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Jenna Lee, SmartHer News

A New Frontier

I often look out across the land of Dripping Springs and wonder what these Oak trees have seen — curious about the stories of souls who have passed underneath their branches on foot, or horseback, or a Ford F-350 Super Duty pick-up truck. I think of the women, who in wool dresses in the middle of summer, cooked over an open fire, and I marvel at the strategy and skill required to simply feed a family (without “Dino Nuggets” or running water). I drift to thoughts of loss, grit and the hard days that many experienced — and the immense courage and hope in the future that must have pulsed through their veins like the inspired freshwater springs here — cool and steady — magnifying during those moments where the night of heartbreak felt all too dark and the quiet light of dawn all too far away.  

What a life so many forged here to follow their dreams. 

100 years ago, on this same land, families emerged from war and pandemic, charting a way forward. 100 years later, we share this familiar storyline — in many ways different but still confronting those same timeless questions ranging from the daily (“Mom, what’s for dinner?”) to the deep: “What truly makes us FREE?”

We find ourselves in a developing story and that’s why good journalism matters.

And also why it needs to come from somewhere in the middle.

Here in Dripping Springs, I live almost equidistant between my two previous lives — 1740 miles to the rolling, fog-laced hometown of San Francisco and 1768 miles from the screaming streets and electric lights of New York City. The contrast of these experiences leaves me more disoriented than I would like to admit.

I’m Texan by marriage. Six years ago, when we moved suddenly to the Hill Country, I had never heard of “Dripping Springs.” But the place and the people have changed my life forever at such a critical chapter.

I wish I could report to you a smooth transition, but the reality is best expressed by a treasured gift I received from special friends here, Todd and Megan White — a painting of Todd’s interpretation of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” falling from the sky — with heavy lashes and red heels against a bright, floral graffiti background. She looks how I have so often felt, tumbling into Texas in an unexpected plot twist.

Working as a national news anchor in New York City wasn’t my original goal. I wanted to work as a broadcast journalist, but it didn’t seem probable. After graduating with a master’s degree in journalism, I was rejected from most jobs I applied for across the country (including Texas), but right when I decided to accept whatever came next, word spread of a new television network launching in Manhattan — a network looking for “fresh” faces — and in a moment, my rejection became a blessing. I anchored the first broadcast of the Fox Business Network and three years later, co-hosted my own two-hour weekday show on the Fox News Channel.

I worked on the national stage for a decade — until I chose to walk away in 2017. And that happened due to two important roads converging.

The news changed. My show covered news of the day or “straight” news — breaking headlines, live reports and interviews on a variety of topics, from the weather to scientific discoveries and politics (with balance). I loved learning, and sharing the news with our viewers; I felt especially helpful during chaotic and confusing times. But several years into the job, a slow-burn of anxiety started to keep me awake at night. The network was changing — as were so many others — investing in opinion programming, and prioritizing debate panels and commentary over the news. This concerned me, but it really bothered our audience, who regularly told me they wanted less arguing and more clarity on the key issues. I became increasingly alarmed about the future — and the survival of nonpartisan news for the people we promise, as journalists, to serve. I knew some difficult decisions lay ahead.

Separately, my view of women changed. My life entered a new level of joy AND complexity — I had two children aged two-and-under. My career supported our family as my husband built his new business. I felt the weight so many women shoulder, trying to balance it all. And despite all the discussion during the #MeToo movement, of which Fox News found itself at the center, none of the talk seemed to lead to practical solutions for women at work or at home. Many of my best friends — single women, stay-at-home moms, corporate bosses, young women — all felt the same about the news. They felt they did not have time, or the patience required to sort through the partisan press for what’s really happening; Even if they had a few minutes, they didn’t know who to turn to or who to trust. And consistently, they felt if they fell behind, they couldn’t catch-up (not only just in the news, but in life). I felt this way too and my experience put me in a unique position to help. 

These revelations ignited a purpose to build a solution in news — something new, different and smarter.

Because women really matter — not because men matter less — but women matter in ways we don’t often directly discuss.

Regardless of region, religion, age or demographic, if you’re an American woman, you are arguably the most sought-after entity in the world. As the CEO of your household, you are the most attractive target for advertisers, and any company (like media giants) that thrive off those advertising dollars. You are the #1 consumer of goods in the #1 economy in the world. What a Fortune 500 CEO says about the state of business may momentarily shift the stock market, but what a busy mother buys at Target at 10 a.m. on Tuesday sends ripples through the global economy (and en masse, arguably more). More women vote than men, and vote at higher rates than men. Women can decide who gets elected and who stays in power, all the while *also* birthing and raising the next generation of leaders. Your actions as mothers, voters, and consumers have an outsized impact on not only the direction of America but the entire world.

Everyone, everywhere, wants your time, energy and attention. No wonder you’re exhausted!

Which makes prioritizing American women, and delivering news to them in an accessible way, critically important. So, I started with a basic premise: What would happen if the news industry put HER first? 

And that’s how SmartHER News was born.

Quick, concise, nonpartisan news for busy Americans. 

Instead of trying to serve everyone all at once, I started with my peer group: The American woman. How could I structure the news so I could serve her better? 

I thought of what I knew of my core consumer. When women go out to dinner, we order appetizers instead of entrees and share — so I’ll deliver news in a similar way: small bites of high quality, shareable information. If she can easily consume trustworthy news as a regular part of her online diet, news will become more seamless with her life and she’ll accumulate a lot of current event knowledge quickly over time. She doesn’t have to show up anywhere (not an hour, not a date, not another task) — we’ll exist on the platforms she uses most to serve her best — like Instagram — and be there when she needs us, or when she’s on her regular scroll. We’ll show respect through our fierce dedication to nonpartisanship — She doesn’t need another opinion; she is already smart. She just needs trustworthy information, a clear view of both sides of the story so she can make up her own mind and a reliable pathway to more information.  

Our guiding light: curiosity over commentary.

I launched SmartHERNews.com in the living room of our first Texas home in Driftwood in 2018. It publishes online and across social media platforms, including to a quarter of a million Instagram followers. During certain news cycles, we reach an audience larger than my show on Fox News. 

This sounds impressive, but this frontier remains wild and untamed. I struggle to wrap my hands around what I helped build, protect it and ensure it grows in a healthy way. In that way, entrepreneurship is like motherhood — with many peaks and valleys.

I remember a distinctly low moment in a Schlotzky’s bathroom on Highway 290 shortly after I moved to Texas, where I had my two toddlers, in need of a nap, hysterically crying in a metal bathroom stall — their screams echoing so loud that I literally sank to the ground and put my hands over my ears. I wanted to cry too but they both needed their diapers changed. When we walked out of the bathroom, sweaty and tear-stained, the whole place turned to stare at what was causing that racket. I looked up at the TV, broadcasting my old show, in a perfectly lit, air-conditioned studio.

At that moment I wondered: “What did I do?”

But I chose this chapter based on solid information. 

I no longer work in a fancy studio, but I have my integrity. And on the hard days, that fact and the cappuccinos at Mazama’s keep me going.

We can’t choose certain parts of our story, but we can choose others. And that’s why a healthy, free press matters, so we’re fully equipped to make the choices we need as voters and citizens about the directions of our own lives. 

We live in a unique country that despite all its challenges provides us opportunity to change and recreate our own stories over, and over, again — where a mother of three can broadcast from her home, reporting opposing viewpoints of those in power. Few places have such liberty. 

If you walk across the bridge on Mercer Street, not far from the banks of Onion Creek, you can read a beautiful quote by historian Robert Shelton etched in stone.

“With a past firmly rooted in faith and civic pride, we face the future with confidence.“

It brings tears to my eyes, because that’s how I think of the here and now — the new and old stories intertwine like the roots from the trees that so often canopy above us.  The oaks reach tall. The families stand strong. And the next chapter continues to develop with the frontier of possibilities stretching out before us as endless as the Texas sky. 

While the majority of our audience consists of women, turns out if you deliver nonpartisan news in a slightly different fashion, men like it too! Keep informed by following along with Jenna and SmartHer News on Instagram at @smarthernews, and online at smarthernews.com.
 

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