With a passion for storytelling and a sense of curiosity, 24/7 News Source’s Sara Lee Kessler started working in broadcast journalism when the opportunity presented itself while she was in graduate school. “My first mentor, Tom Johnson, approached me at a seminar I was speaking at and offered me a job working KLBJ Radio and KTBC-TV in Austin, TX where he was the general manager. At that time, I turned him down,” Kessler says. “Six weeks later, I changed my mind, and called him back. Luckily he remembered me, and I haven’t looked back since. Tom told me I belonged in broadcast.”
From there, Kessler has spent her career working at radio and television stations in New York and New Jersey. The move to the Big Apple – and simultaneously the number one media market – wasn’t too hard on Kessler. “I have a lot of family in the New York area, so I had a lot of moral support.”
One of the biggest lessons Kessler has learned throughout her career is that you must remain real, and true to yourself. One of the first stations she worked at asked her to change her name. “They suggested I drop my middle name, Lee, because they thought someone named Sara Lee would never make it in radio. At the time, I did it because that’s what I was told,” she says. “If someone asked me to change my name today, I would definitely not agree. I learned that you have to be true to yourself and who you are.”
In staying true to herself, it is easy to see Kessler’s passion for health care stories. “I was the black sheep of my family. Most of my family members are doctors. I grew up talking about medicines, diseases and operations around the dinner table,” says Kessler. Not surprisingly, it was Kessler’s father that inspired her to focus her reporting on health care. “When I was younger, I asked my dad why he wanted to be a doctor. He told me that he wanted to help people and save their lives. That’s something that’s stayed with me. Now, when I’m reporting on health stories, I want to improve the lives and health care of my listeners.”
For Kessler, one of the biggest differences between reporting for radio versus television is the lack of pictures on the radio. “You have to be able to paint a picture for your listeners because all you have is your words. You have to really develop a good story that stands on its own,” she explains. “The average radio story is 35-40 seconds long, compared to a two to three minute spot on television, so your writing has to be sparse, but full. If a story is really complicated, that also makes it hard to boil down to something that works well over the airwaves.”
While her love of journalism is evident to anyone she talks to, Kessler divulges that if she wasn’t reporting, her life would consist of many more rolling hills and farm animals. She loves the thought of refinishing furniture at her own antiques store. “It would be attached to my kosher bed and breakfast in a countryside town, and there would be pony rides for the kids,” she explains.
When asked about her most memorable interview, Kessler easily answers. “I interviewed John Lennon in 1976 on the steps of the court house in New York right after he received his green card. It was amazing. There I was, holding his green card and talking to John and his wife Yoko Ono.”
Kessler sees a positive future for health care reporting because of people’s desire to stay informed and to make the best choices. “There’s a bright future, people are always going to be concerned about their health. We’re more informed now, but we need good information from credible communicators who understand health.”