Television viewers sizing up a broadcast journalist's credibility may consider how convincing the reporter is by what she knows, as well as what they know about the reporter.
The latter is an issue Abby Huntsman says she thinks about constantly as she prepares for a career in broadcasting.
Abby, 21, is the second-oldest daughter of Utah's Republican governor, Jon Huntsman Jr.; the granddaughter of industrialist and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman Sr.; and the great-granddaughter of the late Elder David B. Haight, who was an apostle for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I figure it will probably be hard to pursue a journalism career in Utah because of my dad's job," Abby said. "I have always been a very private person and prefer to keep my background unknown, especially when I first meet people. I want people to get to know me for me, without any strings attached."
That said, Abby believes her family background will give her a valuable resource as a reporter. "I think the best political reporters are those who have had firsthand experiences with the stories they cover."
Abby recently hosted presidential hopeful John McCain at a town meeting at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a senior, chairs the Campus Republicans and is co-host of a student television political talk program, "Penn Red."
Gov. Huntsman was on hand to introduce McCain, and the political event was the focus of the "Penn Red" broadcast that evening.
Abby's experience with broadcast reporting started at the deep end of the pool thanks to a newsroom mix-up. She was 15, with her family living in the Washington, D.C., area, when she landed a weekend job at CBS News.
Young, curious and eager, she walked into the newsroom on her first day and approached a producer, who promptly sent her on assignment. "They thought I was a reporter," Abby said. "They thought I was a lot older than I really was."
The photographer filled her in on the assignment as they drove through a cold rain to the Capitol. "He told me to start thinking of some questions to ask the tourists because it was the first day the Capitol had been opened for tours since 9/11.
"As we got out of the van, he handed me a CBS umbrella to look professional, along with a microphone. I think he could see the fear on my face," Abby said.
Tourists waiting in line started turning away from the camera. "The photographer could tell I had never done anything like that before, and he pulled me aside and gave me my first reporting lesson."
She and her parents were surprised by the events of the day as they watched her interviews later on the evening news.
"That probably gave her courage to get into this," said her mother, Mary Kaye Huntsman, adding that it has not surprised her to see the development of Abby's interest in a broadcast journalism career.
"We've always talked about things happening around the world when we're at home," Mary Kaye Huntsman said. "She's grown up with that."
Being in the public eye also has exposed the Huntsman children to the political criticism, nasty e-mails and other affronts "that toughen you up," she said.
Abby began acting at age 7 and was active in musical theater in the Salt Lake area. "She went from that to getting more involved in school and deciding she might like to go into media somehow," her mother said. "I think she knew in high school she wanted to do this."
Abby also recalls how her father would have his children sing for guests when he was the U.S. ambassador to Singapore. "I gained a little bit of confidence," she said.
"Living in different places around the world, being exposed to people with different backgrounds she's very well-rounded in a lot of different areas. There is probably not a lot she can't talk about," Mary Kaye Huntsman said.
Abby worked for the Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX on its "Good Things Utah" morning show during her freshman year at the University of Utah, which also overlapped with her work on her father's gubernatorial campaign. In 2005 she interned at ABC's "Good Morning America," where she said they wanted her to search for "lost dog or miracle stories" while she was pitching harder news.
Abby does not have a particular job locked down following her graduation next spring but said she is making plans and believes there are a few experiences that make her better prepared for a career as a journalist.
"Pursuing a career in political reporting, I think it would be in my best interest to go to Iraq or Pakistan to gain a better understanding of the situation our country is currently facing," Abby said.
"My parents have always been and will continue to be my biggest supporters," she said, but mentioning Iraq did more than raise an eyebrow at home.
"I have tried over and over again to tag along with my dad on his trips to Iraq, but all my attempts so far have failed. My mom's first reaction was, 'Noooo Abby. Absolutely not.' She then asked, 'Are you sure you don't want to go into entertainment news?"'
"I don't think I feel too great about it," Mary Kaye Huntsman said. "But you know what it's given me a little different feeling about reporters that I see out there with microphones. I see my daughter out there with a microphone, and they're more human now. They're human beings just like my daughter."
Abby sees herself jumping into the political reporting arena at a time when politicians and the journalists covering them are feeding on an increasing diet of negativity."If you see how easy it is for a journalist to spin a story the wrong way or spit out facts that aren't true," she said, feeling personally affected by negative media exposure that has come her father's way. "That's why I want to go into journalism. I want to be an honest journalist, and I want to be uplifting."
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