re you on television?” Dale Cressman blurted out to the attractive young woman approaching the library door he was holding open. It was an August morning in 1987. Cressman had just returned to BYU as a graduate student after working for two years as a news producer in Indiana. He had developed an eye for recognizing talent, and he told the woman, “You really need to be a broadcaster.”
Jane Clayson Johnson, unmarried and known to friends as Janie, followed Cressman to the Harris Fine Arts Center where he opened the KBYU studios and gave her a tour.
“I always loved writing and crafting stories,” Johnson says, “But the experience of seeing that newsroom—the editing equipment, the cameras and students actually doing the work—it really solidified my love of news.”
I knew I was interested in news and writing. Being on television was never a goal, never something I intended. It’s something that just happened.
Cressman, now a professor and associate director of the BYU School of Communications, knew by her intellect, her voice and the way she carried herself that she was what the industry considered “the whole package.” He had seen what it took to be successful and respected and knew Johnson could be both. He was delighted when she changed her major.
Tom Griffiths, former associate dean, remembers Johnson as an intelligent and diligent student.
“She was bright, very smart,” Griffiths says. “She was a good researcher and a very good writer. She had a good voice, both the way she spoke and how she told a story. It takes a bit of special talent to pull both off well.”
National Prominence & Priorities
The next few years would take Johnson through BYU’s broadcast journalism program, to KSL-TV in Salt Lake City as a reporter and anchor, then to ABC Network News as a correspondent and eventually as co-host of The Early Show on CBS alongside Bryant Gumbel in New York.
She shocked the news world when, after receiving an offer to return to ABC News, she retired to marry Mark Johnson and raise a family in Boston.
Memories of BYU
She still fondly remembers getting her start at BYU.
“What KBYU offered was a microcosm of the real world,” Johnson says. “We were actually doing the work that journalists in any major city newsroom would be doing, with state of the art equipment. And our professors had real experience in the field. It was quite exceptional.”
Cressman agrees that BYU offers the hands-on training other universities lack. He also believes that BYU often attracts students with excellent skills.
“The quality of students we get coming into our program are well-informed, smart, teachable,” Cressman says. “They’ve been used to speaking in church, may of them since the time they were young. They are articulate and know how to present themselves.”
Like her fellow BYU journalism majors, Johnson brought to her career not only her strong natural abilities, but also the values of BYU. She says she always considered herself a representative of BYU and the Church.
“Most people I interacted with in the news business had never known a Mormon before,” Johnson says. “So it was a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to be an example and to help people understand the principles of our faith. That was a real honor for me.”
Over the years, Johnson mentored many young interns who came through the news bureaus where she worked. She still offers advice to BYU students just getting started. But mostly, Johnson spends her time taking care of her family, driving her children to school, activities and music lessons. She is still very fond of her experience at BYU and hopes others will benefit. She laughs, as she observes how different her life is today than what it once was, but also quickly adds that she wouldn’t change it.
“My path in life certainly was not what I had planned,” Johnson shares. “But it was a remarkable journey. As a journalist, you’re a witness of history, and as a member of the Church, you’re a witness of Christ,” she shares. “Those two things don’t have to be separate. As you do your job, be an example of good that may not always exist around you.”