Because she's about as modest and unassuming as television personalities get, Denver7's Anne Trujillo isn't one to crow about her accomplishments. But she's quietly become a Mile High City icon owing to one of the longest runs at a single station in the market's history: 35 years and counting. In addition, she's served as lead anchor for the outlet's main weekday newscasts since 1999, a two-decades-plus stint that makes her the present local title holder in that category, too.
Nonetheless, much of the information online about Trujillo is hilariously inaccurate. For instance, multiple sites list her year of birth as 1976, just eight years before she was hired at the broadcaster officially known as KMGH — and while she got started in journalism early, she was definitely old enough to drive.
In the following conversation, Trujillo goes into more detail about her life than ever before. Along the way, she discuses her formative years, her unexpected entry into the world of television, an opportunity that proved you can go home again, the path that led her to her current role, the element she sees as the key to her professional longevity, a health challenge that endangered her career and lingers to this day, the medium's dicey diversity record and her personal love story, which, appropriately enough, started at the station.
Here's her story.
Westword: Tell me about your background.
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Anne Trujillo: I was born in Santa Fe. I had some very young parents who realized early on that there wasn't a whole lot happening in Santa Fe, so we moved to Southern California for my elementary-school years and then moved to Littleton my sixth-grade year. I went to East Elementary in Littleton, Euclid Junior High and Littleton High School. After that, I went to what was then Mesa College [in Grand Junction] for a year and finished up at CU Boulder.
I went to Mesa College, too. I was there from 1979 to 1983. When were you there?
I think it was 1980. My brother was also there. He was a baseball player, and that's how he was recruited to go to Mesa. He's two years older than I am; I also have a sister, and I'm the youngest of three. I had gone to visit him a few times and said, "That's a nice school. Let's try Mesa."
When did you first get interested in journalism?
I think, more than anything, I was always a reader, so I was always interested in the written word. Those were always my strengths: literature classes, English classes, anything that related to writing in general. My very first job was at the Littleton Independent. I was in middle school or high school, and I was sort of a go-fer. I didn't do anything related to working on the newspaper, but I was pretty fascinated by watching a small-town newspaper come together. When I was in college at CU, my mom worked at the Spanish-language radio station KBNO, and I used to do some part-time work there — not on the air, but behind the scenes, answering the phones and helping out. I studied journalism at CU Boulder, too. I declared myself a business major, but once I started taking journalism classes, I found myself wanting more.
How did you get interested in broadcasting?
I had not thought about broadcasting at that point. If you really think about those years, the early 1980s, there were really very few women on TV news, and at CU Boulder, there wasn't a TV news school. They just didn't have anything for broadcast journalism. It was exclusively for print and public relations. So I literally fell into my first TV job. There was a lot of on-the-job learning.
I was in the middle of my senior year at CU Boulder, and a friend of a friend told me about a job opportunity as a news anchor in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. It was not at all something that had crossed my mind. I hadn't thought about applying for any jobs at that point. But I applied for the job and they called me immediately. So my mom and I drove out to Scottsbluff. I thought, I'll try it and see how it works, and I fell in love with the business.
By the way, I went back and finished my degree at CU five years ago. Go, Buffs!
Most TV stations require applicants to submit a video of their work. Given that you didn't have any broadcasting background, did you have to cobble something together?
I absolutely had to cobble something together. I didn't really have anything to speak of. Someone I knew in the industry helped me put a tape together. I literally rewrote some stories that I had seen and put a résumé together and sent it off.
Now, keep in mind that in my business, Scottsbluff is a starter market. At that point in time, they probably didn't expect a whole lot from a résumé reel. I think they just wanted to make sure I looked okay on TV, that I could speak well enough, and that I could write a sentence.
Did you feel natural on camera right away?
Oh, I think it has taken me about thirty years to feel natural [laughs]. As I explained to you, I was a reader. Consequently, I am more of an observer and a listener rather than someone who is outspoken. I think that's where I found my niche in journalism. Our job is really to be observers and listeners — to take in information, then be able to put a story together. That's really how I've always operated.
How about the technical aspects of appearing on camera? Was that something else you had to learn on the job?
Absolutely. That's something we all have to work on. You can put anybody in front of a teleprompter and you can tell when they're reading. But if you're a working journalist and you've crafted the story and know it in and out, you're not just reading a story. You're literally explaining facts that you've confirmed yourself or know to be true. It becomes more of a fact-telling job rather than, "Here, I'm going to tell a story to you." It's something we all have to work on, and it's an important part of our job.
You don't want to deceive anyone about a story — and you really have to choose the right words and relay the right information in the right way in terms of presentation, especially right now. I think our jobs are harder than ever and more demanding than ever because we have so many mediums where we present information — not just on the air. With streaming such an important part of our industry right now, we're constantly working to present great content to all platforms — to Roku and Apple TV. And I think we've been a leader in the country, and not just in Colorado, for creating that content. People aren't just sitting around at five o'clock waiting for the news to come on TV anymore. They're getting news from every platform possible.
Back in Scottsbluff, were you a reporter as well as an anchor?
I did absolutely everything. There were literally two of us in the news department. I had to go out and shoot stories during the day — I was the reporter and the photographer. Then we'd put the story on at night when I anchored the newscast at five and ten. My co-anchor handled the weather duties and I handled the sports duties, and if one of us had to take a day off, the other one would have to do everything. That's a common story in our industry. When you start out, you have to do every job and find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then ideally, you move to a bigger market and use your skills.
I didn't know anyone in Scottsbluff, so I didn't feel the pressure of people I knew seeing me on TV for the first time, when I was so green and inexperienced. And they were very lovely people and very forgiving when I would mispronounce someone's name or someone's street. They're kind in those small towns because they're used to people coming in and out of the city and know they're not going to stay very long. And I would cover anything and everything.
How long were you in Scottsbluff?
I was there for six months, and then I went to Omaha. I was the mid-day anchor, so I was also an anchor/reporter there. I would produce and anchor the mid-day newscast and then go out and do a story for the evening newscast.
Omaha is a much bigger place than Scottsbluff. Did that put extra pressure on you, especially since you only had six months of experience at that point?
It's a very humbling business, and I always knew I had a lot to learn. There's always pressure in our business to get things right, to get stories right. Not only was I working hard to be a competitor in that market. I just knew I still had a lot to work on personally and professionally. So it was a great environment to be in. It was a bigger newsroom, so I was able to work with people who had more experience than I did — photographers who could shoot well and help me craft a news story. All around, it was a much better environment professionally.
Where did you go from there?
My next stop was KMGH. I always wanted to come home, and I'm still happy to be home at KMGH.
This was 1984?
It was 1984, and I was a general-assignment reporter. At that time, the TV station was going through a metamorphosis, so to speak. They were hiring, and [Denver7 reporter] Lance Hernandez and I were hired within a week of one another, and he and I still work together here. I was so happy to have the opportunity to come back home. My mom and dad worked here — my dad has since passed away — and my sister was here, so I wanted to come back to the community I knew and loved.
At what point did you transition into anchoring?
I was allowed to fill in as a morning-show anchor probably within about two years of working as a reporter. I was always asking to do more, so having the opportunity to be a fill-in anchor was great. I always felt like having both jobs, being a reporter and an anchor, was the best of both worlds, because you're able to go out and talk to people. Like right now, you can drive around and see where all the construction is happening, where all the developments are going, see things firsthand. I think it's ideal when you get to do both jobs. So I started out as a general-assignment reporter, but I eventually became a morning-show anchor and then also a weekend anchor before I became the evening-news anchor in 1999.
Over that twenty years, you've worked with so many co-anchors. Can you even remember everyone you've anchored with?
Of course. I co-anchored with Mitch Jelniker, with Ernie Bjorkman, with Mike Landess, and now, of course, with Shannon Ogden. I've worked with a lot of really strong journalists.
You've had the longest continuous run as an anchor of anyone currently on the air at a major Denver station — even through an ownership change [McGraw-Hill, whose name is referenced in KMGH's call letters, sold the outlet to E.W. Scripps in 2011]. How do you think you've been able to stick around for so long?
I think, first and foremost, that people watched me grow up on Denver7. Because I grew up in the Denver metro area, I already knew a lot of people here, and as a journalist and a reporter, I met so many more. I spent a lot of time listening and observing, and I believe that over time, people came to trust me. I think there's a trust factor that's allowed me to have a role at Denver7 all these years.
A lot of people have lost trust in media. How do you feel you've been able to keep hold of it?
I think that speaks to the 360 reporting we're doing now. People expect more from local news. They expect that we're going to present the truth. That's something I've always striven for — and we don't want to sugarcoat anything.
I've always viewed my job as putting information out there, almost like at a dinner party, where you put out a platter of food — so people can choose for themselves how they should feel about something, rather than me telling them how to feel about a topic or a person. It's not just about two sides anymore, where you just talk to an expert in the field. There are more than two sides to every story — and there's so much going on in our world. Local news has changed over the years, and people are so much more engaged. They want to hear more, and they want to know you're telling the truth.
Last year, we won an Edward R. Murrow award for our reporting — for the best local TV station in the entire country. And that was due in part to our 360 reporting, but also because of the leadership of [general manager] Dean Littleton and [news director] Holly Gauntt. They're among the smartest people I've ever worked with in the industry, and they've done a great job of asking people what they want from local TV.
What do you think people want from local TV?
They want facts. I think it's harder than ever to turn on the television and know who's telling the truth right now, because there are so many outlets that claim to be offering up news. And if you're a local TV station, the pressure is even more intense. We live here and we see these viewers. We see folks in the grocery store or the Avalanche game or at the Capitol. We see them and have to look them in the eye — so it's incumbent upon us to be able to deliver factual information.
When you've earned the trust of viewers, that's a valuable thing. And when they question us after we've said something or reported something they don't think is right, I'll respond. I'll answer calls and emails and talk it through. I think people respect that we'll talk it through.
You've also been very honest about experiencing hair loss. [In 2012, Trujillo announced that she was grappling with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune skin disease.] Was it a difficult decision to discuss that publicly?
I guess I would only say that everybody has some sort of medical issue they deal with on a daily basis, or have dealt with. You never know what anyone is going through on any given day, and I think that experience really helped me to become a more compassionate, caring person. At the same time, I think a lot of viewers can relate to dealing with a medical issue but still carrying on. We still have to live, we still have to do what we need to do to enjoy life. It's just something I get to deal with, and life goes on.
On a happier note, you met your husband [Mike Kalush] at the station.
I did. My first day on the job, I was assigned to follow around another crew, and at that time, it was Mike and Harry Smith, who now works for NBC. They worked together, and I hit it off with both of them. Harry at the time was dating Andrea Joyce, who later got married; she was also working here. And in no time at all, Mike and I were dating. I like to say he was chasing me around the newsroom, and he'll tell you the exact opposite [laughs]. But after he and I started dating, we'd hang out with Harry and Andrea all the time — and we're still friends with them to this day. And Mike and I have two wonderful grown children, Michael and Kira.
Beyond delivering the news, people in your business also have to deal with social media. What's your approach to it?
I think it's a very personal thing, because some people can handle more than others — and I've learned that less is better in a lot of cases. You sometimes have urges to want to be the first to tweet something out, and I've learned that we all have to be so much more discerning about where the information is coming from. I love the ability to communicate with people on Twitter and Facebook, yet I've pulled away from it a little bit because I think it's hard for a lot of us to figure out which sources are legitimate sources. I like to look at a couple of sources first before I'll share information.
Some local anchors like Gary Shapiro over at 9News have had such negative experiences with trolls on social media that they've completely changed how they use it. Have you dealt with anything like that?
Truthfully, those kinds of people don't bother me. I know there are trolls out there, and there are some I choose to ignore. I think it's just because I'm seasoned. I've had some experiences over the years I've learned from — and I've developed pretty thick skin. I don't go inviting conversations that trolls jump on, but if they do, I ignore them.
You mentioned earlier that most people don't treat the evening news as appointment viewing anymore — and critics argue that local news broadcasts are becoming less relevant. Do you feel that? Or do you think they have as much impact as they ever did?
I think it's just as much impact, but in different ways. I think that more than ever, people rely on local news to give them a perspective on stories they wouldn't get any other place. You can watch CNN or Fox News all day, but you still won't really get a grasp of what's happening in Colorado — and that's what we do best. I think it's still a very exciting time in the TV news business, because we're experiencing huge growth on the streaming side, and that's not going away.
I think people still crave information about their community. How we deliver that has changed, but the appetite is still there, and it's stronger than ever. I believe we are going above and beyond to meet that demand. We've worked really hard to break through to provide multi-platform opportunities, so that when people want the news, they can get it when it's convenient to them, not when we tell them to.
In recent years, Denver7 hasn't been among the ratings leaders locally. Does that ever concern you? Or do you just focus on doing your job?
It's not something I worry about. Again, I know that we're relaying content on multiple platforms, so it's not just about the newscast any longer. It's about all of our platforms. And truthfully, the ratings of old — that system is more and more going away, because people realize it's not a true measure of what a local TV station can do. But I anchor the five, six and ten p.m. newscasts, and I take them as seriously as I ever have. It's important to a lot of our viewers. They still count on us, so that's absolutely important.
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I also have the opportunity to do a weekly show called Politics Unplugged [it airs Sundays at 4 p.m.], and that's been a great outlet for me. It's given me an opportunity to share voices that don't often get heard. We really strive to have diversity — not just ethnic diversity, but diversity in age and representation from all of Colorado — in that broadcast. It's been really fun for me and really productive for the community, too. People know if they have a project they're working on, we'll talk about it on Politics Unplugged. There's nothing we won't talk about.
Truthfully, I've never worked harder in this industry, in part because I work on a couple of boards. I work with the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which helps Denver high school students apply to college and find scholarships. Many of them are first in their families to go to college. And I also serve on the board of There With Care, which provides thoughtful assistance to families with children who are in medical crisis. I love these two organizations and the people behind them.
I'm also on the advisory counsel to CU Boulder in its journalism department, and I'm part of the Colorado group for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I've always pushed for diversity in our newsroom. News departments haven't done a very good job around the country of reflecting their audiences, so I think that's helped. My managers know I'm committed to making this a newsroom that's a stronger, smarter place.
What's next for you? Where do you want to be in the future?
Right here. I've been here for over 35 years. This is my career and this is my home. This is where I want to be.