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March 11, 2019

On Her Story

A former Television Academy Foundation Intern makes her mark on TV journalism

Samantha Gilbert

Lynn Smith has a case of the Mondays; in the best way possible.

The popular anchor of Headline News' (HLN) Weekend Express is taking all the weekdays by storm as the new host of On The Story.

But this dream job isn't a breaking story that developed over night. This is the result of years of perseverance, gratitude, helpful mentors, and, as with anything, a little bit of luck.

Smith, perhaps destined for big things, spent her formative years growing up in reserved, provincial towns. Born and raised in Worthington, Ohio, Smith attended college at Miami of Ohio, in Oxford, Ohio.

A Communications major with an undeniable passion for journalism, Smith found herself, as all college students do, staring into a void of her own potential, trying to figure out the next step. With the encouragement of a professor, Smith took a chance and applied for The Television Academy Foundation Internship Program.

"He warned me it was extremely competitive, but encouraged me to go for it anyway. This was something that thousands and thousands of students across the country apply for and the Academy would only pick one for each category available, so it would be a very prestigious thing to add to a resume."

And with one application, Lynn Smith became an affirmation for shoot-for-the-moon aspirations.

"When I got that, it was life changing." She recalls, "I was the Ohio girl who had the opportunity to go to the big city; I had never been to Los Angeles, I'd never really experienced any big city, but I moved there and began the internship that put me on the path that I'm on now.

Los Angeles is known for being home to scripted film and television, not so much for its journalism, but no place in untouched by the news.

Smith's first day on the job with her Television Academy Foundation Internship was September 10th, 2001. She was at NBC, getting her feet wet by giving tours to tourists, but after her second day on the job, entertainment operations were all but shut down.

"They were very quick to find positions for all of us: I was at an ad agency, a production house, and a post house." She continues, "I had always been interested in what makes something a good story, which is what journalism is: digging into what makes a story important to people; and I got to see it all from start to finish."

Among her mentors during this period was current Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Sherma.

From there, Smith spring boarded; landing opportunity after opportunity, for all of which she credits the Television Academy Foundation Internship. Learning valuable lessons, making contacts, and paying dues along the way, Smith made her way to The Big Apple, allowing herself to be in a position to enter her field of choice: broadcast journalism.

It wasn't until she became a producer on The Today Show that the realization arrived that Smith had an impactful presence in front of the camera. With the assistance of her mentors, the grooming began in the local markets of Hartford, Philadelphia, New York City, with all roads eventually leading to Atlanta and HLN's Weekend Express, where Smith spent the past five years as the show's host.

Now, she's looking at yet another transition, an exciting one for a mom of two who is as dedicated to the news as she is to catching her kids' weekend soccer games: Lynn Smith is taking over as host of weekday-airing On The Story.

"I felt so lucky to be a part of Weekend Express, and now to be able to move to day-side and craft something new and different for an audience that I was a part of when I was on maternity. I feel more connected to our viewers than ever."

On The Story will continue on its branded path of delivering the daily news, with an added focus on investigative reporting and the promise to dig deeper into the stories in which the viewer has a vested interest.

"We want to focus on the facts and we want to focus on what's important to you as a citizen; what is going to change your life and what do you need to know about it. We understand our viewers' time is limited and we want people to know we're not going to waste the precious time they give to us."

Certainly the point of any legitimate news outlet is to provide the information and let the viewer craft their own opinion based on the facts.

This requires trust on both sides: the viewer trusts the outlet has done a thorough investigation and has presented non-biased facts in the form of news stories, while the outlet trusts that the viewer takes that information and makes informed, logical decisions in their daily lives.

But how does a show break through the static of the Information Age, grab peoples' attention, and, more importantly, keep it? It is an impressive act, one that is not easily accomplished on a dignified platform. Smith believes that feat begins with her personal connection to the audience.

Emanating both passion and concern she explains, "We know that HLN viewers do indeed have a high interest in certain stories, it's part of our brand and we want to embrace that. And it interests me, too! I hope viewers feel a connection to me in the same way that I feel a connection to them.

"I've always felt invested in that mom sitting at home worrying about what she needs to know regarding a breaking story and how it will ultimately affect her family, because I am that mom.

"I know firsthand, there's nothing more important to most viewers than their familial unit, so we are going to do whatever we can do to make someone feel they're walking away with valuable information. That's our goal every day. We want to provide news that's well-rounded and useful."

Smith and the team at On The Story plan to accomplish that goal with their 12 writers and producers and expanded team of support staff, editors, directors, and photographers who work behind the curtain to bring the news to fruition.

"I've worked on a staff where there are over 100 producers so this kind of tight-knit setting really gives an intimate family feel."

And with fewer chefs in the kitchen, the patron can enjoy a meal of information, not opinions.

The goal is to provide the viewer with more information than they would derive by simply by scrolling through headlines that are often worded specifically to elicit an emotional reaction. Smith and her team want to redirect the focus from emotion to logic.

"People are focused on politics; they're focused on arguing, they're focused on entertainment. We want viewers to get more information on what would otherwise be just a headline."

That's not to say that politics will be left out of On The Story.

"We don't want to ignore politics, we can't ignore politics; it's all in how we present it. I think it's important that people know what's happening in Washington, but you're not going to hear three talking heads argue the same talking points you've heard over and over for the past two years."

She states firmly, "You're going to get the facts, you're going to hear them from someone completely unbiased and they're going to be presented in an unbiased way; that's been my brand from the beginning of my career and I have no plans on changing it.

"The one thing I've always stayed true to is myself and I can honestly say that when you tune in to the show, that really is me." She laughs, "Well, it's probably a more polished version of myself because I'm normally in a mom-bun with no make-up, but it's me. So, like it or not, you're going to get something authentic from me and from journalism."

Lynn Smith will join the HLN weekday lineup beginning on Monday, March 11th. On The Story airs Mondays through Fridays, 12:00pm to 2:00pm EST.



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