June 9, 2021

This story is part of a series. You can read other stories from Some Personal News here.

Elisa Berkowitz Gill’s final day on the job she held for 12 years was a blur. She didn’t want a cake or balloons. She wanted to leave quietly. 

Gill, an executive producer for special projects at CNN, kept busy by handing off projects she would no longer be able to work on.

“I was told I could leave early and I could do whatever, I didn’t have to come in — but I did have to come in,” she recalled of the last day in February 2020. “I did just want to tie up any loose ends.”

Gill’s Atlanta-based job at CNN was eliminated as part of a company reorganization. She said she knew it was coming because talks of this restructuring dated back from the end of 2019. The reorganization was not related to COVID-19.

While she struggled with knowing she would lose her job, Gill helped her team as they reapplied to their jobs. If she couldn’t save herself, she wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to stay and could still keep their jobs did so.

But her departure became too overwhelming for her, so on that last day, Gill tried to be discreet when leaving the newsroom. That’s when all the people on her team stood up and clapped. They helped walk her out.

“That’s really the only memory that I have of that last day,” she said. “Just that kindness of the team that I worked really closely with.”

***

At CNN, Gill’s team — known at the time as CNN Vision — was involved in sponsored, revenue-generated content. They worked on long-form and half-hour programming on a weekly basis that aired only on CNN International. Gill had counterparts in London, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, where the company has production hubs.

According to Gill’s LinkedIn profile, her responsibilities were extensive and included enhancing production and managing a multi-million dollar yearly budget. She was also the go-to person to manage high-profile talents like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Richard Quest.

“I loved working for CNN. I wouldn’t change anything about it,” she said. “It was the best job I ever had up until that point that it was over.”

In her years working in management, Gill had to talk to people about reorganization and counseled friends on the domestic side, where the former executive producer said it happened more often. But till that point, her team on the sponsored programming side hadn’t been touched.

“I have been lucky in the time that I’ve been in the business that it has never touched me, and I knew that. But the fact is, when it happens to you, it hurts incredibly,” she said. “I think what’s even harder is when you’re successful and you’re respected by your team, and your performance reviews are all stellar, and your boss only speaks highly of you and you know that you have her support … it’s incredibly hurtful and emotional.”

Gill thought of her livelihood and what would happen to her. She wondered, how could this happen?

***

Gill intended to take some time off while she figured out her next move. She had some trips planned with her husband for his work, which was something she couldn’t take advantage of before. She was going to give herself the month of March to decompress and reevaluate. She managed one visit to Florida to see family before travel lockdowns began due to the pandemic roaring through the United States.

“It really, really sidelined what I think may or may not have happened professionally,” she said.

So Gill got to work. She hired a professional resume writer. She did a lot of research and spoke to everyone she knew in and out of the business, including those who left CNN and found success. She created lists of what was important to her, what she liked about her previous job, and what she thought she was good at. “I looked at what I might want to do next and how to take my skills to the next level,” she said.

Gill wanted something different. She studied brands she loved and kept the information organized on an Excel sheet. She looked into corporate communications, marketing and public relations.

One day, a good friend who worked with Gill in television for decades asked her if she’d looked into Black News Channel. BNC is a Tallahassee, Florida-based independent network that provides 24/7 cable news programming specific to the Black community.

She knew they were hiring, but hadn’t really thought about it. It was a fleeting message that went in and out, Gill recalled. A few months later, though, that same friend suggested she talk to BNC President and CEO Princell Hair. Gill knew of him for many years in the industry.

“I think at that moment, I guess I was ready for it, or it resonated with me a little bit more,” she said.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Gill had a conversation with Hair and learned more about the vision of what he was trying to do. She thought about the opportunity to have a front-row seat at the table, in a position of leadership. Being pushed out of her comfort zone made the decision easy. Gill was later hired and is now the Senior Director of Strategic Planning and Content Development at BNC. As part of her new role — which she began in March — Gill looks at long-term planning for the network and parlays that into revenue-generating content. She works with sales, marketing and editorial to help develop content for sponsorships. 

It’s a different job from her previous ones. “But I think it takes my 25 years of television (experience) and all of the skills that I have into a new opportunity,” she said. 

In many ways, being able to stay in journalism has been a relief. She’s always loved news, and she wasn’t sure how she would feel being “out of the mix” and out of morning editorial meetings and the adrenaline of it all.

“I feel happy to have the opportunity to still learn and grow. A startup culture, compared to any other newsroom I’ve been in, is very different,” she said. “It’s a big challenge, and it’s a big role. And there’s just an excitement there and an energy there that’s different from any of my other experiences.”

And she can still rest on journalistic principles.

“It might be the best of both worlds.”

This story is part of a series, Some Personal News, that shares experiences of people who were laid off from their journalism jobs or left the news during the pandemic. We know thousands of people lost their jobs last year, and want to capture the stories of journalists, printing plant employees, ad sales people, news researchers and anyone else whose employment by newsrooms ended or was altered because of the pandemic. You can tell us your story here.

More from this series:

Baltimore Sun furloughs gave him time to rethink everything, including his job

This editor couldn’t afford to stay in journalism

Her newspaper closed. She kept reporting.

This new journalist found isolation, not her dream job

After a layoff, David Clinch isn’t done with journalism

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Amaris Castillo is a writing/research assistant for the NPR Public Editor and a contributor to Poynter.org. She’s also the creator of Bodega Stories and a…
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