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She doesn’t preach to the choir

published: July 14th 2018
by: Merridee Wells
source: Southern Livestock Special Edition

 

To say that Courtenay DeHoff has a hidden agenda isn’t necessarily true, as she’ll be the first to share that her ranch background is a very important aspect of her past and continues to mold her future; her different background is what sets this Kansas-born cowgirl, turned TV anchorwoman apart. Yet at first glance no one would ever brand her as a former junior Angus member or all-around cowgirl, as she certainly seems comfortable in her fashionable outfit complete with 4-inch heels, while she works her magic as the host of Dallas’ Morning Dose TV, The CW Network’s nationally syndicated morning program.

         But “the difference,” which she readily admits embarrassed her some when she first got started in broadcast TV, is now a conversation starter. It is something she proudly talks about, since it’s such a large part of her resume and what makes her not just another pretty face among TV broadcasters.     

         “The cattle showing, rodeoing and junior Angus contests --all helped mold me into what I am today. We always hear folks say these activities help you build confidence, learn responsibility, make you a better communicator and become more competitive. All that is true. Each one of those traits has played a role in moving my career forward,” she stated. “And when I tell that to people I work with or start a conversation with someone in the television industry, my ranching background usually comes up. People are instantly interested. It’s intriguing and so different from their ‘norm’.”

         An ag communications major at Oklahoma State, Stillwater, DeHoff’s first job started when she, along with the rest of her classmates, took a “field trip” to the local television station. While on the tour, DeHoff approached station Executive Producer Rob McLendon about a possible internship.

         “Much of what we learn as ag comm students concentrates on writing and ad design, with a bulk of the graduates looking toward jobs with livestock publications, breed associations or ag-based ad agencies, not so much in broadcast. But when I started watching all that went on at the station, I just knew that is what I wanted to do,” she explained.

         McLendon must have seen the potential in DeHoff, as he offered her an intern position.

         “Rob was a great mentor, teaching me all aspects of broadcast journalism. He put me behind the camera, in the editing room, at the writing desk and in front of the camera. It was the best experience I could have had and really built my understanding of this industry from the ground up.,” she said.

         Following her internship, DeHoff admits to just staying on at the station.

         “They finally decided I needed to be paid for my work,” she laughs. “I just wouldn’t leave, so they hired me.”

         It was while working for the station DeHoff’s ag advocacy started to take shape. She was responsible for producing stories from concept to completion, which aired on RFD-TV and 17 PBS affiliates. Using extensive research DeHoff created stories based on science and technology, economic trends and global trade, environmental impacts, health advocacy and social change. Her success helped propel her from story development and production to full-time anchor and producer.

         What garnered her national attention was a viral piece she wrote, produced and filmed while at home for Christmas vacation called “Who’s Minding the Farm,” which was instrumental in helping overturn the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed agriculture child labor law.

         In 2012, DeHoff was in Nashville, Tenn., where she anchored the 5-hour live newscast and served as the sole reporter for the Market Day Report and Rural Evening News on Rural TV, a national news program broadcast to 60 million  homes nation-wide, across respective networks RFD- TV and Family  Net.

         “While there, I got a couple of really ‘sweet’ assignments which included producing Rural –TV and RFD-TV’s coverage of the 2012 Calgary Stampede and the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas,” she explained, saying both were familiar ground for her.

         DeHoff’s next opportunity came when she took a position as co-host and reporter for the Emmy nominated lifestyle show, Better Kansas City.  This put the Tonganoxie, Kansas native closer to her family and allowed her to feature her rancher roots, plus allowed her mother Cindy to appear as an irregular, regular on her program!

         “This was a fun program, not really heavy, but I was very proud of what I accomplished during my tenure at the station. In the two years, our Nielsen ratings more than doubled in the show’s target demography ages 25-54, consistently outperforming shows in the same time slot including such notables as NBC’s, ‘The Today Show,” she stated proudly.

         The broadcast bug had bitten DeHoff and in that world, market-share speaks the loudest, so her next move took her from the #31 Kansas City market, to Dallas, which is #4 nationally, and since her affiliate was syndicated it was also seen in #2 Chicago.

         A year ago, she was hired as a videographer to write and produce her own video clips to be viewed on The CW. Admittedly, DeHoff said some spots, which had agricultural overtones like learning to cook a good steak from one of the metroplex’s most celebrated chefs, Tim Love, was fun, but certainly not thought provoking…unless you were thinking of becoming a vegetarian. DeHoff knew that given time she would find a story that would really showcase her ag knowledge and could also help her audience of urban dwellers better understand how ranching is more about a way of life and less about a job. Plus convey that food production from the ranchers’ viewpoint has much more to do with preserving a lifestyle and providing a healthy, nutritious product and less about economic success.

         Then came the Kansas and Texas wildfires. In March of 2017, in the span of just a few days, these two states saw nearly a million acres burn, seven lives lost and hundreds of head of livestock burned. Families, many who DeHoff knew personally, lost homes, some that had been in their families, many generations. Their pastures, fences, feed, and livestock were gone. And sadly, not any of this was garnering national attention by any of the major networks.

         “I couldn’t believe it, but not one story was broadcast about these devastating fires,” DeHoff said. “So obviously I pitched it to my producers. But they turned it down. They didn’t see the implications this would have on future food supply and how it could possibly have an effect on their lives here in Dallas. It was frustrating and I wanted so much to draw attention to what these ranching families were going through and how it certainly would have an impact on food supply,” she said.

         “I gave it a lot of thought and realized that while I might not get to show this on a national television station, I still had a voice and the know-how to put out an educated message. I put together a short video using photos from other sources and put that out on Facebook,” she explained.

         As the saying goes…it went viral, with over 1.5 million views. And it got the attention of her network, who ultimately supported DeHoff’s story, including sending her to ranches in Texas who were sending loads of hay and supplies north as fast as they could.      

As with most things that happen to this talented young lady who isn’t afraid to “make” her own opportunities, during the wildfire crisis, she noted that one production company, Arable Media, was a cut above most other production companies. They handled their stories with superior professionalism and videography. Reaching out to their production team, she opened a door that would gain her the national media spotlight in a very unexpected way.

         “A few months ago, the people of Arable heard about a company looking for a moderator for a panel featuring an international group of ranchers. Without disclosing who the “client” was, or the format, they asked if I might be interested in the moderator’s job. Of course, without really knowing all that much about who and what I was moderating, I agreed,” she said.

         As it turned out the “company” was McDonalds and during their worldwide convention held in Orlando, Florida, that catered to franchisees, vendors, and other who work with, and support McDonalds, they wanted to host a panel discussion on beef sustainability. Three ranchers; one from New Zealand, one from Ireland and a female rancher from North Texas made up the panel, with DeHoff moderating.

         “Five minutes before we were scheduled to start there was only a handful of people in the audience,” DeHoff said. “I thought, oh boy, I guess we’ll be talking to each other. By the time we started, there was standing room only,” she said in amazement. “It was so gratifying to see how many people were interested in what these ranchers had to say. We were definitely not ‘preaching to the choir.’ These were international business people, store owners from around the world. Many of these people may have never even set foot in grass, let alone know the first thing about beef production, and they were giving their time and attention to our topic.”

         If she already didn’t know this, DeHoff said the McDonald’s experience really pointed to the fact that farmers and ranchers should never be afraid to tell their story.

         “We hear about the extremist and the radicals who would ban our way of life and who can’t be convinced that farmers and ranchers are the best environmentalists in the world, who love their livestock and are very aware of sustainability,” she said. “But the truth is the average American doesn’t know or understand, but they are interested, and if we can explain in a language they understand they will do their best to get it. Be patient, be kind, and even elementary, because when they ask if brown milk comes from a brown cow, they honestly don’t know.”

         What’s next for DeHoff? Time will only tell. And while I don’t have a crystal ball, it doesn’t take much to predict that this talented young lady, who I’ve personally known all her life has no limitations and that her career is only beginning. Move over Barbara Walters ‘cause this Kansas cowgirl is comin’ for you!

 

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