News Anchor Allison Payne Retires From WGN After Filing Ground Zero Report

News Anchor Allison Payne Retires From WGN After Filing Ground Zero Report
News anchor Allison Payne

Allison Payne aired her last WGN report, “Ground Zero: Chicago Remembers,” recently. WGN has been Payne’s home for more than two decades, where the journalist produced and filmed her own international reports, and racked up nine Emmy awards during her tenure.

Payne, a Richmond, Va., native, grew up in Detroit, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Detroit, and she received her master’s degree at Bowling Green State University.


Payne spoke to rolling out about how she made her mark in media, and why her final WGN report on 9/11 was a must-see for all.

Describe your “aha” moment, when you realized that journalism and WGN was the right choice for you.
I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t my decision, it was God’s decision. I was working in Saginaw, [WNEM-TV, as principal anchor], and I wasn’t looking for another job, I was trying to get used to that one. I got a call from another job, from a station called WGN that I had never of.


News Anchor Allison Payne Retires From WGN After Filing Ground Zero Report
Allison Payne

How did you react when WGN called you?
I was scared to death about WGN, I thought, “why do they want me? I’m only 25-years-old; this is Chicago, the mecca of the Midwest. Why would they want somebody with my limited experience,” and I didn’t think I was up for that. And, in fact, I told them that.

When they brought me here for my interview, I said, ‘I am not ready for this,’ and I still think that’s why I got the job, because I said no. If you tell people no, they want you more. Just like a man, tell him “no” and watch him chase you.

During the course of your career, you’ve earned nine Emmy awards—
Maybe that became my ‘aha’ moment, I had to show these people that I’m qualified that I’m supposed to be here. I have to earn my place here. So I began studying people.

Who did you study? Who helped you?
One of my greatest teachers in journalism is a man named Jorge Ramos who is the anchor of Univision. I had friends from Univision here in Chicago, so I got to meet Jorge and I read one of his books. He wrote that if the story is that important to him and not to Univision — to the point where they would send him to cover–he would take vacation time and finance his own trip [to get the story].

And that’s when I started doing that myself, to show the people that you’re dedicated. That’s how I ended up going to Kenya, to trace the president’s father’s story, and to the Middle East with Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, that’s how those opportunities came about. I was inspired by another journalist, Jorge Ramos, who is the most watched anchorman in North America, but English-speaking journalists don’t give him any credit because they don’t speak Spanish.


What are your thoughts on being a powerful woman?

My thoughts on being a powerful woman goes back to something Michael Jordan’s mother told me years ago, that is, you have been given such a gift, a simple gift that you can make somebody’s day just by saying “hello” to them.
You don’t have to do any work, you don’t have to go into your pocket, and all you have to do is stop and say, “hi,” when they recognize you. That’s power, that’s the most power that I have. That’s really a gift.

What are the three qualities of a successful person?
First of all, the ability to never take no for an answer. Nobody ever means no, they just mean maybe, or not right now, or, give me a minute to think about it. Secondly, you must have humility, that understanding that you’re no better or worse than anybody else; and you must have respect for people and for yourself.

What motivates you?
The idea of trying to help people, and trying to inspire people.

What advice do you have for women who wish to follow a similar career path?
Never take no for an answer. All kinds of people told me no when I decided that this is what I was going to do. [I was told] you don’t have the right background; but I had everything that I needed. I have a degree in communications, what else did I need? They said I needed a specific degree in journalism, the thing about that is that you can’t teach journalism in a class anyway, really. You have to learn it as you go. Journalism doesn’t take place in a newsroom anyway. It takes place out in the world, that’s where the stories are.

Let’s talk about Ground Zero: Chicago Remembers. What were you doing on 9/11?
I was asleep when my best friend called and said there was a plane that hit the World Trade Center… I thought, like many people, it was a small plane, I work nights and I’m trying to sleep. You’re a hyper news junkie; I love you, but goodbye.
But then he called back, and said there was another plane…and then I thought we’re under attack. I was really scared.

Why is it important that we remember 9/11?
Because more than 2,000 innocent people died. These were innocent Americans who left their homes, left their families, and just went out to earn a living and make a difference in the world and feed their kids. It could have been me, it could have been you. That was a total game of chance and what those terrorists taught us that day was that it continues to be a game of chance; it could be us at any time.

What do you say to critics who charge that showing the 9/11 images could be detrimental to relations between Muslims and Americans?
I have a very strong opinion about that. We had an intern after 9/11 who was a Muslim, and my co-anchor Steve Sanders ran up to me in the newsroom and said, ‘Allison, we have an intern who’s a Muslim,’ like, the girl had a tail!
I decided right then and there that I was going to find this little girl and befriend her and make her feel comfortable. That girl is one of my best friends now. And I didn’t know anything about Allah or Muslims, and our relationship wasn’t founded on teaching me anything about it. It’s about people are just people…so, get out of your comfort zone and go say hello to the people. Get to know the people.

Allison Payne may be retiring from WGN, but she’s still working hard as a professional speaker. Allison Payne is on Twitter @Allisonsnews.

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