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MSNBC's Alex Witt reveals her secret to career longevity

The MSNBC anchor reflects on her 23 years at the network and chats about the work-family juggle, how young women can supercharge their careers and more.
MSNBC anchor Alex Witt has anchored more hours on MSNBC than any other anchor in the history of the network.
MSNBC anchor Alex Witt has anchored more hours on MSNBC than any other anchor in the history of the network.Courtesy of MSNBC.

Alex Witt knows about career longevity.

Witt, 61, has anchored more hours on MSNBC than any other anchor in the history of the network, covering presidential elections, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the ongoing unrest in Ukraine and so much more. And behind the scenes, she has had the same executive, senior and line producer team for two decades, a rarity in cable news.

“Alex is a great example to younger women in so many ways— as a friend, mother and a working woman,” said Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski. “She shows young women that you have a long runway to work with, and it’s OK to drop everything and be there for your kids, or for yourself if you need to take care of something. Alex is so dependable and so mentally clear on her priorities that she fits everything into her life.”

Witt recently reflected on her 23 years at the network with Know Your Value. The mom of two also chatted about the work-family juggle, how young women can supercharge their careers and more.

Below is the conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:

Know Your Value: You’ve anchored more hours on MSNBC than any other anchor in the history of the network. What an incredible accomplishment. When you look back at your time at the network, is there story or interview you’re particularly fond of?

Alex Witt: … One that really stands out was way back when before the Iraq War began. There was a Saturday morning when weapons inspector Hans Blix from the IAEA was making his way to Baghdad, and he was holding a press conference. And it ended up beginning just as my show was beginning. At the time, I was anchoring four hours at one stretch, and my executive producer said, “Hey, he's talking in French. Can you translate?” I do speak French, but I never translated about [subjects like] nuclear disarmament or weapons of mass destruction. But I said, “Sure, I'll give it a try.”

So, I loosely translated what [Blix] was saying … I ended up being on the air for seven hours that day. It was just one of those times when the network was like, “Oh, she's on a roll. Let, let's just keep her going.” So that stands out in my mind.

Then there was the Thanksgiving Day [2008] when the Mumbai terror bombings happened … and I ended up missing Thanksgiving dinner with my kids because I had to stay on the air for it. And, you know, things like that are memorable, both for the length of time I was on the air, seven hours… And then of course missing a Thanksgiving dinner. I don't think I've worked Thanksgiving ever since. My kids have threatened me. They've said, “ No, working on Thanksgiving… I'm like, ‘yeah, OK. Fine.’”

Alex Witt's children, Caroline, 27, and Charlie, 29.
Alex Witt's children, Caroline, 27, and Charlie, 29.Courtesy of Alex Witt.

Know Your Value: Did you always want to go into journalism?

Witt: Definitely. But I didn't have on-air aspirations … I was obsessed with storytelling and loved watching the news. It was something I did with my father. We watched Walter Cronkite. And I wrote for school newspapers and studied journalism and all that. But I wound up behind the scenes, which I was perfectly happy doing in Los Angeles … I ended up at the TODAY Show doing field producing out of the then-Burbank Bureau, which is now the Los Angeles Bureau.

While producing a series for TODAY, it was suggested that I go on the air. And at first, I thought that they were trying to get rid of me. I said, “What are you talking about?” … The kind of field producing I was doing (which was somewhat back in the golden years), you could work with correspondents and put things together almost entirely. It was suggested that I was doing that already … So I thought, “Why not?” And I went up to the Monterey, Salinas, and Santa Cruz market and made a ton of mistakes. Even though I knew how to write, going in front of the camera was a very different thing. But it took off from there. And I've stayed in front of the camera ever since.

Know Your Value: You are a great example of someone with career longevity. What do you think your secret is? And what's your advice to someone younger who might not be where they want to be yet career wise?

Witt: Pay your dues. I do get a bit frustrated with the younger journalists who don't believe in paying their dues. They want my job already, and they’ll be a year out of college and I'm thinking, “You know, a little more time is gonna benefit you in the long run.” I've seen a lot of people come and go. That's part of it. But I also think I have two approaches that have worked well for me. That is, put your head down, do the work. And when you leave work, leave it, leave it in the studio.

… Also I'm passionate about what I do. And that helps, by the way, when you have to do a lot of work or work crazy hours, hopefully you're passionate about it, but I just feel like do the work and don't expect things to be given to you… You have to be realistic.

Know Your Value: Speaking of leaving work behind, you know firsthand that when you work in news, it often spills into family life, which can be quite challenging. Did you find this to be the case, especially when you had young kids? What strategies helped you?

Witt: It’s challenging … My kids had a great father who adored them and was willing to fill in the blanks, particularly on the weekends. But I had to accept the benefit of my working versus being there at every soccer game or dance recital or swim meet. And I just realized that what I was able to bring to my family and my kids was not only an income to help enhance their quality of their life, but I was also setting an example to them. And I think the most valuable thing I get from them is when they tell me how proud they are of me. And that means more to me than anything anyone else can possibly tell me.

Know Your Value: Switching gears, at Know Your Value we do a lot with our “50 Over 50” initiative with Forbes, which celebrates women over the age of 50 who have achieved significant success later in life. One question we like to ask women over 50 is, did you ever imagine your career after 50? What did you think you would you'd be doing?

Witt: Well, being someone on camera, it does weigh on you the older you are … But I think the fact that we have wizards in the hair and makeup department (who earn every penny and deserve every compliment I ever give them) [has helped]. I credit them with keeping me on the air. But did I expect to be here at this point? I think I did mostly because I love what I do so much. I consider it an incredible honor and privilege to basically get paid to keep track of what goes on in the world, talk about it and help keep people informed. That is a pretty luxurious thing to be able to do, especially if you're passionate about the news like I am. I'm a complete news junkie. So, to get paid to do that, I don't think I've ever taken it for granted. And I've just felt like I'm gonna do the work, and as long as the makeup can stay on my face, I'll keep going.

Know Your Value: When you’re giving guidance, particularly to young women, do you find yourself, repeating a particular piece of advice?

Witt: I take something that my aunt said. She was in education and achieved tremendous success in the college English world. She said to me once, “What price is success if you have no one to share it with?” And I tell the kids that. I say, “Don't forget to stop along the way.” Even if you set your sights on New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, these big cities, but you find yourself [somewhere else] and you find someone that is rounding out your life, don't give that up easily.

… If you don't have people to share your success with, then what does it all mean? So that's something that I say to them, and then I quickly pivot back to, “But here's how you can be the best writer possible…”

Know Your Value: What goals do you have for yourself in the next decade of your life?

Witt: To have the grace to understand when it's time to step off the set as an anchor. I wanna know when to do that. When I I feel like I am not at my best, at my sharpest, I wanna be able to have the grace to know that, admit it and say, “OK, it's time to hang it up.” And I imagine that will come at some point in the next decade, perhaps later in the decade than sooner. I do wanna be able to know when it's time to step off gracefully …