Meet Jen Duck. In our Spring edition, we had the honor of sitting down with some of the most exciting women in media to talk about their career paths, personal growth and transition to Nashville. We noticed just how many of these extraordinary women have relocated to Nashville in recent years, either continuing in their roles remotely or picking up something entirely different. It left us wondering — why here?
Jen Duck has spent her career as a bit of a Renaissance Woman, working as a producer for everyone from Anderson Cooper to Oprah Winfrey. In the last year, she won an Emmy and started teaching full-time at Belmont University, all while earning her Ph.D. and finding time to play in the backyard with her husband and two young daughters.
On Her Career
TNE: What are some parts of your job with Anderson Cooper or Oprah/Katie that people may not expect?
JD: They are all incredible humans. Truly. Also, TV isn’t glamorous behind the scenes. Fifteen-hour days are the norm. You become close with your TV family, and I’m grateful I was able to spend so much time not only with the three people the world knows on a first name basis but also with the massive production staff and camera crews who make all the magic happen. It takes a village, and to this day, my best friends are from the job I had 17 years ago when I first started in TV.
TNE: What makes a great story?
JD: When I worked for Oprah, prominent LA producers would walk in, sit at a big conference table, and show a quick sizzle reel selling their “great story.” Rarely did those stories speak to me. The stories that were truly “great” were the ones that were authentic. I found an amazing entrepreneur on YouTube, and he ended up hosting his own show on Oprah’s network. Honestly, there’s nothing more important than being your true self.
TNE: Best ways to beat a mental block?
JD: Rain or shine, a hike around Radnor Lake always clears my head.
TNE: How did you bond with your coworkers?
JD: I worked remotely from Nashville for six years, but I had just as strong of a bond with my colleagues in New York as I did in every office I physically worked in. Working in hard news especially, you are put in situations that force you to bond quickly. I’ve covered everything from mass shootings and riots to hurricanes. You simply can’t go into those elements alone, and I’ve been so fortunate to keep these bonds as lifelong friendships.
TNE: Which celebrity was most exciting to meet?
JD: Katie and I hopped on a redeye from New York to LA to interview the ladies of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” – Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Valerie Harper, Georgia Engel, and Cloris Leachman. We weren’t sure if Valerie Harper was going to make it because days before our flight, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. As we were setting up, Valerie unexpectedly walked out and filled the studio with her laugh. The other ladies huddled around her. Katie and I were in tears. Hearing Katie’s stories about Mary’s independent TV news character inspiring her own career made me realize how lucky I was to be surrounded by such strong-willed women who went great lengths to break gender barriers from the 1970s to today.
TNE: What were the best and worst parts of working in hard news versus more entertainment news?
JD: The best part of working in hard news was witnessing history as it unfolded. In my late twenties, I was traveling around the world on Air Force One covering President Bush, and I had a front-row seat on the campaign trail as Senator McCain and President Obama ran for president. There is nothing that compares to the adrenaline rush of covering a story that will outlive you and even your grandchildren. In those moments, the pressure is extremely high to cross every “t” and dot every “i.” Katie, Anderson and Oprah especially taught me the balance of entertainment and hard news. Life-changing stories like Anderson’s “Finding Hope” suicide special was best told by combining a hard news topic and beloved entertainment icons who struggled with mental health.
TNE: How have your priorities shifted with time and experience?
JD: I’m a work in progress. I try to take time to unwind, but it’s always hard with two kids and a full-time job. I definitely ask for help a lot more now than ever before.
TNE: Best tip for people who don’t quite know where to start when it comes to news?
JD: Dive in! Whether you want to cover it or understand it, you have to jump in the deep end and immerse yourself. The most important tip is to know your sources and understand who/what is trustworthy.
TNE: What has your career path taught you about yourself?
JD: The smartest person in the room is the one who prepares and works the hardest. Also, you can learn more by listening than by talking.
TNE: What advice would you in the present tell yourself when you were getting started?
JD: Truthfully, I’m so glad I can’t give advice to my 20-something self. I don’t think I would be who I am today if I had great insights and skipped the hard chapters in my life. It’s all part of my story. There were times I fell flat on my face and times I wanted to quit. I learned more about myself from those experiences than anything else.
TNE: What do you think is the most important trait in a successful person?
JD: Kindness. At the end of the day, kindness is what you will be remembered for.
TNE: What advice from others has helped you most along the way?
JD: I’ve always had strong females in my life, especially my mom. I lean on her every day, and she always knows what to say and how to lift me up.
TNE: What’s been the proudest moment in your career?
JD: This past year, I was honored with an Emmy award on a special that was near and dear to my family and sparked a tough but necessary conversation. Our team at Anderson Cooper produced a special on America’s suicide crisis after the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. We partnered with experts, survivors, and family members of those lost to amplify the message that the mental illnesses behind suicide deserve treatment from professionals, just as we would treat other illnesses like heart disease or diabetes. After the special aired, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported a 67 percent increase in call volume as people reached out to learn how to get help for themselves or for friends and loved ones who were suffering. I hope this conversation continues so we can break the stigma of mental health and let people know they aren’t alone.
TNE: What was your most meaningful encounter?
JD: I was fortunate to work with Maya Angelou on two separate occasions – with Oprah and years later with Anderson. I was so moved by my conversations with her that I named my second daughter “Maya.”
On Work-Life Balance
TNE: In a fast-paced work environment, how do you find time for yourself?
JD: Walking during conference calls is one of my favorite tricks (just don’t forget to mute).
TNE: Favorite ways to work out to stay healthy and energized?
JD: Walking around Radnor.
TNE: What are the best ways to start and end your day?
JD: Mornings are not my friend. I have to jump out of bed or I will stay under the covers as long as possible. At night, I think about 3 things I’m grateful for. My husband and I used to email these to each other each night, which got us through the newborn sleep deprivation phases and always made us smile.
TNE: Favorite meal to cook when you have time?
JD: Steaks on the grill and fresh green beans or spinach from the garden (my nephew built garden beds last year for me, and I finally have a green thumb).
TNE: Favorite ways to wind down with your family?
JD: “Popcorn parties” and a good kid flick hit the spot at our house.
TNE: Healthiest habit you’ve picked up through the years?
JD: Reading a book before bed instead of staring at a screen (work in progress).
TNE: What’s your go-to “treat yourself” moment?
JD: Massage, steam, and Microderm facial from Lily at Escape Day Spa.
Her Everyday Essentials
TNE: What beauty/skincare products are staples for you on a busy day?
JD: BITE lipstick and Tarte gloss.
TNE: What’s the most random item you keep on you “just in case?”
JD: Dry Bar detox dry shampoo. People always ask if I just got my hair done when I use it. It’s THE BEST.
TNE: What are some travel essentials you couldn’t live without?
JD: Noise-canceling headphones. Worth every penny!
TNE: What items are you most excited to wear this Spring/Summer?
JD: I’m ready to break out the bright colors and long dresses.
TNE: The best trick to calm nerves?
JD: A long walk and a good podcast.
TNE: Where do you get your news? How do you decide what’s important to know?
JD: On my drive to/from work, I listen to The Daily podcast as well as NPR’s Up First and Fresh Air. I seek out as many reliable sources as possible online as well. I sign up for a number of newsletters that wrap up the headlines and send breaking news alerts, which also helps sort through news versus noise. One of my passion projects involves news literacy. Social media and big tech companies feed biases and their bottom lines with algorithms; education is vital in understanding which sources are reliable and which sources are propaganda and playing to your emotions for profit or to create confusion.
TNE: Last book you couldn’t put down?
JD: I’m madly working through my Ph.D. so there’s a random rotating stack of philosophy books on my nightstand, but I often revisit “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, and I keep gifting “Girl Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis to every woman going through a big change. Rachel’s book, in particular, got me through one of the hardest times after having my first child (and yes, I needed to be told to wash my face often during that time). I would be up all hours of the night rocking a newborn baby and quietly laughing and repeating “ok, you got this!” while reading her book.
TNE: What’s your guilty pleasure TV or Netflix series?
JD: “A Million Little Things” on ABC or “Fixer Upper” reruns on HGTV (I’m on pins and needles waiting for Chip and Jo to launch their network!)
TNE: Best trick you’ve picked up to be camera-ready?
JD: A smile can go a long way. Don’t underestimate it
On Life in Nashville
TNE: What made you want to relocate to Nashville?
JD: My grandmother used to say I didn’t like to “gather moss” in my twenties and early thirties because I moved around so much. While that’s true, as I inched closer to my mid-thirties, I was ready to set some roots. My husband is from Atlanta, and I’m from Ohio. We loved how central Nashville was to our families, and we were ready to start our own family in a place that felt more like “home” to both of us. Seven years and two kids later, the roots continue to grow deeper.
TNE: What has been your favorite part of living here?
JD: I’m from a town where the main intersection has a blinking light and four-way stop sign. As soon as I left for college, I ventured off to every major city I could find but often missed that sweet community that raised me. Nashville has that small-town feel with all the perks of being a big city. I love going a mile down the road and hopping on a trail to clear my head. I also love that every genre of music plans a tour stop in town. I feel like we have everything New York and LA offer, but we have more space and time to take it all in.
TNE: What does an ideal day off look like here compared to when you lived in New York/LA?
JD: I’m a total homebody and throw on my sweatpants as soon as I walk in the door. I love being at home, watching my girls play in the backyard, and just enjoying the simple things. On days off in New York and LA, I would always try to escape the city because it was so hard to turn off otherwise. Here, I can throw my phone in a drawer and just step out the back door.
TNE: Have you found pockets of Nashville that remind you of New York/LA?
JD: I think East Nashville and Brooklyn are playing a fun game of tag right now as sister stores and restaurants open in both locations, but overall, Nashville is quite different from LA and New York, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes creativity gets lost in bigger cities because there is so much competition and fear of collaboration. Thankfully, that is not the case in Nashville even as it continues to grow.
TNE: Has the food been better here or there? Be honest.
JD: Nashville food has definitely changed in the seven years we’ve been here. There are some amazing places that beat New York and LA like Husk and 1892 in Leiper’s Fork. The family-owned feel and food literally served fresh from the backyard is harder to come by in New York City especially. I do miss seafood fresh off the boat and authentic international restaurants…as well as the 24-hour cookie delivery in NYC.
TNE: Where are your favorite places to shop around town?
JD: I love a good deal so UAL is a staple. I also live in Anthropologie. For a special treat, I hit H. Audrey (what can’t Holly Williams do?!). When I need something more formal (Emmys, award shows, etc), the lovely ladies at The Showroom are my go-to stylists. I could play dress-up there all day.