What would she do after CNN?
Posted in , Aug 12, 2009
The sixth floor of CNN Center in Atlanta, where I worked as a news anchor, was home to the network’s most powerful executives.
Climbing there from the newsroom one floor below gave most of my colleagues butterflies. Not me. At least not that January day, when my boss summoned me to a meeting after my mid-morning broadcast.
What did I have to worry about? I was a 12-year CNN veteran. My show did well in the ratings and I was well liked. I also had reason to feel good about the work I’d done that particular morning.
Osama bin Laden had released a new video while I was on the air. I’d spent the morning scrambling to interview experts, coordinate with reporters and keep up with developments.
What else could the big boss want to say besides “Great job!”?
I sat across from his desk. He small-talked for a while, then got to the point. “Daryn, your contract is up at the end of this year and I just wanted you to know we won’t be renewing it.”
I stared at him. Everyone in TV news knows the business is fickle. But—this? Just a few years before I’d been covering the Iraq War from Kuwait. I’d gone to Africa with the rock star Bono. This was out of the blue!
My boss kept talking, saying something about letting me stick around to finish the year. I only half listened. Inside, a small, insistent voice kept repeating three short words: Daryn, it’s time.
I didn’t know what that meant. But I didn’t have a chance to figure it out. My boss finished. I left his office and found my way to my car.
I drove straight home. There I scooped up Tripod, my three-legged cat, and held him.
Then I got the leash and took my dog, Darla, for a walk—nothing clears my head like ambling along with that sweet, 68-pound ball of yellow fur. The whole way I tried to make sense of what had just happened. I’d spent my career in TV news. It was what I did.
All those producers, writers and techs I worked with. Women in the makeup room. Guys on my team who loved to talk sports. All of them were about to drop out of my life. I wasn’t married. Didn’t have children. What was next for me? I didn’t know.
I went to work the following weeks holding my head up and saying little about my upcoming fate. Inside, though, my feelings were a blur.
One of the few things giving me joy was a segment I’d created at CNN called “Your Spirit”—inspirational stories that make your heart go zing! These stories weren’t particularly prized in the newsroom. But I loved them.
I did one about a psychologist disabled in a car accident who came to regard his paralysis as a gift, giving him greater empathy.
Another featured Baton Bob, a flight attendant laid off after September 11 whose therapist told him to beat depression by doing whatever brought him joy—in Bob’s case that was the baton twirling he’d done as a band major in high school.
He dug out his old baton and now twirls it for passersby in downtown Atlanta.
“What are you going to do, Daryn?” friends and family kept asking. I wasn’t sure. But I did notice broadcast news didn’t figure much in my thoughts. I kept circling back to those inspirational stories. To my own spiritual interests. To my desire to find blessings even in a major setback.
That didn’t sound like a job description. But what if it could be?
One day, surfing the internet, I came upon a website with a strange name: “Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone.” I looked closer and realized it was a site maintained by a freelance journalist named Kevin Sites, who was being paid by the web portal Yahoo! to travel the world for one year covering war.
“One man, one year, twenty war zones,” read the site’s tagline.
My jaw dropped. You could do that? You could have a website where you just report your favorite kinds of stories? Wow, I thought, what would I do with one of those?
It hit me instantly. Why not a website focused on my favorite inspirational stories? I could see the tagline: “One woman, one year, one purpose:
Go to all the inspirational stories!”
It sounded like a slam dunk. If Yahoo! was doing war news, why not inspiring news too? I landed a meeting with Yahoo! executives, walked in confident—and they were decidedly lukewarm. They never called back.
Before discouragement could set in, I visited my sister, Kallan, in New York. We sat in her apartment and I told her everything. Her response was totally unexpected.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. “Why are you giving your idea away? You can do this yourself! Why not launch your own website with inspiring videos? Then you could write books, do television, radio, so many things.”
I didn’t know what to say. As a journalist I had always assumed I would be working for someone else. Could I really do something like that? On my own?
Is that what that small, insistent voice had meant—not just, Daryn, it’s time to leave CNN, but, Daryn, it’s time to do something different altogether? Something that feeds your soul? That feeds the whole world’s soul?
It sounded so impossibly wonderful. And yet—I knew for certain Kallan was right.
Of course there was the little matter of me knowing basically zero about the internet. Every day, though, seemed to bring signs I’d made the right choice.
I hired a local web-design firm and they gave me what I needed to work from my living room—from my screened-in porch if I wanted!
I reached back to my early days in the business and improvised a do-it-yourself method for shooting stories. Subjects tape themselves with handheld digital cameras, then e-mail me footage. When I needed a publicist, it turned out an old friend from elementary school was looking for clients.
I went to buy the domain name darynkagan.com—and discovered someone already owned it, a cyber-squatter who had bought it in hopes someone with name-recognition like me might one day pay big money to recover it.
I took a breath, told myself I was now devoted to positive news, and sent the man a polite e-mail asking for my name back. You know what? The following day he returned it for free. “I think I was meant to have this and hold onto it so no one else would take advantage of you,” he said.
Today my routine is a lot like it was at CNN. I still get up early and spend the day reading scripts, catching up on news, talking into a camera. Only now I do all that at home, sometimes on my porch, wearing jeans below my camera-ready dress shirt.
I’ve got visitors in 107 countries, but that’s not the point. I’m doing what I now realize all my other professional experiences were preparing me for. Spreading good news, stories that inspire the world.
Daryn, it’s time. I know what those words mean now. They’re just another way of saying, it’s never too late to become the person you were always meant to be.
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