Aluminary CoupleNew England TV Couple
Jamie Staton '90 and Jean Mackin Staton '90 parlay a work-related friendship into a shared life and parallel careers.
by Bryan VanCampen
Television-radio major Jamie Staton '90 couldn't believe his luck. Here he was, a junior working as a teaching assistant for James Treble's small workshop class Television News Production, and the entire rest of the participants were Professor Treble and six females!
"For a single guy, TA'ing a class with six girls was kind of fun," Jamie recalls. But he was a busy guy and didn't try to date any of the women. He did become casual friends with one, Jean Mackin '90; the relationship was built on classwork. In their senior year they worked much more closely together in what Staton remembers as "an intense documentary class. You had to produce four 10-minute documentaries, and that's a pretty big deal. It was almost like having a 40-hour-a-week job."
Then Wendy Georgakis '90, Jean's best friend since first-year orientation, made what Jean thought was a ridiculous suggestion. "You should date that Jamie Staton," Wendy said. "You two are perfect for each other."
Jamie Staton? As far as Jean was concerned, Jamie Staton might be nice enough, and good to work on documentaries with, but there was no way she was going to date the guy. "I thought he was a geek," says Jean today. "I was the fun one -- he was the square one."
As Jamie tells it, because he was paying for college himself, he wanted to experience everything, to be the "ultimate professional student." So he was always doing something at IC, whether it was working as a TA, providing radio play-by-play of Bombers football games, or coaching women's soccer. He also found time to play recreational volleyball, serve as treasurer for Alpha Epsilon Rho, and hold down the job of sports director for ICTV.
Jean got good grades and worked as an on-air host for a show called Creed, an ICTV show about world religions, which kept her running around booking clerics, but she saw it as just an opportunity to get some career experience. She and Wendy wanted to get out and enjoy the Ithaca nightlife. So Jean wasn't thrilled by her friend's suggestion. "No, no, he's too much of a goody-two-shoes," she told Wendy.
It would be senior week before Jean and Jamie had their first date: an outdoor screening of The Blues Brothers. Jean remembers it well: "Jamie called and said, 'Do you want to go to the senior movie? I'll bring a blanket.' He was so funny and nice. He wooed me. It started to rain, and everybody left except us." Things developed pretty quickly after that. Within weeks, the two were in love.
As graduation approached Jean did what all of their classmates were doing: she sent out résumés and tapes to every TV station she could find. "I knew that I wanted to tell stories," she remembers, "in one way or another." Jamie's childhood dream was to someday be the sports anchor at WMUR-TV, Channel 9, in his home state of New Hampshire. But they didn't get jobs in their chosen profession right away. After graduation Jean went home to Maryland and worked as a temp secretary, while Jamie sold yogurt at a mall in New Hampshire. Jean returned to Ithaca when she was hired by NewsCenter 7 to operate courthouse cameras for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Shirley Kinge trial. (Kinge was convicted in November 1990 of burglary, arson, hindering prosecution, criminal possession of stolen property, and forgery relating to the December 1989 murders of the Harris family; it was later discovered that state troopers had planted Kinge's fingerprints on evidence.)
Then Jamie and Jean heard about WYVN, a start-up Fox affiliate in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which needed a news and sports staff fast. The interviews were arduous, the applicants many, and the station picky. Jean remembers quaking in her boots during her interview, but she landed a job, as did Jamie. This was entry-level stuff -- paying their dues, keeping long hours. At that point, Jean recalls, they barely had enough money to cover the rent. So although they'd decided they wanted to marry, they felt it wasn't the right time, not when they couldn't even afford a honeymoon at the Motel 6 down the street.
Despite the meager pay, they enjoyed learning the ropes and stayed three years -- until one day in 1993 they came to work and were told that the station had gone bankrupt. The entire news team trooped over to the unemployment office together.
Fortunately, Jean and Jamie didn't have to rely on unemployment checks for long. A few weeks later, Jean was hired to report for WOWK, a CBS affiliate in Charleston, West Virginia, where she covered "lots of murders and drug busts." Jamie moved to a station in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The two drove to visit each other on the weekends whenever they could. "Thank God we were young and had energy!" says Jean.
"They say it's a tough business," reflects Jamie. "I think it's especially tough for the first five years, because you're not making any money and you want to be at a better station." Still, they'd been warned by their professors at Ithaca that they were entering a profession where they'd be working holidays for the rest of their lives, so they'd better get used to it.
After a year of carrying on their romance long-distance, an opening in the sports department at Jean's station came up, and Jamie landed it. Now in the same town and working for the same station at more comfortable salaries, they decided at last to make their relationship official. They were married in Maryland in September 1996. Hurricane Fran had blown through the night before the ceremony, and, says Jean, "that took some of the TV people away," but it was blue skies on the day of the wedding. They honeymooned in Jamaica -- quite a step up from Motel 6.
Then in 1998 came the call that Jamie had been waiting for since he was a kid: he'd gotten the job as weekend sports anchor at WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire. The deal was doubly sweet: Jean was hired as the station's weekday news anchor. Working together was not in their contract, "never a deal-breaker," but just the way thing happened. "We've always been treated as separate employees, not a package deal," says Jamie, "which is the way we want it. We keep [our marriage] really low-key." Jean uses her family name on the air, but when you call her at home she answers, "Jean Staton."
Jamie filing a live report from a track meet; Jean covering the New Hampshire primaries
Now the couple is spending a lot more time together on the news desk: this summer Jamie was promoted to sports director. He and Jean are both on air five nights a week. They couldn't be more thrilled that after so many years, their schedules finally mesh. "I've worked weekends for nine years," says Staton, "and until a few weeks ago we have never had the same days off." When they got the call to come work in New Hampshire, there wasn't even a discussion. "We have to go," Jean said, and so they did. Now Jamie lives 10 minutes from his family, and Jean's family in Maryland is glad to have them back east.
Jamie loves to tell this story: When they crossed the border into New Hampshire for the first time, Jean noticed that the first McDonald's they passed had lobster sandwiches on the menu. "She was so thrilled that you could get a lobster sandwich at McDonald's, she was sold on New England forever," laughs Jamie.
She was sold on their new station as well. "Every station is different," muses Jean. "The last station I was at had more breaking news -- it was a little more sensational and fast-paced. Here at WMUR, it's a little more sophisticated and intelligent. It's real Yankee country. It's almost as if the Revolutionary War was won 20 years ago instead of more than 200. People take pride in their community and really get involved in the democratic process."
In their off hours, Jamie bikes and plays in an over-30 baseball league, and Jean makes jewelry. They love the Red Sox and attending NHL games together -- they follow the Boston Bruins. They take a few ski trips every year, and now they have a 17-foot power boat on Lake Winnisquam.
Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a winding road. Jamie and Jean have traversed that road and landed in the place they feel is just right for them. It seems a long time since the day they first walked into that junior-year News Production Workshop -- he never imagining he'd find his life partner among those six women, and she never dreaming that geeky TA guy would turn out to be her perfect match.