By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published May 09, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Until she arrived in Milwaukee, Shelby Croft was following the playbook for every up-and-coming television journalist. She jumped from market to market, position to position, ultimately serving as a main anchor in Salt Lake City.

But Croft knew there was something more in life than market size. She moved to Milwaukee in 2006 to get closer to home, to start a family. Already married, she had a daughter ... then she got divorced. A single mom with a high-profile TV job, Croft’s story is an interesting one.

Last week, we sat down with Croft over sushi for this latest Milwaukee Talks. Describe the winding path that brought you to Milwaukee.

Shelby Croft: I’ll give you the rundown. I started in Hastings, Nebraska, the smallest place on Earth. It was actually fun, because we were a bunch of transplants from big cities. Everyone was on their first job. I think it was market 107. I was there for a year. Then I moved to Columbia, S.C. It was decent; I was there for a couple of years. Then Toledo for three years. Phoenix, Salt Lake and here.

OMC: I’m assuming none of these places were where you wanted to live forever. Were you looking to improve with each move?

SC: I would say that, but the Milwaukee move was actually to settle down, but then, life happened.

OMC: Phoenix is a larger market than the rest, right?

SC: Yeah, I was a weekend anchor. I went to Salt Lake to be a main anchor.

OMC: But why Milwaukee? Is it because you’re originally from Michigan?

SC: I was near my parents, my sister, and eventually I had a kid here.

OMC: Then divorce, single mom ...

SC: Yes.

OMC: And your ex-husband doesn’t live in Wisconsin. What’s a day in your life like? It sounds hectic.

SC: It’s insane, because I have to juggle daycare with sitters and someday has to pick my daughter up and put her to bed at night. I teach yoga outside of this, which takes up time, as well.

OMC: Why do you do that?

SC: I love to teach yoga because it’s something that makes people feel good. My daily job doesn’t always make people feel good, but I leave that room and people are so happy it’s ridiculous.

OMC: Are people surprised that the person they watch on TV is teaching them yoga?

SC: Yeah, they think it’s pretty cool.

OMC: One of things that surprises me about Milwaukee’s media is that everyone hangs out together, regardless of where they work. Is Milwaukee different than other places?

SC: I’ve experienced friendly everywhere I’ve been. I think that’s the way news works – it’s such an incestuous business, everyone knows everyone, anyway. We all have crazy hours, so these are the people who can understand why we go out for a drink at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Not everyone can understand that.

OMC: Are you recognized in places you don’t want to be recognized?

SC: It’s pretty funny. I don’t wear a lot of makeup outside of work. I’ll sometimes get, "Are you Shelby Croft’s sister?" I get recognized more by my voice than my looks.

OMC: How has social media changed your job?

SC: Oh my God. We didn’t have the internet when I first started. People sometimes say that local news is a dying medium, so we have to keep up with social media, by being active in it, being a player instead of hating it.

OMC: What’s it like to be able to communicate with the people who watch you, and to have them be able to communicate with you?

SC: It’s interesting. You want the feedback, you want the connection, but I have my private Facebook page. There’s a certain amount that has to be private. I try to tweet funny things, as opposed to "Watch this story at 10." I would rather have people know who I really am.

OMC: Do you enjoy the reporting side or the anchoring side of your job better?

SC: I like both. I like to anchor, because I can give input on an entire show, but I also love to write and meet people and do the whole process of interviewing and developing a story.

OMC: Is local TV news to focused on fires and murders and weather?

SC: Sometimes, and I think that those aren’t the things that we should always cover. People probably don’t think it, but it’s a huge discussion as to what we cover every day. We really try to bring something different to the viewers, and I know people don’t see it that way. There’s a lot of pressure with social media and the Internet, because we have so many more competitors that we didn’t have when I first started.

OMC: Is TV what you wanted to do your whole life?

SC: No, I have a degree in interior design. That’s what I first went to college for at Bowling Green. I moved to Chicago right after school and had a job in that field. Four months in, I said this isn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to write, so I went back to school in Chicago and got my degree in journalism. While I was there, I just kept getting pushed into TV. I wanted to do sports, and I got a news job. That’s how I wound up here.

OMC: What’s next for you? Do you plan on staying in Milwaukee?

SC: I’m still not sure where life is going to take me. I honestly don’t. It’s a tough situation with my ex living in another city, moving my daughter around. I’m happy with my job, yes. I thought I would be doing something bigger at this point in my life, but I’m happy with it.

OMC: When did your priorities change?

SC: I admit that when I was in Phoenix, I hit my goal about where I was going to be. That was market 12. It was huge. But things change in life, and when I had a kid, things completely changed.

OMC: What do you like about Milwaukee?

SC: I like that there are a lot of good little spots, a lot of neighborhoods. I like Bay View, I love Tosa, where I live. It’s friendly here.

OMC: Are woman in news judged different than men in your industry?

SC: I think it is tougher to be a female, for a couple of reasons. There are a lot more of us out there in this business, trying to make it. There are a lot of us to choose from. Look at the nightly news. It’s always been men until Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer. That’s a hard thing to break through. We also need to be ourselves. I’ve definitely had news directors who’ve said, "Don’t wear that." Men wear a suit and a tie every day. We shouldn’t be looked down upon because we look good on TV.

OMC: Is TV news ageist toward women? Is it too caught up with looks? Is there an expiration date on how long women can anchor?

SC: I think it’s probably in the back of every one of our minds, but that’s part of our job. We are in a medium where you are in front of a camera, and I kind of don’t think that matters if you are a man or a woman.

OMC: Obviously, you’re still young, but you’re not the youngest person in the market, either. Does Milwaukee appreciate longevity?

SC: The Midwest likes comfort. It likes to see the same people it knows and are familiar with. In Phoenix, you absolutely had a different look, a different age and this constant revolving door.

OMC: You’ve been in Milwaukee for more than six years. That seems like a long time now. Lots of people arrive young and leave quickly.

SC: I think you can attribute a lot of that to the economy. When I first started, you couldn’t get a job if you didn’t have five years of experience. Now, they want the people with two or three years of experience. It’s completely changed around, and I’ve never been on the right side of it.

OMC: Milwaukee used to be a place where people aspired to be. Now, I’m not sure. You went the traditional route. Are you more prepared to be here because you did?

SC: It’s interesting to me to see because I did start at such a low level. I was shooting my own stuff. I was literally a one-man show. I was the only person in the newsroom on the weekends. I had to shoot, edit and write the stories, put the show together. Weather, I did it all.

I feel good about the base that I had. Let me put it this way: I can relate to every person in the building, because I’ve done it all. I don’t think a lot of people who come in nowadays have that kind of experience.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. 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.