulteis. I can’t! He’s my work husband! But I will tell you that he and I are very close, and we have developed a way of nonverbally communicating when we’re working together. He can twitch his shoulder a certain way, and I know what he means. It’s a body language. A sixth sense.
Who has whiter teeth—you or him? I think we’re about the same. Now I need to put down my grande soy latte and go put on the Crest whitening strips!
Are you a morning person? No! I am such a night owl! I have so much respect for anyone who does early-morning news. But I’m at my best at 9 o’clock at night. ◆
Location: Revere Hotel Boston Common; Styling: Jenny Wilson / Anchor Artists; Makeup: Makena Couture / G2O Spa + Salon; Hair: Michelle Lee / Salon Eva Michelle; Wardrobe: Yves Saint Laurent dress from Barneys New York, Quadrum Gallery ring and earrings.