She went from reporting the news to shaping the conversation
Nothing fazes Courtney Laydon. That might be because as a broadcast journalist for more than a decade, she reported on the DC sniper attacks in 2002, got up close and personal with wildfires in Northern California, and covered the Jerry Sandusky trial as a morning anchor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She’s kind of seen it all. Though she’s traded in her long nights and early mornings for a regular 9-6, the challenging (and sometimes chaotic) world of communications continues to keep Courtney on her toes and ahead of the stories.
We sat down with Courtney to hear some amusing and amazing stories from her time in TV and to find out how her past guides her work at Subject Matter.
Subject Matter: What was your experience like in broadcast journalism?
Courtney: Busy [laughing]. Your days are crazy. News is your life. But the craziness was what attracted me to the job in the first place. Journalism gave me the opportunity to experience some incredible events first-hand and meet people I would have never met. It opened my eyes to different opinions and issues in a way most professions could never do. It was a really interesting time to work in TV news. The industry went through tremendous change. Look at social media. When I started my career we had very little interaction with viewers. We relied solely on ratings to determine what viewers were interested in. But now, journalists are having one-on-one conversations with viewers and readers. It’s much more personal.
SM: Have any crazy stories you can share?
Courtney: I’ve got plenty! [Laughing] One of my first stories in California was a profile on the recent widow of a well-known Big Foot hunter. I’m from the northeast. Big Foot stories are few and far between. But I soon learned many people, especially those in the mountains of Northern California, take Big Foot seriously. And this woman certainly did. So, there I was, in a random home, deep in the woods, by myself, talking to a woman who wholeheartedly believed in a ten-foot, thousand-pound, hairy humanoid that has effectively evaded any type of human interaction for hundreds of years. And I was expected to take it seriously. It was legitimately this woman’s life’s work, and much of the town respected her because of it. If there’s one thing I can thank journalism for, it’s learning not to judge anything, even if it involves the life-long dedication to the search for a man-ape-type creature that seems to only be spotted when a clear picture can’t be taken.
Ok, now one of the scariest things that happened was when I was covering a fire in California (again) by myself. We used to go out on our own a lot as a “one-man band,” even when covering huge wildfires that covered hundreds of miles and forced towns to evacuate. Journalists by nature want the best shot possible. In the case of wildfire coverage, that best shot often meant the closest. We’d drive these old SUVs through the mountains with huge flames soaring on either side of you and thick black smoke crippling any chance to see more than a few feet ahead of you. I had a number of close calls, but the one that really sticks with me is when I was unknowingly driving toward a cliff. I stopped the SUV to grab a few shots when I realized my tires were less than a foot away from the edge. The smoke really screwed up my depth perception. I got in the car, slowly backed out and eventually made it back to the road.
SM: Wow, that’s incredible! Glad you got out of there! Do you think your broadcast career has helped shape your current style of work at Subject Matter?
Courtney: Absolutely! I am used to juggling a lot and changing course quickly. Having a good understanding of the news cycle really helps in our strategic planning.
I believe communications is evolving into a newsroom-style approach, simply because you can now create your own content without having that third party in the middle, like the media. Communications has changed as much as journalism has. But, the changes have really brought the two even closer together.