Former NBC4 Anchor Mikaela Hunt Builds Community via New Channels
For eight years Mikaela Hunt woke up with Columbus news viewers as one of four co-anchors on NBC4 Today. During those years, Hunt built a relationship with viewers as a part of their daily morning routines — almost as if they knew her. But after 17 years in TV journalism, an unexpected — and at one point devastating — change came her way.
In 2015, when NBC4 chose not to renew Hunt’s contract, local news viewers were seemingly devastated. There were a lot of questions about why she was no longer on the show, where she went, and exactly what happened. Years later, from time to time, Hunt will get a message on Facebook from someone saying, “I’m so glad I found you!” or “I didn’t know where you went. What happened?” Others told Hunt they called the station, left voicemails, and were even given the news director’s phone number, but never got a call back.
“And I can only speculate as to reasons why, since they never gave me a reason,” says Hunt, now well into a career as a brand journalist and owner of Mikaela Media.
“I wasn’t told it wasn’t being renewed. I was walked upstairs, and the news director walked me to HR and said, ‘We’re not renewing your contract. Today is your last day,’ as I was sitting down in my seat. And I asked the question, ‘Why?’ The news director, Dave Ciliberti, repeated himself … and walked out the door.”
In various corners of the web — Facebook, online forums, even on Hunt’s blog — people speculated and theorized why Hunt was no longer at NBC4. Message boards would point out the anchor who replaced Hunt was thin and blonde.
“I will never know the reason why and that can be really difficult,” Hunt says. “People might make assumptions based on who they hired to come after me, but I can’t factually say that a different look was the reason why I was let go.”
“If you really thought the body image thing was a part of this — again there’s no way to know — They’ve hired a couple of real people in the last year. So good for them,” she continues. “But I will say it concerns me that … there are people within that medium where that is the only thing they care about.”
Hunt says you could look on air and tell who really cares about achieving a certain look, rather than producing quality journalism. It’s not an issue for all news directors, she says, but it does happen in the industry.
“To suggest that a working mom, and where she is after having two kids and working an odd shift, is not as good as someone who has a certain sex appeal is troublesome,” she says. “You need to have a variety of people that are representative of your community. It’s critical.”
After she was let go, Hunt says NBC4 attempted to hold her under a six-month non-compete contract, which she later found out was illegal given the circumstances of the sudden dismissal. The non-compete ended up only being 60 days, but at that point, Hunt had already registered her LLC.
“And it was hard because I couldn’t talk too much about it at the time because my husband was still working there,” she says. “And that provided an awkward situation.”
Hunt’s husband was a reporter at the station at the time, so she never considered legal action. However she was approached about doing so, particularly under the guise of ageism.
“I know that it was suggested to a couple of people, but I don’t think anybody took it seriously,” she says.
Hunt also did not want to pursue other markets at other stations. She says her family did not want to leave Columbus, because the city had become home for them.
“The people, the energy, the community that is here is home. And so I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” she says. “So I was like OK so how am I going — what am I gonna do,” she continues. “And that’s when the wheels got turning, and I decided to create something totally different on my own.”
When Hunt established Mikaela Media, she says it wasn’t a path she chose. Rather, it chose her. Her work now encompasses brand journalism, an emerging field in journalism that complements public relations in that it tells the story of a company from its own point of view.
Hunt has also hosted the Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s business-focused podcast, “cbuzz,” since the series rebooted in early 2018. The podcast combines her broadcast experience with her journey as a small business owner. On the show, she goes in-depth with local business leaders, documenting their journey and educating people about that journey.
“That meant something to me especially as a small business owner … that there were lessons they were teaching through the interviews I was doing meant something to me,” she says.
Along with her self-produced radio show “What Matters” with fellow former NBC4 anchor Mindy Drayer, it’s her “one toe back” into traditional media. “Traditional media is now my side hustle,” she laughs.
Ultimately, the reaction from the public due to her departure, and the continued interest years later, was only somewhat of a surprise for Hunt. She says the connection she helped establish in those eight years at NBC4 Today intentionally sought community engagement.
“That job to me was way more than putting on makeup and reading the news from a prompter. It was creating early morning community on air and online,” she says. “So it meant the world to me that people came to me and said those things and have continued to be amazingly supportive in what other work I’ve done. Like, I’m really humbled and grateful for it.”
Reflecting, Hunt says when you do something, either because you love it or have a passion for it, it’s always going to “come back into the fold.”
“What I’m doing now gives me the freedom to still support and create community, and spend time with my kids. And I am treated in a way that what I do matters to the people that I work with. And I don’t have to second guess why I am not being treated sometimes equally or fairly. You know?” she says.
“As devastating and as unexpected as my end to that portion of my career was, it also was the reason I’m able to do what I can do today,” she continues. “So I am so grateful that I was able to be here in this city and do what I did for eight years. And without that, I would never be doing what I’m doing now.”
Columbus Underground has reached out to NBC4 for comment on the statements made by Mikaela Hunt on the circumstances of her contract not being renewed in 2015. No response had been received at time of publishing.
For more information on Mikaela Media, visit mikaelahunt.com.