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Friday, July 08 2011

Jane Clayson Johnson--The National Television Anchor Who Chose Motherhood

By Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
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This is an excerpt from the book Woman of Character: Profiles of 100 Prominent LDS Women.

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Jane Clayson’s interest in broadcasting was almost an accident: arriving at Brigham Young University in 1985 on a violin scholarship, she was sure her future would be in music and that she would marry before ever graduating. When graduation came without an engagement, a series of unplanned events led her to become a major network news anchor—but in the end she chose motherhood as her career.1

Jane Clayson was born August 25, 1967, in Sacramento, California. When Jane ran into a friend who worked for KBYU, the university’s television station, he encouraged her to visit the studios and learn about broadcasting—a chance conversation that led Jane to a job at KBYU-FM, BYU’s classical radio station.

Jane changed her major to broadcast journalism, and her part-time stint at KBYU eventually led to a part-time position reporting local news for KSL television in Salt Lake City during her senior year. At the time, she didn’t realize exactly how unusual it was for a student to get a job at a local station in such a large market. She told herself she would work for KSL for fun until “real life” kicked in; upon graduation, however, KSL offered her a full-time job.

The accolades Jane earned during her six years at KSL were unusual for a rookie reporter. She won several awards, including an Emmy for her story about a boy from Park City with cancer who traveled to California to die and an Edward R. Murrow Award for her coverage of Utah doctors donating services to children with disabilities in China. Her biggest recognition came from a New York talent agent who recognized national potential in Jane; within a matter of weeks she was working in Los Angeles as an ABC News correspondent for Good Morning America and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Her first major assignment was the O. J. Simpson murder trial. More high-profile assignments followed.2

Though her professional life thrived, there were unexpected struggles, personally. She had married and soon divorced. It was a painful and challenging period. Jane remembers wondering what lessons she needed to be taught. “I had this career, which I had never planned on and, frankly, didn’t always want. . . . I had to learn to put everything I had on the altar of God—my fears, my anxiety, my hopes, my dreams—give it all to Him. When I did that, things changed. . . . It was a very pivotal moment for me.”3

Jane was hired by CBS to co-host The Early Show. While she was packing to move to New York City, she received a phone call from Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the time, he supervised the Church’s public affairs work. Elder Maxwell told Jane he had felt prompted to offer her a blessing before she began her co-anchor position in New York City. One directive in his blessing was particularly poignant for Jane: “You must allow the Lord to use you. Sometimes you will not understand what He is doing or why He is doing it, but do not question. You must allow Him to guide you and direct you.”4

Jane soon found herself in a position where she needed the promised direction. The routine of being a co-anchor was physically and emotionally taxing. Her day started at 3:45 a.m. During the two-hour show she conducted interviews with politicians, celebrities, and newsmakers; afternoons and evenings were filled with speaking engagements, interviews, promotional appearances, and research. She dropped into bed at 10 p.m. and started all over when the alarm rang.

Issues about her religious beliefs often surfaced at work, and Jane found many opportunities to stand as a witness for what she believed. She felt passionate about her work and believed that she was “fulfilling a particular mission she had been called to serve.”5 But at the same time she still had deep longings to be a wife and mother.

During the summer of 2003 Jane’s sister set her up on a blind date with Mark Johnson, a former Naval officer, Harvard Business School graduate, and recent convert to the Church. After a short courtship Mark proposed marriage and Jane accepted. The very next morning Jane’s agent called with a job offer at another network that included a four-year contract, prime-time opportunities, and a big paycheck. Her wedding was set for September, and her contract with CBS would not expire until January. Jane turned down the lucrative offer, let her contract with CBS expire, and left her television career. Colleagues told her she was nuts.

One told her she was making a terrible decision that she would regret the rest of her life. “‘What will you be without your job?’ he said. ‘If you leave television now, you’re done.’ Then knowing of Jane’s faith he asked, ‘What are you going to do? Move up [to Boston] and teach Sunday School?’” As it turned out, the first Sunday in her new ward Jane was called to teach Sunday School.6 The day after Jane moved to Boston she learned she was pregnant.

Today, as a full-time mother of two children, Jane looks back on her decision without regret. As she reflects on her past life as a broadcast journalist, she says, “I know what it’s like to live what many people would call a glamorous, interesting, intellectually stimulating life, and I can say with the full conviction of my heart—with full power in my soul—that nothing is more important than the work I’m doing within the four walls of my own home, with my children. Nothing. No interview, no award, no network TV program—nothing.” Jane says, “Most people won’t remember Jane Clayson the news anchor or network correspondent, but Mark and [my] children will be changed forever because of Jane the wife and mother.”7

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1 Lisa Ann Thomson, “Reporting on the Home Front,” BYU Magazine, Summer 2007.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Jane Clayson Johnson, “Reporting on the Home Front,” Guest Lecture for the College of Fine Arts and

Communications, March 29, 2007.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Thomson.

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