New Jersey is home to many ambitious and talented women who juggle career and family life. At NJMOM, we want to highlight these extraordinary women who wake up early to make strides in their line of business, and learn the secrets to their success.
News 12 Television Anchor & Reporter:
Marisa Brahney is an Emmy award-winning television anchor and news reporter for News 12 New Jersey. After working at the country’s largest and most competitive news outlets in New York, Philadelphia, and Florida, this Wall High School graduate returned to her home state to bring New Jersey the latest news while also raising her family. Marisa’s striking ability to uncover the most compelling stories is what viewers experience every morning as they seek out the top headlines; from Pope Francis’ visit to New York City and beachfront coverage of Superstorm Sandy to a documentary-style piece on New Jersey’s heroin epidemic, Marisa has been with us every step of the way. It was in 2014 that her exposure on the airwaves took on new meaning, when her family experienced the unexpected loss of her infant daughter. Since then, Marisa has used her position to open up New Jersey’s conversation about pregnancy and infant loss in a way that raises awareness while giving families the opportunity to connect with charities and support systems.
NJMOM had the honor of speaking with Marisa about her exciting career as a television reporter, how her family’s loss compelled her to use her position to reach women facing similar experiences, and the daily joys of raising her beautiful son, Kennedy, in New Jersey.
(Featured photo by Ann Coen Photography)
NJMOM: When did you know you wanted to become a reporter?
Marisa: I knew I wanted to be a reporter at a very young age, around eight or nine. In fact, my parents have an embarrassing number of home videos with me “reporting” on what’s happening at our family gatherings, holidays, my brother’s baseball games – you get the picture! I used to watch the Today Show while getting ready for school, and thought Katie Couric had the coolest job ever – getting to meet and talk to so many interesting people, and be in the middle of everything as it happened, working to allow viewers at home to feel as if they were there, too. Later, as I learned more about the profession, I realized that it was being a witness to history that drew me most to being a journalist. TV specifically interested me because being able to tell stories with video, which captures raw emotion in such a powerful way that it brings the viewer into the experience. The first time I shot, wrote, and edited a story for my college newscast, I was really hooked.
NJMOM: What is a typical work day like for you at News 12?
Marisa: My alarm clock goes off between 2:00 and 2:30AM (yes, really!) depending on what the day has in store. I catch up on what’s happening via work email, Twitter, and various newspapers online as I sip my coffee while starting my hair and makeup at home. Multi-tasking is a huge part of the job! I am into work at 4:00AM.
If it’s a weekend (or I’m filling in during the week) I’m anchoring. When I get in, I read through scripts, write and re-write stories quickly, and check for accuracy, balance, and grammar, making sure they are clear, concise, and updated with the newest information. I check for any landmine pronunciations that could trip me up, such as difficult names or obscure foreign cities. I finish up my hair and makeup (yes, I do my own!) and I’m in the studio for mic checks 10 minutes before the newscast. And then, we’re off and running for our first newscast! In between each show, I’m working with the producer and assignment desk to look for new content, watching the competition, and weighing in on newsroom discussions about which stories we need to send our crews to and how to best cover the big stories of the day. I’m also interacting with viewers on social media, reading various newspapers and other sites, and checking in with contacts to keep up with any breaking news that we may need to add into the next newscast. Then it’s more writing and re-writing before the next show – then the next!
If I’m reporting, I’m out the door with my photographer to our assignment usually within 20 minutes of walking in the door. We’re on the scene and reporting by 5:00 or 5:30AM, depending on where we’re headed and how far it is. During the car ride, I’m making calls, gathering information, reading up and writing my script. If it’s breaking news we’re heading to, I don’t yet know what we’re going to find. In that case, we are often on the scene with minutes to assess and gather as much information as we can to bring to our viewers as soon as possible. I report for our morning show live for four hours straight, with live shots every half hour or hour, depending. In between shots we’re gathering new information, shooting videos and interviews, and then combing through the footage, editing it, and feeding it into the station via our live signal to get it on the air. When the morning show is over, we squeeze in a bathroom/coffee/breakfast break, if we’re lucky, before either moving onto another assignment or putting together a more in-depth, new version of our story for our later newscasts. After our noonliveshot, we’re back to the station before doing it all over the next day! Then, it’s home to be with my little man! His smile when I walk in is always the best part of my day.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Marisa: In 2015, I won my first Emmy award for a half-hour special a group of colleagues and I produced on New Jersey’s heroin epidemic. We worked for months on the special, interviewing families who had lost loved ones to heroin overdoses, current addicts battling addiction, people in recovery, and various people in our state working to combat the issue. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking.
I worked on it while I was pregnant with my daughter Charlotte, who we shockingly lost shortly after her birth in September of 2014, right after the special aired. She ingested fluid in the womb and died of breathing complications, after a perfectly healthy and normal pregnancy and labor, with no signs of problems. Winning that award was an extremely proud moment for me for many reasons. First, I was very humbled to be recognized in such a prestigious way for the powerful storytelling on such an important subject affecting so many New Jersey families. But I also felt as though Charlotte worked on it with me, in a way, kicking away in my belly during the long hours combing through footage and writing. I know the Emmy made her proud, watching over me, and that means more than I could ever convey.
Losing our daughter changed me irrevocably in a million ways.
One of those was feeling compelled to help others experiencing similar devastation. Our loss and all we experienced with it spurred me to use my role to spread more awareness and understanding about pregnancy and infant loss, which I am extremely proud of. Before we lost our daughter, I was like many others – naive in thinking that it was rare to lose a baby after a first trimester miscarriage, and certainly because of complications at birth. I thought, this is 2014, that doesn’t happen! How wrong I was. It is far more common than most realize. One in 160 babies in the United States are stillborn, and there are roughly 23,000 infant deaths per year. Given my job, I really had no choice but to be open about my story, being that I had a full-term, normal pregnancy that our viewers watched and celebrated with me through the months. So when we lost Charlotte so unexpectedly, our viewers’ widespread compassion and support was absolutely incredible and humbling.
Many have contacted me personally over the years who have gone through a similar experience of baby loss, or know someone who is in the throes of it and in need of support In addition to these personal connections I’ve been able to cultivate through my job, I have done a number of stories to help foster a more open dialogue, including a series for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in 2015. It highlighted New Jersey organizations offering crucial support for bereaved families like mine. It has been incredibly difficult to live our loss so publicly, but trying every day to make the best of the privilege and responsibility my job carries has been therapeutic and a way to honor my daughter, and it makes me very proud.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your job?
Marisa: I had a mentor in the business who once told me that over the years, “you’ll learn a little bit of everything about everything.” It’s so true; the variety is the one constant, and it’s probably one of the things I love most. No two days are the same. Over the years, I’ve covered stories about such a wide range of topics. There are the major historic moments that define our country and communities, like covering Pope Francis’ visit to New York City and being on the beach during Superstorm Sandy. There are the stories that create change or give a voice to the voiceless; our heroin special is one example of that. I also recently learned that a story I did in Florida years ago about a mail marketing company scamming seniors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars led to the indictment of people involved. There are the emotional stories of loss, adversity, trials, and triumph that stay with me (and I hope, our viewers) for long after they air. And there are the bizarre, one-off assignments that you never imagine you would get the chance to do – hiking through the Florida everglades waist-deep in mud with scientists about to release a bug into the wild to help eradicate an invasive plant species? Yup, check, did it. I’ve also reported in insane severe weather (two hurricanes, a few tropical storms, and way too many snowstorms), zip-lined, paddle-boarded and taken various fitness classes, and ridden to the very top of the George Washington Bridge on TV. And eaten…a lot.
NJMOM: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Marisa: That’s two-fold. The tight deadlines and technical challenges (it’s live TV, after all) can be a doozy, but they’re also an adrenaline rush! I would say the other biggest challenge is not taking harsh criticism or nasty comments too personally. Opening up yourself to that is certainly a part of the job, and warranted criticism can (and has) helped me grow as a professional and as a person. But, the way our social media climate has evolved has made it difficult at times to rise above unnecessary negativity, incorrect assumptions, and personal attacks. I have grown to have a much thicker skin over the years, but certain comments do still sting, especially when you take a lot of pride and passion in doing your best each day.
NJMOM: What is your professional and educational background?
Marisa: I am a graduate of Wall High School in Monmouth County. I went on to study communications and political science at Loyola University of Maryland. While in school, I had the opportunity to intern at Dateline at NBC News headquarters at 30 Rock, as well as for the ABC station in Baltimore. I got my first TV news job right out of school, in tiny, snowy Binghamton, New York. It was a part time, three-day-a-week “one-man-banding” job – doing all your own shooting and editing in addition to reporting for nine dollars an hour. I worked at Starbucks at the Barnes & Noble in town the other days of the week so I could pay my rent. Soon, I was full-time, and I stayed there for two years before moving to Fort Myers, Florida to work for the NBC affiliate there. It’s an extremely competitive station and television market, and that’s where I really cut my teeth and learned a ton about the business. While in Florida, I appeared nationally on CNN for a story I worked on about the disappearance of a six-year-old boy. I still think about him; he was never found. One of the producers at the station was a Jersey boy who grew up 45 minutes from me, and we fell in love. He’s now my husband! We moved together to Philly in 2010, and both got jobs at the NBC station there, NBC10. It was an incredible opportunity at one of the top stations in the country, and I loved every minute of covering such a great city with such a vibrant culture and rich history. I also got a lot of national exposure there covering major stories like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Philly holds a very, very special place in my heart. I reported there for three years before getting the opportunity to anchor at News 12 New Jersey, and cover my home state. I jumped at the chance to cover the area I grew up in and am now raising my own family. I’ve been here for almost four years.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Marisa: This is a tough question because I’m a pretty open book! Anyone who follows me on social media knows I am a passionate home cook and love all things food. We’re always trying new restaurants and love getting recommendations for spots we haven’t been.
NJMOM: What can we expect from you in 2017?
Marisa: Personally, my hubby and I are continuing to work on our home, which we bought last year, and just loving watching our son grow. He’s one now and into everything! It is so much fun and we feel so blessed to be watching him thrive. Professionally, I have an exciting promotion coming up this month, actually. I’m going to be moving to anchoring full-time, for our mid-day and 6:00PM newscasts. I’m really excited for the challenge!
NJMOM: What is a charity or cause you are most passionate about?
Marisa: I’m most passionate about spreading awareness surrounding Pregnancy and Infant Loss. One of the things we realized through our experience was how little people understand about what to do or say when someone experiences this type of loss. I hope to have spread some awareness in that way about what helps and doesn’t help, although, every family’s grief experience is different. I am involved in The TEARS Foundation, which is actually based in my hometown of Wall. The TEARS Foundation raises money to cover funeral costs and offers a variety of support and resources for bereaved families. Our family has made a tradition of participating in the Rock & Walk event in Bradley Beach in honor of our daughter. It is such a healing, special day to remember all of the New Jersey babies who are forever loved, missing from their parents’ arms. I have been so grateful that News 12 has been extremely supportive as well, sponsoring the walk and allowing me to do stories to raise awareness. We also have been passionate about supporting Michael’s Feat, an organization that provides resources for seriously ill newborns born in Monmouth and Ocean counties. They have done so much in the local hospitals that has made a huge difference for hundreds of families.
NJMOM: Who is your role model?
Marisa: My mother. The way she treats others, values family, exudes kindness, love, and faith is an inspiration to me daily. She is smart, engaging, worldy, compassionate, selfless, and more hard-working than anyone I know. I don’t know where she gets the energy sometimes! She is my best friend and has given me such a shining example of what an incredible mom, wife, and woman is.
NJMOM: What’s the best piece of advice a role model ever gave to you?
Marisa: Don’t be so hard on yourself. I wish I was able to do better with taking that advice! I’m a bit of a perfectionist and often my own worst critic and it’s important to be gentle on yourself, especially when you’re doing your best. I’ve always been a person who thrives on having a lot of balls up in the air at once; it feels good to be busy and productive and enjoy time socially with friends and family. But between parenting, a very fast-paced job with demands and deadlines, and maintaining a household, it can also instill a lot of pressure. I think it’s great advice to be okay with slowing down or a stumble along the way. I’m actively trying to put less pressure on myself, which I think so many moms and women struggle with.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by?
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Marisa: I always tried to live in this way, but this quote really took on new meaning for me after losing our daughter. Everyone has struggles in their lives – some, certainly greater than others. You truly never know what someone may be going through and how a rude, brusque, or sarcastic comment could further hurt them, or conversely, how a smile and kind words can lift their spirits when they need it most.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Marisa: New Jersey has SO much to offer: the beach, rural areas, the mountains, adorable “main street USA” type downtowns – not to mention New York City is in our backyard! We spend a ton of time at the Jersey Shore, since that’s where we’re both from. There’s nothing like the Jersey Shore in the summer. You can often find us plopped on the sand, walking on the boards, or out on the water. We also lived in Hoboken when we first moved back to New Jersey, so it’s a special place to us, as well. The view along Frank Sinatra Drive can’t be beat and it’s a perfect place to stroll with our son when the weather is nice.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Marisa: Gosh, where do I start? Our son amazes me every day and motherhood just continues to surprise me with its beauty, joy, complexity, challenges, and fulfillment. There’s a reason they call it the hardest job in the world, but also the best. The way my son smiles at me when I walk in the room, the way I feel my daughter’s presence shining through in special or difficult moments, and the completely one-of-a-kind connection mothers have to their children is the most special and treasured bond and it’s the best feeling.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Marisa: Some of my favorite stores are Dear Hannah in Hoboken, Charlotte West Baby in Manasquan, Tula on Long Beach Island, Sea Girt, and Shrewsbury, and Healthy Italia in Madison. The Short Hills Mall is also a frequent shopping stop for us.
For kids activities, we recently tried out a Preschool of Rock class in Westfield and my son loved it! We also have loved trying out some baby yoga with our cousins in Jersey City at Maximum Motion Fitness. Area parks are always on rotation! We love walking with our son at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside.
If we’re at the shore, you can find us at the Parker House raw bar after the beach in Sea Girt, trying Asbury Park’s newest restaurant, or at The Seashell or Kubel’s Too on Long Beach Island. We’re also huge fans of Rook Coffee! I did a feature on the owners’ backstories and they are really interesting people with such a love for what they do. The coffee is top notch and the business culture is super cool. We love Max Devros in Manasquan; the Grilled and Chilled Salmon Pita is delish! In our neck of the woods, we frequent Ferraro’s in Westfield or Bovella’s Pastry Shoppe for a treat. When we head back to Hoboken, we’re having brunch at Anthony David’s (that coconut french toast!), grabbing pizza at Grimaldi’s or a beer and pretzel at Pilsener Haus.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Marisa: We currently live in Scotch Plains in Union County. We’re still relatively new to the area and are loving exploring the Scotch Plains/Fanwood/Westfield area. We are frequently out and about in downtown Westfield and love the family-friendly feel and character. As I mentioned, we spend a ton of time at the Jersey Shore; we’re there a lot of weekends in the summer. We’ve also enjoyed a weekend at Crystal Springs in Vernon, a great little overnight getaway!
NJMOM: Is there anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Marisa: To any moms who’ve gone through loss – you’re not alone! I wish it weren’t the case, but there are so many of us who’ve experienced the heartbreak of losing a baby. There is so much support and always someone to listen. Parenting after loss is a particularly difficult balance and I’m so thankful to have so many wonderful women in my life who sadly, understand. In general, I think us moms need to be accepting and supportive of one another when we choose to do things differently. We’re all doing the best we can for our children. And this goes back to my mom’s good advice above – we need to be gentle and give ourselves a break sometimes!