Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Donna Hamilton exit interview: The morning after her last night on air at WBAL

After 23 years, WBAL anchorwoman Donna Hamilton’s last night on the air was Wednesday. She talked to The Sun today about her feelings as she moves into retirement.

What was Wednesday like for you?

Lord, lord, lord, that was quite a day, wasn’t it?

What was one of the most pleasant surprises of the day?

Well, I scored some buzz headphones from the Ravens. That was nice ...

Buzz? Is that a brand?

Come on, Zurawik. You need some of these. They’re wireless and they’re noise cancelling. Once you get them you’ll never go back.

OK, I’ll try them. But, seriously, I think a lot of people who watched you every day will be missing you. Is there a way they can still connect with you in media?

I’ve restarted the blog, donna-hamilton.com. And, David, you’re more than welcome to sign up for this blog. I know it’s all you. But I really am excited about doing that. It’s just a nice way to stay in touch with people. And I’ve already started doing it. It’s exciting.

Are there other areas you are moving into as you leave TV?

Well, something else that has kept me busy for a couple of years: We have two holiday houses that we run in the mountains of North Carolina. So, that’s another job that we’re doing. We’re actually on our way down there now to have fun. But most of the time, they’re rented out.

It sounds like you had a good plan for retirement.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true, because I feel like everything that’s happened is serendipity. I’m not the best planner of things like that, but it’s all kind of fallen into place nicely.

It sounds like you have a lot of good things you are moving into, but what does it feel like the morning after you walk away from something you’ve been doing — and doing well — for the last 23 years?

Honestly, when I woke up this morning, I thought, “I won’t ever be going to work again.”

Yeah, and ...

And I would have to say it was a little bittersweet because, for the most part, I’ve been very happy there. I mean, no place is happy all the time. And no job is great all the time. And I love the people I was working with.

Last night when I logged out of my computer, I thought, “This is the last time I’ll ever do this.” And when I was walking out of the building, I stopped and looked around, and thought, “This is the last time I’ll ever do this little walk to my car.” You know, the last time syndrome: “I’ll never do this particular thing again.” It was a little sobering. It’s not really sad, but maybe bittersweet, I suppose. There was a little sadness. Yeah. You’re leaving something behind for sure.

That was a lot to co-anchor 5, 6 and 11 o’clock news five nights a week as you did. How long did you do that?

Probably something like seven to 10 years. I’m not sure. I’m terrible with years.

I thought the station gave you a nice sendoff. What were your thoughts?

You know, they really did. It really was nice. I was a little surprised. I don’t know what I expected. I knew there’d be a story about me and then they’d all say goodbye or whatever. But I didn’t expect all the surprises. That was completely unexpected.

I think a lot of people in Baltimore have connected with you over the years and you mean something to them.

I think the public does connect with people they see on TV. I’ve come to understand that you come into their homes every night, so they feel like they really know you. When I see somebody on the street, and they’re like, “Hey, Donna,” it takes a second for me to decide if I know them or they just see me on TV. And it feels like they know me, which is a real compliment. It really is. It’s very touching to me. You have a real relationship with those people, but in a very weird way.

I think Baltimore viewers saw a kind of genuineness in you.

I hope so. I always tried to present the news in a way and edit the stories I read to be able give some context to it, some meaning to it. And then it meant something to me, too. It was not just to them. It meant something to me, too, these things that happened. You’re still a person talking about a police officer who’s dead or something terrible that’s happened. You feel it just the same. And I didn’t want to hide that from people.

Well, there is a lot of emotion about you leaving and I think you should feel good about that.

A. I am happy about it. It’s very flattering, and it makes me feel very good about 23 years of work.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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