You may recognize Jenna Lee. After all, she spent seven years as a national news anchor at Fox News Channel. But after marrying a Navy SEAL and starting a family, Lee walked away from the lucrative and high-profile job in New York City to follow her passion and create something she felt was missing — smart, non-partisan news.
The news via “Happening Now”
Lee, a San Francisco native and graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, began her career with Fox just as it launched Fox Business Network. After three years covering financial and consumer news, she made the jump to Fox News Channel, anchoring the news program “Happening Now.”
“There was a feeling that there were certain parts of the day that the network committed to straight news, shows that were commentary free. I felt like that’s what we were doing at ‘Happening Now,’” she said.
However, that feeling began to change for Lee during her time at Fox.
“I sensed that the island I was on for straight, non-partisan news was shrinking.”
A whirlwind romance
During this time as a network anchor in New York, she met and began dating her now-husband, Lt. Cmdr. Leif Babin, a former Navy SEAL who continues to serve in the Navy Reserve. The two met at a star-studded benefit for the Navy SEAL Warrior Fund held at the Waldorf Astoria.
“I walked into the hotel, and everyone was in their service dress uniforms. I’d never been to an event like it before, and I remember it feeling intimidating,” Lee said.
She and Babin got to talking and decided to stay in touch, even though she was in New York and he was stationed in San Diego, California. Eventually, “staying in touch” led to a long-distance relationship, which turned into a significantly longer distance relationship when Babin deployed to Iraq for seven months.
“I hadn’t grown up around anyone who was active-duty military, so it was a brand-new world for me — from learning the acronyms to figuring out how to get on base, I realized how much I didn’t understand about military life.”
Lee said she and other journalists interviewed military figures and covered military-related stories regularly. However, to see military life up close was different.
“It gave me more of an understanding of just how strong military families have to be … It’s not just the deployments. It’s about the months leading up to those deployments, the months afterward, the stress of the what-ifs — it was eye-opening.”
New life in NYC
Lee and Babin married in 2011 and lived in New York City while adding three children to their family. As Lee’s contract was up for renewal, she faced a difficult choice.
“I loved my job, and I had worked really hard to get to a position that allowed me to broadcast before an international audience, but deep down, I knew I was at a critical crossroads,” Lee said.
She felt the network was moving further and further away from straight journalism and in the direction of more partisan commentary.
“I got into the journalism business to inform, not to provide commentary. I couldn’t fake that. It’s not who I am.”
A big decision
After a decade working from Fox’s studios, Lee walked away.
“It was a scary decision. I made a choice not to re-sign my contract.”
As she thought about her next steps, Lee knew she still believed in journalism and its power to inform.
“Big things are happening, and information makes us feel smarter and more in control. The public needs to have places where they can go to get the facts, the basics about what is going on in the world.”
She started thinking about what people really need from the news.
“I knew that in order for news to be consumed in a more healthy way, the way we deliver it had to change. The amount of multi-tasking you have to do as an American woman today is incredible.”
Lee says she had to figure out how to meet today’s audience where they are in their lives. “We’re so busy that finding time to read the newspaper every morning or watch the evening news every night is a serious challenge.”
Lee launched www.SmartHerNews.com in 2018. Between the website and Instagram, she’s developed a digital platform providing fact-based, non-partisan information about what’s happening in the world, quickly and concisely.
“You can get a smart snapshot of the day’s news while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, or while you’re waiting for your next meeting to begin,” Lee said.
Facts fuel SmartHer News and Lee prides herself on the platform’s commitment to unbiased news. And while walking away from a TV news giant was challenging, creating something new and different is what she was meant to do.
“We’re three years in, and our audience is growing, we’re launching a new website, it’s an exciting time for SmartHer News.”
Visit www.smarthernews.com to learn more about Jenna Lee’s efforts.