Kelly Wallace’s White House Transition to Digital Media

As a veteran TV journalist, Kelly Wallace covered Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and the War in Iraq while stationed in Israel. She certainly wasn’t going to be content covering school bullying, nanny horror stories, and whether boys should wear nail polish, right?

But that’s where Wallace finds herself as iVillage’s chief correspondent. The award-winning journalist, who kicked off her news career covering a mass murder on her first day as a field reporter for a station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, couldn’t be happier.
This wasn’t the plan five years ago when Wallace paused to have her first child, a daughter named Hattie. Her intention was to keep blazing forward. “I expected to be the hard-charging reporter that I was, go on maternity leave and then come back in a few months,” Wallace recalls. Instead it was total reassessment time. Her mindset suddenly shifted to: “Oh my God, I couldn’t even imaging being away from Hattie for an hour to get my hair cut.”
So Wallace walked away from her gig at CNN’s “American Morning,” thinking, “I don’t think this is going to be a good place for me and the new mom I want to be.” Three months later, the sometimes-anchor and TV news producer had landed a more mom-friendly position at CBS in New York, contributing to “The Early Show” and “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”
But that was only career crossroads No. 1 for Wallace, who had logged stints at Fox News in the ‘90s and remembers reporting during the tense times following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks while covering the White House for CNN. “I remember sitting in the White House briefing room when Tom Ridge sat there and talked about how anthrax has been found. I remember thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was just such a surreal time. It was the most amazing experience to be at the White House for those years.”
While working at CBS as a new mother, Wallace’s perspective began to change. She was still doing big stories, but found herself increasingly gravitating to parenting issues, women’s issues, work-and-family balance stories for women, and the like. To feed that budding passion, Wallace began doing stories on side for Plum Magazine on women’s issues. She enjoyed that experience so much that she starting talking about working with Plum to launch an entirely new digital-only project for women. But then thought about startup life.
“I couldn’t see that working,” she says. “I was thinking about trying to contribute to my family at a venture that might not make money for 10 years, if ever.”
Then, she had a meeting with iVillage president Jodi Kahn, who was looking to take the women’s site’s video output to another level. Career crossroads No. 2.
“We developed this role together,” says Kahn. That role sees Wallace overseeing five video series, two of which she anchors, as well as serving as producer and de facto editor in chief. “As a journalist in the public space, she brings credibility. We certainly had a video strategy. But it was really organic. She brought a level of sophistication and credibility. She’s also got a passion for parenting. It’s the perfect combination.”
Not to mention, Wallace has major connections from her TV days (her husband Matt Saal, for example, is an executive producer at MSNBC). Wallace regular appears on TV, helping elevate the iVillage brand. She even had lunch earlier this week with Michelle Obama. “We have a lot of access to different platforms with Kelly,” says Kahn.
Including NBC’s local stations, which increasingly rely on one of video series Wallace stewards, “iVoices on iVillage.” That program, kicked off last year, was born out of a public search for 15 women from the blogging world and iVilage’s own community to become semi-regular contributors to a new show that would be produced in conjunction with the NBC Local Stations group.
Wallace has used “iVoices” to nurture a new stable of talent. One of the women selected was Beth Engelman, a single mom from Glenview, IL who has written for the Chicago Tribune and runs the blog Mommy on a Shoestring. “As I got to know Kelly, she really began to mentor me,” says Engleman. “I’m mostly a writer. I didn’t know what B-roll is. I didn’t know how to upload a file. Kelly always helps walk me through the videos we’re working on. We’ll be texting into the night, and she’ll be reminding me, ‘what is the story you want to tell?’ She’s very supportive, and that doesn’t always happen.”
Besides “iVoices,” Wallace oversees four other video series: the entertainment-focused “Likes and Yikes,” which she inherited, “iVillage 5” — a roundup of popular iVillage stories from a given week, “Your Kid Did What?” which is hosted by comedian Judy Gold, and “The Conversation Thread.
Wallace hosts “The Conversation Thread,” a talk show akin to “The View” where a panel of women discusses topics such as the problem with judging other moms and babysitter/nanny horror stories. “That show is kind of my baby,” Wallace says.
Franchises like “The Conversation Thread” are a big priority at iVillage, which is looking to encourage habitual viewership. So far the results are mixed. According to ComScore, the site’s video audience actually slipped from 3.3 million unique viewers in September 2010 to 2.7 million viewers this past September. However, the number of videos delivered actually jumped from 17 million to 20 million over the same period. Video has helped bring in advertisers like Mercedes, which recently sponsored “The Conversation Thread.”
Last week, Wallace and her team rolled out the first of two new video projects, the iVillage Woman of the Week (starting with Jennifer Aniston). And in the coming months Wallace heads back to her roots with a new, yet-to-be-titled weekly political series. Each week Wallace will connect via Skype with Joanne Bamberger, the blogger behind PunditMom.
“I’m very excited about this show,” Wallace says. “We’re inviting some prominent people, and we’ll be showcasing how we can talk about elections. We might not be going as in depth as [NBC White House Correspondent] Chuck Todd, but these are issues women are following.”
Its projects like “Conversation” that have Wallace thrilled with her decision to give up network news life. Her team is able to quickly conceive of and launch series, they get instant audience feedback, and don’t have to squeeze stories into a slice of a 22-minute broadcast.
“A lot of people would say to me, ‘you went from CBS News to something in the digital space?’ I sort of never see it that way. I feel like my opportunities have exploded,” she said, clapping her hands for emphasis. “Exploded. The things I get to do at iVillage, I wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere. I’m taking advantage of everything I’ve worked on in my career, and I can take my passions.
“It’s wildly exciting,” adds Wallace. “I have told friends who are still in the network news model, there are all these opportunities out there. No, you are not going to get the number of eyeballs for your piece tomorrow that you might have gotten at CBS News. But in terms of the engagement people might have, in terms of how it’s building in social media, to me there is no comparison.”
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