Morgan Fogarty arrived at WCCB from Hagerstown, Md., in 2005 with objectives that were pretty standard for a 23-year-old in the TV news business: Get to know Charlotte inside and out, make a memorable impression with her journalism, then leave town as soon as she possibly could.
“The goal, according to everybody else, is to keep climbing the ladder, in terms of market size,” says Fogarty, who when she got here was still fairly fresh out of college. “So I thought I would be here for a contract – three years – and that I would go to the next market size. ... I mean, at that point in my career, it was always something on my mind. As soon as you sign on the dotted line, you’re thinking, ‘Where am I gonna go next?’ ”
Now, at 36, her goal is to stay in Charlotte as long as possible.
One of the best-known broadcasters in the area, Fogarty is so set on staying here that she’s gone four years without an agent (a person she’d definitely want on her team if she were looking to leave), and signed a new deal with WCCB – effective Sunday – that will keep the “News @ 10” anchor at the station until 2022.
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What changed her mind? Well, a few things, each having to do with those boxes she wanted to check when she first arrived.
She indeed got to know Charlotte inside and out, falling more deeply in love with it than she’d expected to. She indeed made a memorable impression with her journalism, winning awards and earning a franchise tag from her bosses. And she indeed tried to leave town as soon as she possibly could.
But little did Fogarty know that her decision to take a network anchor job in New York City in 2013 – a move she assumed was her big break – would convince her Charlotte was where she needed to be all along.
‘The gold ring is network’
Growing up, Fogarty’s family moved from Washington, D.C., to Ohio, to Pennsylvania, settling in the city of Lancaster when she was 7. Once there, she fell in love with horses and became an equestrian, competing until she went off to Penn State.
She pursued print journalism at first, she says, “because I’ve always loved to read and write and tell stories and ask questions.” But after taking a broadcasting class, she found the energy and pressure of live TV alluring, and shifted her focus to being on camera.
And the pressure to dream big came early.
I’d hear things from people in the industry, or viewers sometimes, who would say, ‘How long are you gonna be here?’ They would say it in sort of a condescending way, like it was an assumptive thing. You know, ‘Clearly, you’re not staying in Charlotte.’
“It was my professors who first started saying, ‘The gold ring is network.’ New York, Los Angeles – those top, big markets – or network,” Fogarty says. (“Network” being ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, etc.; not an affiliate station, but at headquarters, so to speak.) “I don’t recall anybody ever really spending a lot of time talking about the benefits of mid-size markets, or small markets.”
WHAG, the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown, hired her straight out of college. WCCB lured her south 20 months later, to be the main hard-news reporter for its morning show, “Fox News Rising.” (Until 2013, the station was the area’s Fox affiliate. It now airs The CW programming.) In 2006, she became weekend anchor for “Fox News at 10.” In 2007, she was paired with Christopher “Brotha Fred” Frederick on “Fox News Edge,” the station’s youth-oriented evening magazine show.
Fogarty married her childhood friend, Jeremy, in the fall of 2007, and was happy enough with their life in Charlotte that she turned down an offer from WPVI – the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia – in 2010. The next year, she moved up to permanent duty on the 10 p.m. anchor desk at WCCB.
She hadn’t forgotten what her professors had taught her, though. And it wasn’t just voices in the back of her head.
“I’d hear things from people in the industry, or viewers sometimes, who would say, ‘How long are you gonna be here?’ ” Fogarty says. “They would say it in sort of a condescending way, like it was an assumptive thing. You know, ‘Clearly, you’re not staying in Charlotte.’ ”
She’d taken notice when Heather Childers, who spent eight years at News 14 Carolina, jumped to Fox News Channel in 2010. Then she’d watched colleague and friend Anna Kooiman leave WCCB’s “Fox News Rising” in 2011, also for Fox News.
“It did make me think, ‘I could do that, too,’ ” Fogarty says. “But it didn’t make me feel like I had to do that.”
Then in March 2013, her agent called: “Al Jazeera is going to start a new network based in New York City. Do you want me to submit you?”
‘I couldn’t even read my goodbye’
To that point, Al Jazeera – owned by Al Jazeera Media Network, a Qatar-based news service controlled by the Emir of Qatar – was only known in the U.S. for airing videos from Osama bin Laden and anti-American militants after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
But in January 2013, Al Jazeera purchased Current TV and was preparing the launch of an American spinoff that would employ 800 people in an attempt to compete with CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and others.
Fogarty told her agent to give it a shot; next thing she knew, she was on her way to New York City for an interview. And a very brief interview it was. She says she met with three Al Jazeera bosses for about 20 minutes, but wasn’t asked to do an on-camera audition (“which is pretty standard”), and flew back to Charlotte certain that that was the end of that.
Two weeks later, they called to offer Fogarty a job as “a New York-based anchor.” She knew it was going to be a leap of faith, but – all things considered – it seemed worth the risk.
“First of all, it’s not every day that a network opportunity comes your way,” Fogarty says. “Number two, it’s not every day that a brand-new network starts up. I thought that would be a fascinating experience, if nothing else, to see how a new network started.
“I knew that they weren’t going to cut corners anywhere. I knew that they had deep pockets, and that they were gonna spend money. And it was New York. I was gonna be a New York-based anchor. I thought, ‘If I pass on this opportunity, am I gonna regret it later?’ ”
There were signs that things were moving in a positive direction, too. Al Jazeera America’s other high-profile hires included former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler, former CNN International co-host Ali Velshi (now with MSNBC), and investigative reporter Lisa Fletcher (now with ABC’s Washington, D.C., affiliate).
Yet Fogarty sobbed through her last night at the anchor desk on July 26, 2013.
“I couldn’t even read my goodbye,” she says. “I was really sad. Looking back now, that was probably another red flag.”
‘Gut instinct/red flag feelings’
Almost from the get-go, she felt uneasy about her decision – and starting work at Al Jazeera America didn’t improve her frame of mind.
She says the operation seemed disorganized, and that few details had been nailed down, even though they were literally just weeks away from launching. There also was confusion about who was going to be doing what, where and how; it almost felt as if they had hired too many people, she says.
Anchors weren’t getting to see content before rehearsals, she says, and the content they were rehearsing focused heavily on international news. Quickly and quietly, she says, her new colleagues began sharing with each other their concerns about the lack of emphasis on stories dealing with the United States.
Meanwhile, they were renting a house in northern New Jersey that was half the size of the one they had sold in Charlotte and spending more than twice as long commuting into the city. Her work schedule hadn’t been settled on yet, so child care concerns were adding to the stress.
But the tipping point would come just days after rehearsals started on Aug. 11, 2013, when Fogarty says a superior told her they were sending her to Doha, Qatar, for “about three weeks, so that you can become fluent in Middle Eastern news.”
This is absurd, she thought. I have a 1-year-old son, and I don’t intend on being away from him for “about” three weeks. And after I get back, how soon before I’ll have to travel again, for another uncertain amount of time?
She came into this knowing that, when you work at a network, there’s an expectation of a certain level of dedication – especially when you’re new. “We say jump, you jump.” “We say go to Qatar, you go to Qatar.”
When they said “Go to Qatar,” though, Fogarty says she had an epiphany.
“I think in the process of the interview, and the job offer, and the negotiation, and the consideration, and the discussion, and the hoopla surrounding the job, I just lost a little bit of my footing,” she says. “I was having some sort of gut instinct/red flag feelings, but I didn’t really take the time to explore what they were about, because I was getting caught up in the ‘This is the dream.’ ”
What she wanted, she realized, was to be reporting on a community that she was a part of, and on issues that affected her, her family, her friends, her neighbors.
As she processed those feelings, it hit her: “I need to put the brakes on this before we launch and go on air.”
‘Morgan Fogarty is back!’
It was no small ordeal to turn around and come home.
There were difficult conversations with her husband, whose initial reaction was not unreasonable (What are you talking about? We JUST moved here!); and her agent, who would have the unenviable job of negotiating her release from the contract; and her new/soon-to-be-old bosses, who couldn’t have seen this coming. (Al Jazeera America would launch on Aug. 20, 2013, without her ever going on the air.)
Plus, of course, there were all of the inconveniences and hassles of her and her husband picking up and moving 600 miles their son and their three dogs – again.
In fact, the only easy part turned out to be getting her old job back.
“We went from having to scratch our heads and find out what we’re gonna do to going, You know what? This piece of the puzzle just got solved,” says Jim White, general manager at WCCB. “We were glad to have her back, and it created a great marketing tool for us: ‘Morgan’s back!’ ”
At 10 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2013 – just 48 nights after she wept while signing off in Charlotte for what she figured would be the last time – Morgan Fogarty returned to the WCCB anchor desk like nothing ever happened, jumping right into a story about 9/11 remembrances.
Yes, she acknowledges, the whole thing was a little awkward. “On one hand, I was elated,” she says. “On the other hand, I’m coming back with my tail between my legs.”
But she quickly re-established herself as one of the biggest and most versatile names in TV news in Charlotte, someone who can pivot seamlessly from hard-hitting news at 10 to the lighter side at 10:35 on “The Edge.” (In recent years, she’s cultivated a segment called “The Get,” which one-on-one interviews with local newsmakers who rarely or virtually never give one-on-one interviews – from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to Elevation pastor Steven Furtick.)
Outside the office, she went to work restoring and reconnecting with her roots. Fogarty and her husband bought a house in the same neighborhood almost as soon as they returned, and welcomed a second child, a daughter, in June 2015. She threw herself back into her philanthropic passions, including work with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and in the animal-rescue community.
And though you won’t hear her crowing about it or saying “I told you so,” something else has happened since Fogarty returned: Last year, Al Jazeera America quietly went out of business.
“I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying they intentionally misled me,’ ” she says. “But I also don’t want it to sound like I just packed up my stuff and got on a plane and went, without doing any due diligence.”
So she won’t.
What she will say is this: “Part of the lesson that I learned through the Al Jazeera thing was that I had let everybody else’s commentary and their objectives for my career – or for television careers in general – conflate with what I actually wanted.
“There was a blurry line between Do I really want this, or is this just what we’re supposed to do? Is this just the next step and there’s no question about it? Is something wrong with you if you don’t want to go to New York, or L.A., or Chicago? Is there a problem with staying in a small market? There was that internal dialogue.
“And what the Al Jazeera move crystallized for me was, No, there is no set path to success. Everyone personally has different definitions of what a successful career and family and life looks like to them.”
Would she consider leaving again?
“I really have no desire to,” Fogarty says. “Never say never, and obviously, if something changed here, of course I would have to find employment. But I don’t have one foot out the door. This is the dream. I am living the dream.”