Over the past week, three major Denver television news personalities have departed from their respective gigs — and in each case, they jumped. Natalie Tysdal gave up her co-host seat on KWGN's popular Daybreak morning program to essentially start a personal digital network, while weathercaster Becky Ditchfield bid adieu to 9News for personal reasons that have everything to do with her family.
And Ryan Haarer? The high-profile 9News reporter/anchor left the post he's held on and off for around six years to dive into the booming world of Denver real estate, taking a position as an agent for the Keller Williams firm.
"'Crazy' is the perfect word for the market right now," Haarer says. "And that's exciting: scary to some, but exciting to me. It's the kind of work that keeps me on my toes, gives me a rush" — much as journalism did during the previous phase of his career.
Haarer's rise in TV news was rapid. He graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State in 2012, then worked at KVOA, the NBC affiliate in Tucson, for a couple of years before landing at 9News in Denver. After three years, he left the outlet to be with his girlfriend, fellow reporter Liz Kotalik, in Phoenix, where he freelanced for CBS's KPHO, but returned not long after when 9News positions opened up for both of them. Kotalik, to whom Haarer is engaged (the couple postponed their wedding in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis), is still a staffer at the station.
Notes Haarer: "Twenty-twenty was kind of a year of reflection for me. I'd been looking for a new path for a while, but I couldn't figure out what the new path was because I'm so attached to journalism."
However, he says, "I have a few friends who work in real estate, both on the contracting and the sales side, and conversations with them had always piqued my interest. It's probably been three years where I thought, 'That's a cool line of work.' But during the past year, when we were all spending more time at home, I started homing in on it, seeing if it was feasible." He eventually started taking real estate courses in the morning before his 9News shift started and joined Keller Williams a few weeks before splitting from the station. "I wasn't actually practicing," he says. "I was just trying to figure out which way was up."
Viewers may assume that reporters and anchors on TV are making a king's ransom, but that's not the case for most local talent. Back in 2019, when he announced his own exit plan (one that was followed by a return to the airwaves and then a controversial dismissal over a pointed tweet), former 9News weathercaster Marty Coniglio told us, "There are a lot of schoolteachers who are making more money than some on-air people here. That's the reality of the business."
For his part, Haarer confirms, "If you're asking if I want to increase my pay, I think every journalist would say they do. There are few people who work in the newsroom who are paid sky-high salaries. That's no secret. I was well-paid at 9News; I had no issues with my pay. But these are lean and tough times for a lot of journalism outlets, and TV is no exception as the industry looks to redefine itself and determine what the future will be."
Common misperceptions about reporters don't stop at "what they make," Haarer continues, "but about what they do. A lot of people I've come across think I sat down in a nice suit and tie and just read a teleprompter, when I was shooting and writing my own stories and butting up against hard deadlines every day. It's a really stressful and at times thankless job — and only a small percentage of people make those really big salaries. Many people below them aren't making a pretty penny."
Although more money can be had in real estate, particularly now, the competition is fierce. Haarer hopes that his familiarity will help give him a boost with potential buyers and sellers. "I think my work at 9News speaks for itself," he allows. "I hope I've established some rapport and trust in the community that will translate into this next chapter."
That's certainly the expectation of 9News president and CEO Mark Cornetta. "Ryan decided to leave 9News and is getting out of the business to pursue a career in the real estate industry," Cornetta states. "He has done an outstanding job for us. We would have loved to continue our relationship with him. We wish Ryan the very best on his new career. I am sure he will approach it with the same level of professionalism he did as a journalist, which is why I know he will be successful."
Right now, Haarer is focusing on residential real estate, and in recent days, he's been showing properties in the Centennial area. But he expects that he'll be covering the entire Front Range, and believes his journalistic training will come in handy. In both fields, he says, "you have to be an exceptional communicator, be able to keep calm under pressure and break down complicated processes, so clients feel comfortable about what may be the largest purchase of their life — particularly when homes are only staying on the market for a couple of days before they're snatched up by folks willing to pay exorbitant prices."
His top piece of advice to frustrated house hunters is to "be patient and make sure that whatever price point you're going after, it's less than you can pay — because you're probably going to be putting in an offer higher than the list price if you're serious about getting the home. But with interest rates where they're at now, it's a great time to borrow money. You just have to know where to look and who to work with, and make sure you're putting in the best offer possible."
In the meantime, he says, "Journalism is as important as it ever was: seeking truth, holding those in power accountable, helping the public understand what's happening in their community. That's tough to walk away from, and 9News is full of so many smart, thoughtful, talented people — not just the folks you see on TV, but the people behind the scenes. I'm going to miss them so much, but luckily, I'm not going anywhere. They can still buy me a goodbye beer when the pandemic breaks."
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