Amanda Jaeger. (Photo by Jamison Mosley)

 

By Dustin Jayroe

 

Over the years, it’s become fairly typical for people to think of news personalities as celebrities. As journalists, they may not think it themselves, but it’s a natural phenomenon that’s bound to happen when one is on television with so many eyes watching. Figures of the past like Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, as well as of the present in Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper and Lester Holt are often as well-known as literal movie stars. 

 

The same is true at the local level; if you saw an Arkansas news personality at the grocery store, admit it, you’d gush. For Amanda Jaeger, like her colleagues around the state, it’s commonplace to be recognized on the streets of where you call home. She’s the morning and noon anchor for KTHV-Channel 11, a part of the everyday routines for the CBS affiliate’s viewership in Central Arkansas. But unlike her colleagues, Jaeger’s impression stretches much further than the THV11 viewing range. She’s not just a luminary for her work in television; she’s a social media icon. Among Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, Jaeger has more than 1 million followers from across the world. 

 

Such notoriety and attention might be overwhelming for some, but not Jaeger. She’s been confident and comfortable on the big stage since she was a little small-town girl in Missouri.

 

“As a child, I always had this very deep, boisterous voice that I still have to this day,” she says. “Even when I was 6 or 7 years old, people were like, ‘That girl is going to grow up and be on the news.’ And I was obsessed with the news. I was one of those weird little kids who just watched the news all the time.”

 

Via karaoke machine, Jaeger would regularly deliver the news to her family and dogs in their living room and to neighbors from her back deck, evoking her childhood hero, Beth Malicky, a news anchor for KOMU-Channel 8 in Columbia, Missouri, at the time. When Jaeger was 8 years old, she was blessed to meet Malicky, a moment that remains one of her fondest memories.  

 

“It was just my passion,” she says of the news.

 

Even still, it wasn’t always part of her career plan. As she got older, more and more naysaying chatter made its way to her ears, influencing her away from the thing she loved. 

 

Mitchell and Amanda Jaeger. (Courtesy)

 

“To be honest, a lot of people kind of discourage people from pursuing careers in journalism, because they say, ‘You’re never going to make any money,’ and, ‘It’s really hard to grow in the career,’” she says. “Unfortunately, I listened to the negative parts and took a different direction [at first].” 

 

By the time college came around, Jaeger planted her flag of studies in political science and communications, for another passion of hers growing up was current events. After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Central Missouri, she set off for Kansas University to pursue a graduate degree in political science, with an aim to become a professor in the field. But that plan would also become upended — by pageantry. 

 

As Jaeger recalls, she’s always loved pageants but didn’t always feel like she could fit in that scene. 

 

“I did not want to compete in pageants, but my mom was very into pageants when she was younger, and I enjoyed watching them. We always watched Miss America together,” she says. “[But] when I was little, I was this very, very chunky … little girl that my mom put in pageants, and I would always walk away first runner-up. And they’d say, ‘She has a phenomenal interview,’ but I didn’t have ‘the look.’ Let’s just say that. And so throughout my life, my mom always wanted me to do it. … But then by the time I was in college, I realized how much scholarship money you could win. And so my mom said, ‘Just do it — you can sing, you know you can talk, just go try it.’”

 

With both eyes on a potential scholarship for college, Jaeger entered her local hometown pageant as a young adult, and won — but, more importantly, she had a blast. She’d go on to compete at Miss Missouri for the next three years, hoping to win and make it to Miss America, but came up a little short each time. After earning her bachelor’s and moving to Kansas for grad school, she seamlessly transitioned into that state’s pageant scene, taking no time to make her mark on her new home. In her first year competing, she won Miss Kansas 2014. 

 

Her whole life, she had watched from afar with an envious eye the Miss America pageant; now, she was in it herself. She didn’t win, but she was honored with the next best thing in her mind: Jaeger was named a top Quality of Life finalist for her dedication to service — a subject that continues to be at the heart of her life today. 

 

“That was honestly a goal of mine: If I wasn’t going to win Miss America, I at least wanted to be able to get my service message out there,” Jaeger says, adding that she was named a finalist for the program she created called Find Your Strengths. “I shared my personal story about losing a family member to suicide, and about how women had empowered me throughout my life to persevere, even in my circumstances. And so the whole program that I created was helping women help and encourage other women — regardless of your backstory, what you’ve been through, it’s all about where you’re going. And the Associated Press actually picked up my story and shared it in an article that ended up going global, so I got to share my story with the world through that experience. That was worth everything to me and made it one of the best things I’ve ever been able to do. … It was a labor of love and growth, but I’m so glad I did it.”

 

Miss America also taught Jaeger what life in the limelight was like, preparing her well for her present-day stardom.

 

“I was one of the lucky, last ones who got to actually compete in Atlantic City,” she says. “So I got to experience the true Miss America experience. And it was crazy. I mean, every minute of your day you were doing something — cameras were on you, you’re going to press rooms. I had to have security just to go to the bathroom.” 

 

Ironically, it was through this new experience that Jaeger found her way back to her first love — news. She left Kansas University after one year for an opportunity at KWCH-Channel 12 in Wichita, Kansas. Quickly, the talent that she budded in her backyard with a plastic microphone began to show through. She began her career at the station as a traffic reporter and soon ascended the ranks to anchor the morning show. 

 

But as soon as she’d made a name for herself in Kansas — both as the “Miss” of the state and as an anchor of one of its most popular local shows — she was off and running again for an opportunity in Little Rock. And just as all of her other path deviations centered around finding and pursuing loves of hers, so did this one. Although, it wasn’t a field of study or professional activity this time. It was a person. Mitchell Jaeger. Like most of the endeavors she’s chosen to pursue, he took some work. 

 

“I was Miss Kansas, and I walked into a Starbucks and looked the barista — the beautiful, blue-eyed barista — in the eyes, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, you have such beautiful eyes.’ And he goes, ‘Um, OK, what can I get you to drink?’ And that was how the love story began and ended at that point,” she recalls with a laugh. “But then, a couple months later, I wrote him a letter with a Bible verse on it and said, ‘I’d love to get coffee sometime, because I know that’s something you like.’ We ended up getting coffee the next day, dated for about three months, engaged, married five months later. And now my husband, Mitch, and I have been together for more than five years. … It’s like ‘Taylor, the Latte Boy’ by Kristin Chenoweth — I truly fell in love with the Starbucks barista.” 

 

Her latte boy brought her plenty of java and joy, but after graduating from Wichita State University, a growth opportunity with Starbucks presented itself to him in Little Rock. Fortunately, she found a gig in the capital city as well: an anchor for THV11. She joined the station in October 2016. 

 

Mitchell has since earned his master’s degree and moved into a different field, but the couple remains in Central Arkansas, immediately falling in love with the area after moving to town five years ago. 

 

But it wasn’t always a storybook saga for Jaeger in broadcast journalism. Disparaging social media comments remain on the original news articles from 2016 when “Miss Kansas” was announced to be joining THV11; people purporting that she’d “made it” only for her looks, or the typical stereotypes that “pageant girls” often endure. For that type of generalizing, Jaeger has worked to dispel the preconceived notions and feels like, as a whole, it’s worked. 

 

“There’s always going to be some negative comments, but by and large, the more I’ve been able to share all the experiences I’ve had, [I’ve tried to] put to rest these negative perceptions about what pageants are like, specifically because it’s really a scholarship organization now,” Jaeger explains. “And there have been a lot of changes in the Miss America organization to really reflect what our true values are. Honestly, since I’ve come to Arkansas … I feel more loved and supported by this community than I’ve ever felt in my life. One thing that I’m always passionate about is, I’m very relatable on social media — always very real and authentic. I go on with no makeup in pictures and videos and stuff like that. And so I think I’ve been able to kind of bust a lot of stereotypes that people might have initially had about me when I came to work here. And over the years, I’ve just been able to foster those relationships with people online, in person and in the community. And so I think it’s — hopefully — really changed some of their perceptions and stereotypes, and along the way I’ve made a lot of friends, too.”

 

Now, not only does she cover the news, but she’s become it in a lot of ways through that social media presence. As a newsperson and former Miss America contestant, Jaeger has long had a healthy following, numbering in the thousands, on all the major hubs. But in February 2020, she joined the blossoming platform of TikTok, a video-centric social media application. Her first few videos shared some behind-the-scenes fun at THV11 — Jaeger jumping in front of a green screen in slow motion and her pre-show makeup routine. In April, her account exploded after her seventh video went viral in classic internet fashion. 

 

In the 15-second clip, she thought it would be fun to address one of the most common questions that people ask her: “Does your voice really sound like that?” 

 

With that caption displayed and music playing in the background, Jaeger says in the video, “Breaking news: My voice sounds like this all the time. I literally can’t change it. Now for the next top story.” To date, the video has been watched nearly 2 million times, and it garnered her plenty of attention from the TikTok community, where her profile now has more than 1.3 million followers and her videos have received 35 million likes. 

 

“‘Maybe this is the perfect platform for me,’” she remembers thinking to herself at the time. “I can just be my goofy, fun self and give people kind of a unique, behind-the-scenes look at what I do and what the news industry is like. And so I just started creating videos like that.

 

“To this day, I’m so overwhelmed — no understanding of how that happened. But I guess there’s a perception that news people are unrelatable and are just a face and a figure behind a screen. But I think I’ve been able to show people that’s absolutely not true. And I guess they like it. So, I’m really thankful for that.”

 

Interestingly enough, Jaeger feels like her magnetic presence on TikTok and beyond has actually helped her image as a journalist, despite some of the doubts that some people can have about how things “look” on social media. 

 

“Sometimes people will say to me, ‘Be careful that you don’t show too much of your personal life or that you’re not too authentic, you just have to be careful on social media,’” she says. “So it’s been really challenging to find the balance of, ‘Look, no, I’m going to be myself and I’m going to do these fun videos, and that doesn’t undermine my professional credibility.’ It actually has improved that, because people feel like I’m a real person, and they can trust me now. They send me story ideas, and they’re telling me they’re watching. THV11 has been awesome because they’ve been so supportive of me just doing my thing and being super authentic, because they know at the end of the day, that’s what people really want.”

 

It’s also presented her with an opportunity not all journalists are lucky enough to have: Meeting people at their level, where they “hang out” online, and thus breaking down barriers in ways that previously seemed unattainable. 

 

“I’ve had thousands of people tell me that this is the type of stuff they want to see, that they feel like, ‘Oh, I can trust her because she’s real, she’s not faking it, so I want to go listen to what she has to say,’” Jaeger says. “It’s also about really understanding what platform you’re using. So for TikTok, I don’t do a lot of extremely newsy stuff. I do more personality, behind the scenes, Q&A things. And then I direct them to my Instagram and my Facebook where I do very hard news. I have a segment I created on Instagram and on Facebook called “Coffee Convos with Amanda,” where I delve deeply into a topic. And it’s usually, lately, coronavirus related or stimulus check related, where I teach people what’s going on and then allow them to interact and ask me questions.”

 

In Central Arkansas, we know Jaeger for her unbiased and entertaining skills as a journalist — from breaking news to her coverage of the local food scene through her Emmy-nominated segment “Eat It Up.” But if you really want to know her — to see the secrets of the trade (like that sometimes she wears pajama pants behind the desk) — she’s happy to share with you and millions of others on social media. And the fame hasn’t gone to her head; if anything, it’s made her even more charming and relatable. 

 

“I just really love where I’m at,” Jaeger says. “The state has been so incredible to me and my husband these last four and a half years, and I feel like we’re onto something really incredible on our morning show right now. I feel so good about this.”  

 

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