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August 12, 2011

Women Running the Show

kristin whiting

An armed Kristin Whiting in Iraq.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Kristin Whiting

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The Super-Sleuth
Kristin Whiting, 39, Field Producer, 48 Hours Mystery, CBS

What I do: Our show is all about murder mysteries, so I spend a great deal of time in courtrooms and jails, talking to accused killers and the families of the victims. It can be captivating, but also soul-crushing to experience firsthand such depths of depravity. We use the power of the show and our viewers to bring about change wisely — we recently got an alleged serial killer charged in an 18-year-old cold case.

Crazy adventure: Before my current job, I lived in Baghdad, at the height of the war. I was hired to set up a public-broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. A bombing had destroyed the country's primary TV network — commonly known as "Saddam TV" — which would often broadcast nothing but archival video of old men reading from the Koran. I lived in Iraq for a year and a half, establishing the new TV service and falling asleep to the sound of rockets and mortars, which sometimes landed within feet of my trailer in the Green Zone. A friend from National Geographic advised me to get out of Baghdad because living in a war zone frays your nerves irrevocably. (He was right. To this day, when a dumpster lid slams or a firecracker goes off, I jump out of my skin.) But on the upside, I was surrounded by Navy SEALs. Not a bad deal! There was a serious shortage of women in the Green Zone — about four men for every woman. Being a rare commodity, I never longed for male company.

Worst part of the job: Meeting people in such pain. Like anyone, I am not without vulnerabilities. I felt that covering the school shooting in Columbine might break me. It was my fourth school shooting in short order, and after 10 days in Denver, I couldn't bear the thought of spending another day among what I call the "ghosts" of the community — an entire town destroyed by tragedy and grief. I went home to remind everyone in my life how much I love them, then flew back to Colorado two days later.

Greatest challenge: We often have to travel at a moment's notice, and I'm a single mother to a spectacular 5-year-old daughter, Scout. I'm fortunate that my mother loves watching her granddaughter when I travel. And sometimes my daughter travels with me: Recently, on a trip to L.A., she and I spent a Saturday at Disneyland, and then on Sunday I was in an L.A. County jail all day with an accused serial killer. It works for us.

How I got my start: I wanted to work in TV news for as long as I can remember. I got my first producing job with PBS Frontline.

Word to the wise: Be fearless. Be willing to jump out of airplanes, climb mountains, go to a war zone. Do anything, go anywhere. And attach yourself to powerful women in the business; a high-powered colleague from my first network job has had a hand in every career move I’ve made since.

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