CBS News Anchor Jericka Duncan talks with Debra and shares the secret she held onto in her twenties as her journalism career was taking off, what she originally wanted to do with her life, and her reflections on covering racial gun violence in Buffalo, New York. She also shares how smoothies are life, stress sweats are the worst, and the one hair/makeup memory she wishes she could erase from her twenties. Listen on Apple Podcasts or watch it on YouTube.
Sure, she’s the Anchor of the CBS Weekend Evening News now, but when she was in college, Jerick Duncan wanted to direct music videos.
Jericka: I was the kid watching MTV…and seeing how they sketched it out with treatments and ideas. I worked at Arista Records. It was my one of my first internships as an 18 year old. My uncle worked there at the time.
If you work in news, you know the deadlines are quick. And the longer production timeline associated with music videos didn’t appeal to Duncan. So, news it was.
Jericka: I’ve always had a news bug. Me and my mother would stay up and watch 20/20 with Barbara Walters, and Hugh Downs. So, I was always a curious child and a nosy child – somebody that asked a lot of questions, and had a vision in terms of how to put things together from a television standpoint. So by the time I got to college, I decided to stick with the journalism route and started applying for internships.
Duncan says she put her reel on a website and the rest is history.
Jericka: I got a call from a general manager in Elmira, New York. I did not even know how to pronounce Elmira, New York. Great little town. Still got love for Elmira. But that’s where I started. And I was there for two years, went to Buffalo for three years. Then I went to Philadelphia for three years. And I’ve been in New York ever since. So I got started because of my love for creating and wanting to showcase women and music videos in a different way than how they were being showcased at the time – and music videos were very popular. But I ended up where I am now which is doing news. And still being able to create but just not in the way that I thought I would be.
Jericka had just come back from covering the May, 2022, racially motivated mass shooting at the Tops Friendly Market store in Buffalo, New York. A gunman killed ten Black people and injured 3 others.
Debra: What stayed with you most?
Jericka: The people who heard the gunshots, the people who live in that community, the trauma inflicted on a group. We all know we have a birthdate and a death date. But when people are murdered, executed in such a targeted way, it just hits different. It feels different.
There’s no long goodbye, perhaps if someone’s dying, you know they have an illness that we know that they’re not likely to make it. And there’s time to say goodbye. The idea of an 86 year old woman being shot, the idea of a person being killed, and the gunman doubles back and shoots them again in the head to ensure that they are dead, is traumatizing to report on. And I think even more traumatizing for the people who live there and work there. And will inevitably go back to that Tops.
I just think no matter how much you wash it down, change the entrance, give it a new look, it will forever be the site of the place where 10 Innocent people who went shopping on a Saturday afternoon, were gunned down.
So it does sit with you. It’s something I don’t take lightly. I don’t take any mass shooting that I’ve ever covered lightly. But I think naturally it feels personal. Because I did live in this community, not specifically this place, but in the Buffalo community for three years. And even though it’s been over 10 years since I lived there, I’m very much still connected to people that I consider family.
Jericka says she’s committed to going back to Buffalo.
Jericka: Whether it’s on my own or to tell these stories, just to check in and just to see how the community is doing, how Buffalo as a whole is doing, because it is a great city filled with amazing people.
Debra: What advice would you give to a person of color in their 20s, who’s watching this (Buffalo shooting) on their TVs?
Jericka: If you don’t have someone that you trust, to speak about these things, that that you can freely ascertain how you feel. Find that and if and when I say that, it’s not just getting help from a psychologist, although I recommend also seeking a therapist out. If you feel like, you know, it’s deeper than just having somebody to talk to, but I think it’s important to, to get it out and find an outlet for yourself that works.
So for me, sometimes it’s running, it’s working out, it’s taking time to rest. It’s taking a long shower or a bath. But you have to find small ways to acknowledge how you’re feeling and regroup. Sometimes it’s in reading scripture, or the Koran or you know, whatever it is, and I’m not saying I read the Koran, I read scripture, I read the Bible, but whatever your mode of finding that peace, do it.
And it doesn’t even have to be this type of trauma, right? Because there’s work trauma of like deadlines, and pressure. And somebody recently who just got out of the business, they kind o,f it was a funny comment, but I was like, Oh my God, that’s so true. She’s like, I no longer have the stress sweat. And it always used to mess up my suits. And I’m like, it is funny how there’s like a different odor that comes along, when you’re stressed out. It’s like, what? Did I not take a shower this morning? But who thinks about that? But that was very real. And she was just explaining how the stress sweat, stress in general, has just come all the way down as much as she loved what she did.
There’s a point in time that, you know, some of us will have to make a decision that has to be made, I should say, where it doesn’t make sense to keep putting yourself through this. I think it’s a great career. I think many of us, obviously, at this level are blessed to have sort of made it to this point. Because not everyone gets to work for a network and have these experiences.
But I get it, I get why people decide that maybe maybe their knowledge and expertise can be used to do something else. And they can sleep in, you could write a book, go to the gym regularly, all those things. There’s some great benefits that come with what we do. But then I think there are times where, again, it’s not just covering a mass shooting where you have to check in with yourself and find those moments of peace. It’s just the the day in and day out.
Debra: It is a lot. I think in any career. I mean, we’re in a career that just takes takes takes and keeps pushing, pushing and wants more. And many careers are like that. So for young people in their 20s, you’ve got to take the time for you. I did not. And there was a whole slew of time that I missed every holiday and every Christmas. And you know what? I had to fill in anchor. Oh, no, this is my opportunity to fill in anchor on Christmas, on New Year’s. You know what, I won’t get those back. I’m not unhappy. I’m never gonna go back and say, Oh, well, I wish I did things differently. But now I’m like, you know what, I’m gonna hang out with my family. And you have different priorities as you get older. But meanwhile, if they asked me here, I probably still say yes, anyway. I will say one thing about the stres, sweat, okay. And I told a friend this the other day….I’m gonna save you all in your 20s right now you, take panty liners and you put them in (the armpits of your shirt) and then… it kind of soaks up the sweat.
Jericka: Lemons, lemons can help with that.
Debra: That’s amazing. Okay, we’re done. Everyone got what they needed. No, just kidding. I want to ask you a little bit about your 20s. I mean, it looks like you’ve got everything together now. And you look gorgeous. And you go out and you’re doing all the things, you know, you’re a big time anchor at network, right? But there had to have been times in your 20s when you either made a mistake, or you didn’t know that you were going to get here. And so what advice do you have for people in their 20s? Based on some of the stuff you wish you knew in your 20s?
Jericka: You ready for this? I got a pun. Don’t sweat the small stuf. On a serious note with that question, because it’s a very important question, is understand it’s a moment in time. And, and I’m still learning that at almost 39. Like, it’s a fleeting moment, obviously, we have things that we dedicate ourselves to, whether it’s a relationship or mothering, you know, you can’t just treat it like a fleeting moment, right.
But by and large, you know, everything is up and down, right. And it’s just trying to find balance, as things are constantly evolving. It’s a lot easier said now, but 20, like 22,23, when I first got into the business, I remember writing a diary. And honestly, just being completely just lonely and exhausted.
And, you know, I had my little group of friends that I made at the station, but there’s a lot of downtime. And when you’re in a small town, when I was off two days a week, I just remember trying to find activities to get involved in but you go from and I think it’s very natural, an environment of college, where everyone is between the ages of 18 to 24, basically, to the real world where maybe at the station, everyone’s in their 20s, managers might be in their 30s or 40s. You know, you’re around younger people, but you’re around like, this is the world. So the people you’re interviewing, they’re not all young, they’re older, they’re younger, they’re in wheelchairs, and you’re experiencing this, this real world experience that you were sort of sheltered when you’re in college.
So you have to adjust to that. And a lot of us are starting out in a small town where there’s really not a lot going on, or you are away from your friends and your sisters, brothers, cousins, the people that sort of keep you grounded and keep you just excited about life. So there’s an adjustment, but I remember keeping a diary and looking back on that diary before I left Elmira, and I like, I think I burned it because I was like, Oh my God, you were so depressed. And it’s not like I didn’t like Elmira. I actually had a pretty good time. But just, you know, it’s tough, it can be a tough adjustment.
And I just feel like people need to allow themselves the grace to feel the feels of like, yeah, this can suck sometimes. Or if you know, you’re not dating anybody. It’s like, dang, you know, I was just thinking college, I had all these people and yeah, what’s wrong? And now it’s my, what are we doing?
Debra: So this is really good advice for people because you’ll move a whole bunch of times in your 20s., I mean, most people will move from college somewhere. And I’ve moved a couple of times and I’m thinking, Oh, I’ve always made friends before, I’ll make friends here, and no, that did not happen for me and some places that I moved to, I was like I got nobody like me around here, like no one I kind of vibe with, no one that I think gets me.
Jericka: That was tough, but I think looking back again, it’s like it’s temporary. Yeah, like that. Looking back you get and then you put so much pressure on yourself in your 20s It’s unnecessary. It’s really unnecessary.
Debra: But did you think in your 20s that you would be where you are now in your career?
Jericka: Absolutely not, you know, I made $18,000 a year and was unsure of if I was even going to continue to do this, I remember giving myself, like three to five years in my mind and thinking like if I’m not advancing, you know, I know I’m smart enough to do some other things that I could have a decent life.
Debra: You gave yourself like three to five years. And look at you now. I just love this story.
Jericka: Thank you. Yeah. I knew I wanted to give it a little bit of time before I like gave up or decided like, maybe this isn’t for me. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think I don’t think anybody, Debra, when you really think about I don’t think anybody ever knows, like, especially when things actually pan out? Well, I don’t think I mean, maybe there are some people that really felt like deep down inside. I saw this for myself. And that’s great. But that’s not my story.
I’ve always sort of been, although one of my girlfriends said you always said you wanted to work at the network. And I’m like I did? I don’t ever remember. I don’t ever remember saying that. But perhaps I did. And maybe, maybe there was a part of me that always felt that. But I didn’t know what that really looked like. And remember, I came here. I was offered the job while I was 29. Technically, not this particular job, I’m in but as a Newspath correspondent. And I was five, six months pregnant, and hiding it. Because I didn’t want anybody to know. I wasn’t married here. I think so many people have the expectation of what your life is going to be like, and then it’s not and you’re like, oh my God, you know, maybe this isn’t a good look. I let these kids down that admire me because I’m out here, you know, I’m not married. I’m having a baby. Okay, am I gonna take this job in New York?
I met with David Rhodes, the former president, after he offered me the job, because I wanted him to know, like, hey, I have a baby on the way. And I don’t know that I’ll be able to do what I think you guys want me to do, which is jump on planes and cover things as soon as they happen. And he said, Well, do you think you can handle it? And I said, I think so. And he said, well, there were many women before you who had children, and there will be many women after you. So if you feel like you have the support you need, let’s keep it moving.
I was so afraid and thinking they were going to take this opportunity away and or that I really didn’t have what it took on top of being an expecting mother. But it was the best thing that probably could have happened to me at that time. Because, you know, it forces you to grow up a little bit and just have confidence and believe in yourself. Even though I still didn’t really, I was still kind of working through that.
But it was nice to know that I had the support at the time of the president of CBS, who said we’re not going to take this away from you, we’re not going to send you back to Philly, we’re going to trust that, you know, we see something in you that you could be an asset, and we’ll figure it out. It has worked out.
Debra: That’s incredible, I didn’t know that.
Jericka: And that was coming out of the 20s. So I think that’s about for the 40s. Be healthy, because that’s what you do when you’re in your 40s.
Debra: I mean, and also, you know, your smoothie matches your shirt. I mean, like you are styling here.
Jericka: Look, I even have a laptop that matches the shirt.
Debra: Mine does too. But I can’t show you because I’m using this thing. I’m loving this story because you know, I think many people in their 20s and sometimes in their 30s and sometimes in their 40s, you know, we don’t have the confidence to know that we can do something like and that’s okay.
So when people see someone like you who has the success that so many people would love to enjoy, and you weren’t sure about yourself, and you didn’t see this for you. It’s okay, if you’re in your 20s and you don’t see what’s ahead of you or you don’t know that you can do the thing that you want to do. I don’t have the confidence sometimes. I’m like standing there at the White House going, Oh, Jesus, that’s Major Garrett over there. Let’s talk about intimidated. I don’t know what that guy knows. And you know what, I figure it out, because I have Google.
Jericka: And you’re also a person who’s capable. You’re just as malleable, just as capable. And you’re doing the damn thing. And I think we all have to kind of realize that it’s not about being arrogant or cocky. It is sometimes being able to look in the mirror and say I got this, I can do this. I can show up today. And when you know you’re doing the best that you can. What more can you ask for?
Debra: And that thing about looking in the mirror and saying you got this, like you got to do that every day. Because the business that we’re in In, we’ve got to be confident, even when we’re not.
Jericka: Right. I was gonna say the practice thing, you’re never too good to go over those lines over and over again, because it’s still something that I work at. I think we all hopefully, you know, still work at it. And it’s yeah, it’s not that it becomes super easy. I think you just become more comfortable in your own skin.
So when you know the subject matter, or even if you mess up, you can say, you know what, let me do that again. I remember one time, I’m watching Gayle on the anchor desk, and she’s somebody I admire tremendously because of how classy she is, right? She’s such a classy, individual and honest and real. She wants everybody to win. You don’t always see that, sadly, in our industry, because it is super competitive. But I remember one time she was reading something from the prompter, and it messed up. She said, I’m sorry, I gotta do that again. Can you roll that back? This was live TV.
Now, we don’t always have prompters when we’re out in the field. But I do think even when you stumble, you just keep going. I think that’s been my thing. Like, even when I know what I just read made no sense. I’m gonna keep talking. I’m gonna take a breath. And if we have time to redo it, I’ll redo it. But it does happen to the best of us. And I don’t think that ever stops.
But yes, how you view the mistake, and how you choose to either I think it’s fine to kind of feel a little icky about it for a second. But then it shouldn’t dictate like the rest of the evening. I mean, unless it’s really, really bad.
Debra: Just don’t like word vomit on live TV.
Jericka: Don’t say anything that’s gonna get you sued. Oh, no,
Debra: You don’t want to do that. I am so thrilled that you are here. This has been so much fun. I got one last question for you. Okay, tell me if you wil, something that happened in your 20s. Like, a bad date, a bad outfit that you remember, a job that you were like, what was this job?
Jericka: I definitely wore suits that were too big. And I wasn’t wearing makeup at the time. I think it’s important to wear a little bit of coverage because of the lighting. Yeah. And sometimes how we play in person isn’t how we play on TV. Yes. And it took somebody to tell me, you know, even something like your eyebrows, you know, you pluck them, so they’re not really even, you might want to draw them in a little bit. I was like, Oh, okay. So yeah, there’s a certain level of grooming that happens.
Just sort of recognizing what works and what doesn’t? And listen, like I said, I can look at things two years ago and be like, Oh, my hair. Nobody told me, those edges! Good friends, oh, they do, they have no problems letting me know, you know. But most of my friends are very supportive. The story was good. And that’s what matters.
So this has been lovely. And I hope that the people who are listening, whether they’re in their 20s or 30s or 40s, you know, definitely take away from understanding that. We are all just doing the best we can every day.
Debra: Every one of us, all practice,we sweat the small stuff at times. We don’t know what’s coming for us. But you know, if you’re hanging in there and you give yourself some grace, and you make a smoothie that matches your shirt, you’re gonna be okay.
Jericka: On that note, smoothies make everything better.
Debra: Smoothies. There you go. That’s some *beep* that you did not know in your 20s and now you do. You can see Jericka Duncan on CBS weekend evening news on Sunday nights. And don’t forget to follow her on Instagram at @IamthatreporterJD.
If you like Sh*t I Wish I Knew In My Twenties, drop your email at www.pages.debraalfarone.com to be the first to know about new episodes.
Sh*t I Wish I Knew In My Twenties is a podcast dedicated to helping 20-somethings thrive in their twenties, not just survive.
Host Debra Alfarone knows how hard being in your twenties can be. As a high-school dropout turned-network-TV-correspondent, she learned most of life’s lessons the hard way. She overcame the odds and now covers the White House for CBS News nationally. She’s also a confidence coach for young women in the TV news industry.