KARE 11’s Jana Shortal Breaks Away From the Norms in TV News
The "Breaking the News" host on fake news, nerves, and her first memoir
photos by David J. Turner
After a dozen years of reporting for Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE 11, Jana Shortal has outgrown the traditional model. In 2016, she began hosting Breaking the News weekdays at 6:30 p.m. The show combines reporting, social-media chatter, and the opinions of its hosts to entertaining results. Over the past two years, the 40-year-old, openly gay Shortal has befriended 8-year-old Vikings superfan Obadiah Gamble, sparred with critics of her less-traditional wardrobe, and stuck her neck out on social issues. She says she is not afraid of whatever comes next, and acts that way, too.
We talk a lot today about polarization in society and often blame the media. Is that fair? How can the media bridge that gap?
We live in our silos. We read what we believe. That’s dangerous. I do it, too. If there’s a topic that I’m passionate about, especially if I’m covering it, I have to force myself to read 10 things about it, and make sure I’m getting a wide sample. We have limited space in our magazines, limited space in our newspapers. We edit it down to fit the space. But people lack so much trust in institutions right now, that they need more. Because they can get more right here [picks up her cell phone]. They know there’s more. So we have to try to give them more in the constraints of the spaces we have. How we do that, I don’t have all the answers. But I also am comfortable saying, “I don’t know—can we try together?”
Recently, a man who disagreed with your stance on NFL players’ kneeling during the national anthem appeared on your show for a debate. Will you try that format again?
I don’t ever want to make something a gimmick. That was something that was just serendipitous. I so appreciate him. He was so nervous, and I was probably just as nervous.
So, after nearly 20 years on TV, you still get nervous?
There’s a wide misconception about what I do, and that I don’t get nervous. I was nervous when I did a piece on Garrison Keillor about accusations against him of inappropriate behavior. He had sent me a couple of emails that were strange, by some accounts. And I was terrified to put them on the air. Because what if Garrison Keillor gets mad at me, or what if Garrison Keillor’s fans get mad at me? But I was like, “You’ve got to get out of your head.” He did send me those emails, and that’s the news.
What effect does the intentional blurring of reporting and opinion on shows like yours have on so-called “fake news”?
I think that the term “fake news” is being used incorrectly. “Fake news,” to me, would mean something that’s actually not true, but it’s used to describe something you disagree with. So when people come at me with the charge of “fake news,” I’m not making things up. You just don’t agree. In terms of the blurring of the lines, Breaking the News was created to be something we may not even be yet. We’re trying to break the model. I typically don’t shy away from saying what I think. A news anchor reads the prompter and never shies away from it. That’s fine—that’s just not what I’m here to do.
Is #MeToo a moment or a movement?
It’s the natural progression of feminism in a world where feminism doesn’t work if men aren’t feminists, too, and we aren’t pro-men. For our generation, it’s uncomfortable, because we’re pushing back on things that we silently agreed to—the harassment, the inequality, the smaller paychecks. And now we’re saying, “No, we’re not going to do that anymore.” And everyone’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa—when did the rules change?” They didn’t change. We’re just enforcing them now. And the hope is that when my nieces or other little girls today become my age, all of this is gone—the workplace harassment, the comments, and the pay gap. It’s all just gone. Because it’s better for men, too.
Your bio on the KARE 11 website seems to hint that you’re contemplating writing a memoir of some sort. Are you?
God, no. I literally think that bio is from when I was 26. I once wrote one, when I was 8. It’s called The Story of My Life. I have it on my bookshelf. It’s a short story. It starts with my boyfriend, and then there’s a chapter about when I tried to beat someone up at the bus stop. And then it ends with how much I love my teacher. It’s quite good. A quick read.
Digital Extra: KARE to Elaborate?
After reading our Q+A with KARE 11’s Jana Shortal, watch her debate the issue of NFL players refusing to kneel during the national anthem with a viewer.