A Conversation with Fox 5’s Shawn Yancy
The news anchor talks mistakes, memorable stories and her passion for creating abstract art
Name: Shawn Yancy. Grew up in: Indianapolis. Lives in: Potomac.
Broadcast journalist Shawn Yancy creates contemporary abstract art, such as this piece which hangs in a client's home. Photo by Darren Higgins
When artist and FOX 5 news anchor Shawn Yancy started applying for jobs in television news, there were times she needed encouragement.
“I remember sending out countless, countless résumé reels and it didn’t seem like I was getting any bite,” Yancy says. “My mom would say, ‘Remember what I told you: If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count. Don’t stop.’”
She still follows that advice, and passes it on to her three sons: Anthony, 25; Tyson, 16; and Jax, 10. “I grew up in a household where you’re not allowed to say the word ‘can’t,’ ” says Yancy, who was raised in Indianapolis and graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, with a degree in telecommunications. “When I hear them say, ‘But mom, I can’t,’…I say, ‘No, we don’t say can’t. Can’t means you don’t know how to or you don’t want to. Which one is it?’ They’ll look at me and they know the answer.”
That attitude helps Yancy in her career as a broadcast journalist and in her work as an artist. She likes to use acrylic paint on canvas, wood and acrylic to create contemporary abstract art, and has her own company, Shawn Yancy Art & Design.
Yancy’s first job in television was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she worked as a reporter and anchor. She later worked at a station in Pittsburgh for five years before joining FOX 5 in Washington, D.C., in 2001 as a weekend anchor and weekday reporter. About 18 months later she was anchoring the early-morning show. For the last decade, she’s co-anchored the 6, 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
“My goal was to be a journalist in a big market, in a large television market, and each time an opportunity presented itself, I would go for it,” says Yancy, who lives in Potomac with her husband, Marc. “Each step was a blessing, but I knew each time there was something more that I wanted to achieve, and that was my goal—to keep going until eventually I achieved what I was hoping for.”
Yancy won an Emmy in 2006 for outstanding news anchor in Washington, D.C., and an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2007 for her reporting on asbestos inside the National Institutes of Health. She’s also received Associated Press and Golden Quill awards for breaking news coverage.
Bethesda Magazine met with Yancy in the loft studio at FOX 5, which is where she and her co-workers deliver the final story of the 11 o’clock newscast every night, to talk about journalism and art.
Your second day on the job at FOX 5 was September 11, 2001. What was that like?
I remember pulling into the parking lot that morning, listening to WTOP, and the plane had just gone down at the Pentagon. I remember walking in the building and my news director saying, ‘Yancy, your week of getting to know the ropes here is over. I need you to get in the car with a photographer and go to the Pentagon.’ I remember my heart beating wildly because I didn’t know anybody, and nobody really knew who I was, either. We jumped in a car. We tried to get to the Pentagon, but we didn’t make it because the roads were too jammed up.
We ended up in downtown D.C., where we got out and we were interviewing people, and I remember everybody looking up at the sky because everybody was wondering whether another plane was going to hit somewhere. It was scary, but as a reporter, when you get a chance to be a part of a big story, there’s a certain amount of exhilaration. It was also really hard because we were telling people’s stories—people who had lost so much, people who lost daughters, wives, husbands, and that part of it was really hard.
I read that you knew you wanted to become a journalist in third grade. What led to your interest in journalism at such a young age?
My dad is a pediatrician, and he used to appear on the “Ask the Doctors” segment on the noon news on the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis. The news anchor who used to interview him was the first black news anchor in the state of Indiana, and I was in awe of what she was doing. Just watching her, I was inspired and I thought, Wow, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be just like Barbara Boyd. She got to talk and ask questions and tell the news and share people’s stories. For me, as a child, that was fascinating.
Are there any stories you have covered that have been particularly memorable for you?
9/11 of course. The sniper. I remember the morning that the youngest victim was hit outside of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie. We were one of the first crews on the scene, and as a mom you think, Wow, that could have been my kid. So you make that emotional connection to it. I remember when we went to war [in Iraq]—I remember working crazy hours and being at the Pentagon.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. I had blown off my mammograms until my mom was diagnosed and it changed my perspective on it. She was part of a story that we did on breast cancer awareness—I went and did a mammogram on camera and got to interview my mom. We helped educate people who were scared to do it.
What was it like to go through that on TV?
It was challenging because I had a photographer and people in a room with me, and [there] I was with no clothes on. I knew that it would be put together tastefully to be on TV, but it was a very raw, personal experience that I shared with our viewers. Once it aired, I was thrilled with the feedback we got. In fact, earlier this week I had a woman send me a message on Facebook to tell me that her cancer came back but she was still fighting, and she appreciated the story that we put together. And I was stunned to hear how many other women had also blown off their mammograms just because they’re busy. So for me, it was worth it.
Do you ever get home for dinner?
Sometimes I do. We parent the ways we can. Sometimes it’s in person, other times it’s connecting via FaceTime. At least twice a week—although more recently it’s been more like once a week—I will get home in between shows. But my kids are busy with their sports in the evening, too, so half the time if I get there, no one [will] be there anyway. But I do try to get home, especially Friday, when everybody is there.
How do you balance your personal life, motherhood and a career?
That is the mystery that I don’t think anyone has fully solved. There are days when I FaceTime and my youngest will say, ‘I wish you were here,’ and it’s hard. There are days that I have gone home and my youngest will say, ‘Mommy, I don’t want you to go back to work,’ and that’s hard. But I think that the time that I’m physically there to spend time with them, as long as we’re doing something [that is] quality time, that’s great. That’s what I try to focus on, and not think about me not being there. We play basketball. I play football with my youngest one. Frequently, right before I’m supposed to get ready for work in the summer, we’ll throw footballs outside.
Weekends, for me, are really important because that’s when I get to have family time with them, and Sunday evenings, like Sunday dinner, are big for me. I cook dinner and usually we have a family activity afterward, where they either suck me into playing a video game with them or we will play Monopoly as a family. Or sometimes we go places. We go to Topgolf [in Alexandria, Virginia], and we like to do active stuff like that.
Do your children watch you on the news?
The youngest one isn’t really allowed to watch the news just because, in general, I find it a little negative. My middle child probably does not, and my oldest child definitely does not.
You have said that journalism is black and white, while art is more of a creative outlet. Do you think journalism and art complement each other, or are they different?
I think they’re different. I don’t think news is as black and white as it used to be, but it’s black and white. We’re supposed to look at the facts. For me, art is my opinion all the time. In TV news, every now and then we can give a little opinion. In art, it’s all my opinion. It’s colorful. That’s not to say news isn’t creative because certainly there’s a lot of creativity and thought that goes into the shows that we produce and air every day. But it’s different. There are certain guidelines that we need to follow. This is the difference: News, basically you stay in [the] lines. With art, you can color outside of the lines. I never liked it when teachers said, ‘Color in the lines.’ I don’t believe that’s what you should do when it comes to art.
When did you start painting?
From the first day someone put something in my hand when I was a kid. My parents always encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do. I used to love art, entering art contests. It was just another one of those creative outlets for me as a child. It didn’t turn into something more until probably the last eight years. I used to create pieces that I love because I couldn’t afford the things that I saw sometimes in galleries. So my own art was on the walls of my home. A friend of a friend was visiting our house and she said, ‘Who did this?’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s mine.’ And she said, ‘You paint?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘You should show,’ and I said, ‘Oh, noooo,’ …And she said, ‘I have a show every year. I would love for you to be one of our artists.’ The first year I did it, I received positive responses. The second year I did it, I received positive responses and got a client. It just morphed from there.
Did you ever win any of those art contests as a child?
I did—I won second place or something. It was a watercolor painting. It’s a train on a train track. I think I was in third or fourth grade. I think [my artwork was on] the cover of the yearbook one year, and the cover of the school newspaper.
You create contemporary abstract art. How would you describe it?
I’m not a realist. If you wanted me to go draw a picture of you, I couldn’t. You’d look like a stick person. Abstract is more me. I’m not a trained artist. I won’t even say self-taught. Whatever I love, that’s what I do, and [I] am always stunned when someone else likes it, too.
Yancy often uses acrylic paint on an acrylic, wood or canvas base. Shown here are several of her pieces. To see more of her work, visit shawnyancy.com.
Where do you find inspiration for your art?
In everything. It could be a bad day, it could be a great day. The beach, my children, things that make me happy, just life. I’m inspired by laying in the bed and seeing the sun rise, or walking down the street and seeing a bicycle. I was in New Orleans last weekend, outside of an historic opera house where my brother got married, and I got an idea in my head. I sketched out something on a little piece of paper and stuck it back in my purse.
How do you decide what to paint?
Frequently when I get off [work] and go home, I will get in the zone and I’m in my space and I just paint what’s in my brain. I can be sitting somewhere and it comes to me, and I’ll try to sketch out something and take notes, and I need to go home and start it.
What is it about art that fascinates you?
It’s the place where I can completely get lost in my own world and express myself. Art is my passion. I love it. I’m learning, and hope to enter more shows. I always say, ‘Art is life,’ and I do believe in coloring outside the lines. I have a big issue with art teachers that give kids bad grades. Unless the art assignment was to draw a square and put a circle in it, I don’t see how you can put a grade on art. I think it’s very subjective.
Did you ever take art classes?
Not since high school. I’d love to take some art classes because there are some things that I would love to learn—how to draw people, certain techniques that I don’t know. My art is just things that I love or know how to do. I was blessed to have a trained artist who lives next door to me, so he has given me some guidance. I appreciate that because I’m still very new to this.
When you’re anchoring, do you ever have a moment when you can’t get your words out or you make a mistake?
Sure. If it’s a funny moment or a funny story, I have laughed so hard that I couldn’t talk. I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve cried, and I kind of give eye contact to whoever is sitting next to me—Tony Perkins—and we just kind of know, because we have this rapport. Sometimes you laugh it off. There are other times when you stumble because we’re human beings. Sometimes I say, ‘It’s live TV,’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ I do remember a very funny time once when there was a story about men doing naked hot yoga, and Laura Evans was anchoring with me. We were laughing so hard at the story that when we came [back on the air], we just couldn’t get the words out. It was an unexpected story.
What happens during commercial breaks?
We talk, we laugh. Tony Perkins and I are actually very theatrical. We sing. We make up our own songs. We do this social media thing on Facebook called “Facebook Mentions.” We have live conversations, and our viewers can interact with us right then and there. We use those commercial breaks to sometimes listen to the producer, because if we have breaking news, that’s the time period where they say, ‘Hey, look, this is what’s coming up. We’ve got changes. We have to do this.’ I love breaking news. I don’t like what we’re talking about—the tragedy or what’s going on as a result of it—but I love being able to go off script and share with our viewers what’s going on, to use our skills as journalists, to use our eyes, to just describe what’s happening. That happens at least once a week.
Do you get emails from viewers about what you’re wearing?
I get emails about clothing, hair and makeup. I try to respond. Sometimes I share where I get the outfits from; other times I’ve [just] had things forever. I’m a bargain hunter, so I find things at bargain stores just like everybody else. I try to keep a calendar to mark down what I wear so I don’t repeat an outfit for at least 30 days. I used to be really good at it. I’m not as great as I used to be, but that’s my goal. I have a paper calendar on the wall next to my closet. I write it down and I’m like, ‘OK, red blazer, black pants; red dress with white stripes.’ So that way I know exactly when I wore it and I can go back and count.
We do our own makeup and do our own hair. I always say, ‘If it looks crazy, it’s my fault. And if I have a bad hair day, it’s my fault.’
You seem to have a good rapport on air with Tony Perkins. How did you develop that relationship?
Tony worked mornings for many, many years, and then he came to nights. I’d been on nights for many years and we just clicked. I’ve had people ask if Tony Perkins and I were married. I think that goes to show you [that] people think that our chemistry works well. We laugh together on camera and off camera.
You said your goal was to be a journalist in a large television market. Do you feel you have achieved your career goal?
I don’t ever want to say that I’ve achieved all I can achieve because I don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I don’t know what God has in store for me next. But I am blessed to be exactly where I am right now.
Yoyogi Sushi in Gaithersburg; Clyde’s in Chevy Chase for chicken wings; Timpano in Rockville for mussels and martinis
Places to See Art in the D.C. Area
The Phillips Collection and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Place to Buy Art Supplies
Plaza Artist Materials & Picture Framing in Bethesda and Rockville
Photo from istock
On Her Nightstand
Maura Kelly Lannan is a former reporter for the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and other publications. She lives in Potomac with her husband and three children.