BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Who’s the best listener you know?
Anyone who has ever watched The Whitney Reynolds Show might suggest its host. Celebrities, everyday people and experts in many areas sit down with Reynolds in her Chicago home studio and feel that they are in a safe place to discuss delicate life stories. Her style is direct but nurturing, her warm smile inviting ease, even while tackling difficult topics. Starting next month, Reynolds moves to her own studio and NETA takes her 30-minute program nationwide on PBS.
Issues like racial justice, bullying, and starting all over again despite all odds reveal her strong commitment to, as she says, “get people to step into their truth.” A woman who escaped from North Korea will be a guest on an upcoming show.
“When I am in tricky water, I bring in experts to help,” Reynolds explains. “One of the hardest dialogues featured a mother whose son had been killed by a police gunshot. Her message came forth that we should not be burning down cities, instead creating change.”
When we spoke with the Emmy-nominated and Telly Award-winning host, she had wrapped up a marathon taping of social distance taping, beginning with Jesse Jackson at 11 o’clock in the morning and ending at 6 p.m. with her seventh interview—all shot in her living room.
Reynolds speaks in a quiet voice and makes constant eye contact, really shining the focus firmly on her guest. Although she doesn’t go into detail, she says this empathy evolved from her difficult upbringing in Oklahoma: “I realized when I moved away that a program was needed to reflect hard things.”
“Educate, motivate and inspire: we try to open the conversation,” she says. “I have always wanted to jump into big topics. Ten years ago when I was first getting started, we explored bullying before people were really talking about that. It was very hard to hide if you are in middle school and you are being bullied, but no one was doing anything about it.”
A former intern on Good Morning America, she also sat behind the desk as morning anchor in Oklahoma and Texas. Reynolds then took her online talk show to NBC within its first year, moving in 2012 to PBS and Amazon Prime (Chicago viewers can also catch have it on WTTW and Lakeshore PBS). Since 2013 she has hosted a motivation segment on iHeart Radio, has authored Beyond The Interview, and is a contributor to Chicago Parent Magazine. She lives in Lakeview with husband David and their twins.
We asked Reynolds to tell us more about herself, her process, and her journey to this point in her career and advice for us all in fostering more open conversations:
Do you have any journalists who are your role models?
Early on, it was Jane Pauley. I had the honor to work with Diane Sawyer when I was an intern at Good Morning America. I loved working along side someone that sought out the full story and had a smile on her face and in her heart.
Do you have tips for encouraging people to say what’s on their minds?
There is something so freeing when you share what’s on your soul. In different seasons of my life it’s been easier to share those stories than others. I encourage everyone to find their safe person and open up.
Do you usually go in with a certain set of questions and then the conversation evolves?
I go in with a rough story map of where I’d like to see the conversation travel: no questions, just a story map! When I sit down with the guests, before the camera rolls, it is just small talk to make them comfortable.
What would be any tips for young women who wish to enter any kind of journalism?
People told me, ‘You need to know people,’ and yes, you do need to know yourself! Be your first yes and keep going! You have to realize that people don’t want your opinion, though. At the end of the day you have to step back and let the story unfold.
What is the latest book you have enjoyed and the latest thing to watch, when you have some downtime?
I’m working my way through The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I love books like this one that challenge you to be better. My guilty pleasure is watching Home Town. We recently just bought a new home in Chicago and are moving in early 2021. I am taking notes like a mad woman!
What makes you happiest about your work?
It is good that viewers see me as a real person: I am a person of faith who believes strongly in the power of prayer. On air, I have 26 minutes to ask the right questions to make sure an important story is told. It is nice to be known as a voice for people who should be heard.
For more information, visit whitneyreynolds.com.