From 1977 to just before Christmas 1981, I was a television news anchorwoman in Los Angeles.
By April, 1983, I was on the streets without a place to live--penniless and afraid. I had fallen out of the system, become one of society's discards. Even today, I have not been able to fully reestablish myself.
I am hardly a perfect person. But I was never a drug abuser, an alcoholic, a thief or a mental patient.
I'm 43. I grew up, like many people, in a tough home environment with divorce and rancor and sometimes even physical violence, and it has shaped me. But I had a college education, worked hard, never lived extravagantly and advanced to progressively better positions.
How could it have happened to me?
My difficulties began when I lost my news anchor job at Channel 11, did not quickly get a new job in television and went through my modest savings.
During the next four years, I suffered abuses that will forever be branded on my consciousness, among them an attempted rape by a man who knew how desperate my plight was and invited me to dinner. That experience was one of the first to show me how differently we are treated when our social position changes.
While homeless, I was mugged three times. After I had sold all my possessions--even my typewriter and my television--a co-worker at a temporary job suggested that all I had left to "sell" was myself. In what he apparently thought was an act of kindness, he offered to let me sell drugs for him instead of my body.
Now, looking back at the last 4 1/2 years of my life, during which I have managed to rent my own place for only 15 months and for a period was forced to live out of my car, I see how difficult it is to get back into mainstream society once you fall outside its boundaries.
The longer I was out of work in my field, the more employers questioned the length of my unemployment and the harder it was to get back in.
When I sought work as a junior reporter with news organizations, because those were the only openings, I was told I was overqualified. When I applied for secretarial jobs, some potential employers thought I was joking.
'Just Hold On'
I was so busy looking for work, dropping off resumes and going to literally hundreds of interviews, that I kept putting off the (to me) drastic step of applying for welfare. Friends kept saying: "Just hold on. You'll get on. You'll get hired."
Before I realized it, I was trapped in a downward spiral that made it more difficult than ever to reestablish myself in a permanent, self-sustaining job. As my debts and letters of rejection piled up, my self-image and self-confidence plummeted.
Once you can no longer afford to pay rent or live with respectability in your community, you begin--it's inevitable--to undergo emotional changes that make it more difficult to relate to people in a positive way. I tried to put on a good face, but I know my anxiety came through in employment interviews and in the jobs I managed to hold down for a time.
If this could happen to me, what about others who do not have an education or a profession?
I had joined Channel 11, then the Metromedia station in Los Angeles, as a field reporter early in 1977 after more than a decade as a print reporter. Soon I began anchoring the station's half-hour morning newscast.
Two years after I began anchoring, the ratings on that newscast had increased 200% and remained at that high until the day I was dismissed, just before the Christmas in 1981.
In a letter of recommendation dated Dec. 17, 1981, KTTV News Director Larry Attebery wrote:
"I have the highest respect for Jacki's professional ability. She is an excellent reporter, a fine writer, and did a very successful job of anchoring for us.
"During the period that Jacki King was anchoring our 11:30 news, the ratings of that program more than doubled . . . ."
At the time Larry dismissed me with two weeks' pay, he made it clear that I had done nothing "wrong"; he simply wanted to make a change. TV stations change anchors all the time. Still, it was a shock because I had built an audience for KTTV.
The public has a perception that all news anchors are highly paid, but I was not. In my fifth year at KTTV, I was earning less than $25,000 annually and living in a modest $430-a-month apartment. I bought my own clothes, paid for my own hair styling, answered my own fan mail and did all my own research for the daily in-studio interview I did as part of the newscast. In my spare time, I was speaking on behalf of KTTV to community groups.
My salary left me with little savings in reserve to bounce back right away. I needed to find work immediately to keep me going until--as I fully expected--I landed another television news job.
A Solid Background