By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jul 15, 2008 at 5:42 AM Photography: Whitney Teska

Milwaukee sports reporter/anchor Jen Lada pushes herself rather hard. Maybe she has to -- at just 27, she's not only the youngest sports anchor in this market, she is also expected to cover a wide breadth of topics with just two colleagues.

But the Illinois native and Marquette graduate eats, sleeps and breathes the "youthful exuberance" of sports. Whether Lada is training for a triathlon or working on a feature with a local angle, she takes her job very seriously.

Lada, who is expecting her first child in the spring, approaches her job with humility. She also feels that she has plenty of room to grow in Milwaukee television. We caught up with her this summer in this latest Milwaukee Talks. Here we are on a Friday morning, and you're not at work. But I bet you'll be at the office much later than me tonight. You work some unconventional hours, don't you?

Jen Lada: There's really no consistency at all. I work whenever there's something going on. I try to schedule as many day shifts as possible because it's beneficial to my marriage -- but I don't really have that luxury. I have to anchor many evenings, which means being at the station from about 2:30 p.m. until about 11 p.m. My husband works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, and he coaches soccer in the evening -- so we're like passing ships. It works because he's extremely accommodating, and he knows that I love my job. It's what makes me tick.

OMC: Tell me the Jen Lada story.

JL: I'm the oldest of four, so I've always wanted to make mom and dad proud. I was an athlete in high school, I ran cross country and track. I went to state several years. My dad was a coach, and he was very hard on my sister and me. He always wanted us to achieve the highest level of success.

I'm from northern Illinois, and I lived my entire life there until I went to Marquette. A ton of our time was spent outdoors. We lived on the water, and we were always boating or biking or playing tag. I think my parents were really good about striking a balance for us. They really stressed academics, too. We were in the library after school, but then we came home and went outdoors. I think that's where my love of sports came from. It's the youthful exuberance of running around outside and getting grass stains -- and all those cool things you remember about being a kid -- and trying so hard to replicate when you get older.

At Marquette, I was a cheerleader for the basketball team, and that was so exciting. Basketball is the thing at Marquette, and it was incredible to be a part of a community that would come together several times a week.

My entire time there I was interested in journalism and broadcasting. At one point, I thought I'd go the PR route, so I switched majors, and I didn't like it all. I was in it for about three months, and I said, "Oops." I threw it into reverse and really started to dedicate myself to journalism. I did some internships along the way and tried to put together something that was worthwhile.

OMC: Is that where you honed your writing skills?

JL: I've been writing forever, since I was a kid. I remember winning an eighth grade writing contest. Mine was a horror story. I always enjoyed being eloquent with the English language.

OMC: How did you wind up at Channel 6?

JL: I was in Rockford, Ill. When I graduated from Marquette, I had a horrible resume tape. The thing about college resume tapes is that you need everyone to be on their game that night. And that didn't happen very often at a college television station. I was lucky enough that there was a position available at Preps Plus, a local high school sports show. Bob Brainerd was the head guy there. He was really honest with me. He said I was not ready yet, but would I be interested in coming on as an intern? I thought I was done with internships, but I did it for an entire school year, and it was so much fun. When I was done, I had a really good tape with a lot of energy that showed I really knew sports. I sent that tape off, got a bunch of job hits, and ended up in Rockford, which was close to home. I spent a couple years there and got a phone call from FOX 6 about an opening, asking if I'd be interested. I said, "Are you kidding? I'm very interested!"

I had a little bit of trouble getting out of the situation in Rockford, because I was under contract. But persistence paid off, and I came here in January of 2006.

OMC: That's quite a jump in market size, isn't it?

JL: I went from market 134 to 33, or something like that. But I didn't realize that people put so much emphasis on that.

OMC: What's it like to be back in Milwaukee as a working professional and not as a student?

JL: It's terrific, but I didn't really ever leave Milwaukee. When I was in Rockford, I lived here for a portion of the time, commuting back and forth. With gas prices now, that would be impossible.

I always loved this city. I love everything it offers. I love the lakefront, Jazz in the Park, the little restaurants and the idiosyncrasies of Milwaukee. It was really difficult upon leaving Marquette to really buy into Rockford. Sean, my husband, said, "This is ridiculous, commuting every day. Lets just move there." So we made the transition, but we were only there for a year. It was such a different scene to actually live in Rockford, but we had a great time while were there.

OMC: Which part of your job do you like better, the reporting or anchoring?

JL: That's a no-brainer for me. I love reporting, especially lately, because our management has put new emphasis on our coverage with local features. The challenge for us, from a departmental standpoint, is to find interesting features that appeal to not just your average sports fan, but to Milwaukee in general -- on a daily basis. We've done a very good job. I've done some stories about a local runner who picks up garbage while he runs. He's called the "eco runner." It got rave reviews from people who aren't even sports fans.

Reporting has always been more of my forte. I try to get better at anchoring every day. The opportunities don't present themselves as often as I would like, because Tim (Van Vooren) handles most of the earlies and Pip (Tom Pipines) handles most of the evenings. Whenever I can fill in, my goal for the day is to get better from the time before.

OMC: Tell me how sports coverage on local TV news is changing -- and has already changed.

JL: I think we've already seen a transition to it being more local on a nightly basis. We try to do the things that fans are talking about. Sports are a visual medium. As much as people can get scores on their Blackberries or iPhones, you can't see the amazing catch or see Ryan Braun sliding through left field to rob a base hit. As long as we keep our focus really narrow, and say, "This is what we need to deliver," we'll be OK.

Local features are still huge, and from a time standpoint, they take time away from other highlights. But they can be valuable features on people in the community who are doing amazing things. You'll never see those stories on the national sports highlight shows.

OMC: You have only three sports reporters at your station, yet your task is to cover everything. Compared to, say, a beat writer, is it hard to develop a rapport with individual players and coaches?

JL: It can be. The more access you have, the better relationship you're going to have. The challenge for us as television reporters is to try to exhaust all of your resources. If those beat reporters write something, it's our job to be familiar with it. We need to make sure that we're on top of our game and that we are aware of any information that's out there. That's why I'm checking blogs and six or seven Web sites every day. Everyone has a different vantage point. With Pip and Tim being in the market as long as they have, we have a really good balance of contacts.

OMC: Are those guys good mentors for you?

JL: They're tremendous, for different reasons. They both have been so successful and work so hard. I have been so lucky to work with them, they're such good people. That was a huge thing for me, when FOX 6 interviewed me. I felt like I was interviewing them, as well. They've been incredible in leading me down the right paths.

OMC: Some people within media circles have told me that they think you're too good for the Milwaukee market. Have you heard that? Is Milwaukee a stepping stone to another city?

JL: I'm extremely humbled and flattered to hear that.

OMC: Well, you might be the youngest sports anchor in the city.

JL: Probably, but I'm not as young as you think. I'm 27. I'm my worst critic. I'm really hard on myself, so I try to be as polished as possible. It's my goal to be as good as I can be. I never go out there and half-ass it.

I appreciate people who think I'm seasoned. I love Milwaukee, and to be able to have the type of career that Pip has had would be incredible, because he's so respected in this community. From a female perspective, it is a little more difficult. We're torn in so many different directions, particularly when you want to have a family.

OMC: And you are expecting your first child.

JL: The great thing about Milwaukee is that FOX 6 will be extremely accommodating. That's why I think Milwaukee will be a home to me for a while. We really have roots here. Starting over is very intimidating for anyone. I also don't feel like I've reached my full potential here. I'm not some person who says it's time to jump ship just because a contract expires.

OMC: So, if Chicago calls tomorrow, do you move?

JL: It's tough to say, because my priorities are changing. Two years ago, absolutely. For my parents to have the opportunity to see me on a nightly basis would be a dream come true. I'm not gonna win any fans with this, but I grew up following the Cubs and the Bulls. At this point in my life, I have to start looking at what best for (my husband) Sean and anyone else we might bring along.

OMC: OK, I hate to ask this question, but I have to. Is it harder to be a woman than a man in sports reporting? How do you overcome the challenges of the "good old boy" network?

JL: There certainly are challenges, and anyone who says there aren't is trying to pull the wool over their own eyes -- or someone else's eyes. You keep your professionalism as high as possible. You remember that you're doing a job and that it isn't a joyride or peep show. When I go into the locker room, I make a conscious effort to not go anywhere near where anyone would think I was being inappropriate. I think it isn't blatant, just being conscious. Have I experienced people that are inappropriate and rude? Absolutely, even here in Milwaukee. My goal is to rise above it. There are benefits to being a young lady in this business.

OMC: Can you get people to open up more easily?

JL: Certainly. While the majority of athletes we interview are male, we talk to female athletes, as well. You have an instant rapport with those athletes. When we go out and talk to local gymnasts, we are instantly in. I always feel like I rise to every challenge. I think people can see that my heart and my mind are in the right place, and that helps with the transition. People are more willing to let me in.

OMC: Is the version people see of you on TV a little bit of an alter ego?

JL: It's maybe a more polished and prettier version of me. I'm such a tomboy, for the most part. When I'm on television, I think my personality comes across. I'm very sarcastic. I don't try, that just comes out. I try to find humor in things. But for me, it's about being creative and telling stories in a different way. Every single station in town has the exact same highlights. The trick is making yours more interesting. Why would people want to watch yours? The creative writing, the humor, the sarcasm -- those are all reasons people tune into FOX6.

OMC: Who were your role models getting in the business?

JL: I try not to have singular role models, because I really believe that you can learn from everyone. You can take something from everyone you meet, especially in this business. My parents will always be role models, particularly my dad. He was a high school coach, and I hope that one day when I hang up my broadcasting microphone, I can influence kids the way he did. I don't think there's anything more rewarding.

OMC: Finally, tell me about the Bucks media game you played in this summer.

JL: I played last year, and I was the only girl. This year I was really happy that there was one other lady there. I think it's great when all of us come together and do something like this. I played all right. I'm quick, but I'm not that great with the ball. I did make one shot. Maybe next year I'll dabble with two.

Andy is the founder and co-owner of He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.