Good Morning Cleveland co-anchor, 28
Jackie Fernandez stands under the Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream marquee in Ohio City, which today hawks pumpkin spice and caramel apple flavors, while she waits to hear, "Action!"
It's an unusually warm and sunny fall day, and she's sweltering in a black wool peacoat over a cream blouse and pink eyelet skirt, accented by 3-inch blue suede heels. It's hard to tell she's sweating: Fernandez is doing little more than glistening under her perfectly applied makeup — an hourlong affair that starts at 2:30 a.m. every weekday — and head of glossy soft black curls.
Today Fernandez — the newest anchor on NewsChannel 5's Good Morning Cleveland team — is filming a promo spot scheduled to air during fall and winter sweeps weeks, when her winter coat will seem far more appropriate. She's trailed by a two-man production team led by Eric Swinderman and her friend and NewsChannel 5 meteorologist Somara Theodore, snapping photos for Fernandez's blog.
Swinderman coaches her to walk "Sunday in New York casual"-style past Ohio City's Tabletop Board Game Cafe, Elegansia Fashion Shop and Joy Machines Bike Shop. At these and other spots throughout the neighborhood, Fernandez periodically stops to unleash her bright smile on the camera and deliver lines like, "The city's energy is undeniable!" and "I carry that energy with me every morning!"
It's high praise coming from the native New Yorker who was raised in Los Angeles.
"When I came to Cleveland first in March, walking around downtown, it felt very similar to LA," Fernandez says. "When people heard that I wanted to come to Cleveland, they were shocked. [I said], 'You don't know what it's like.' "
Before joining NewsChannel 5 in July, she co-anchored WFMY News 2's The Good Morning Show in Greensboro, North Carolina, for three years. It was there that she got her most meaningful assignment, covering author Maya Angelou's 2014 funeral in Winston-Salem.
In 2008, while still an undergrad at Hunter College, she also covered the Democratic National Convention in Denver for New American Media, a online network of ethnic news organizations. She earned her journalism chops through internships at CNN, New York One and Anderson Cooper 360, while keeping up a grueling schedule of three 10-hour days interning, two full days of classes and Saturdays waiting tables.
"I was broke as hell, surviving on $25 a week in New York. I would get a loaf of bread and have to make it last the whole week," Fernandez says. "You don't see that. [People think,] Oh, she just sits in an anchor chair all day. It's like, No, this took a lot of work and a lot of rejection."
Yet, by 22, Fernandez was on the air with ABC's World News Now, where she covered entertainment and reviewed movies.
Now 28, she has all the screen presence and composure of a much more experienced anchor, paired with a self-deprecating sense of humor.
Between shots, she jokes about what some consider her ambiguous racial heritage.
"A guy calls me and leaves a message: 'My friend thinks you're Mexican, and I think you're Filipino,' " she says. " 'Can you call me back? It's very important.' "
She did call him back: Her father is Filipino and her mother is Chinese, but with a surname like Fernandez, she gets the Hispanic thing a lot. "The Spaniards conquered the Philippines, so that's why Fernandez," she explains.
As a kid, her nickname was "taba," the Filipino word for fat, while her younger sister was called "payat," or skinny. Fernandez has long lost the chubbiness of her youth, but she says she still faces criticism because of her appearance and ethnicity.
"People have been telling me my whole life this isn't what I should be doing," she says. "I don't have the typical credentials, I didn't go to an elite school, I don't have the right look or my name is like this or whatever. I've done it on the merits of continuing to be myself."
Even her parents — who immigrated to the U.S. before Fernandez was born — weren't on board with her career choice in the early days. "My mom would print out articles about how journalism is a dead career," she says. "They believe in it now. 'Go all the way!' they say."
In addition to her job at NewsChannel 5, Fernandez is also starting a blog at jackiefern.com and a YouTube channel that she's targeting as a safe space for young professionals and especially young women.
"I want to spin [my experiences] into some positivity," she says. "I've done this, and you can do it too."
Cleveland wasn't even on her radar when she started looking for jobs last year, she says. But when she got a call from NewsChannel 5 news director Jeff Harris, she agreed to audition. Just a day later, Fernandez got a job offer.
"He said, 'Cleveland is the place for you to be right now. What I see going on for you and your career, we can do that together here in Cleveland,' " she recalls. "I felt so inspired by [his conviction] that I said yes."
Fernandez also saw it as an opportunity to enhance her hard-news expertise. "Part of the reason I wanted to come here was to learn from my news director how to be super-investigative, how to tell stories in a different way," she says.
As any good journalist should, she did her research in preparing to move here. She read about a half-dozen books about the city, including Lost Cleveland, Cleveland: A Concise History and the assorted works by Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto.
She hasn't been here long, but she's starting to collect her own favorites in town such as the bone broth from TownHall and organic cold-pressed juices from Restore Cold Pressed.
Fernandez calls herself a karaoke master but still hasn't ventured into the Northeast Ohio's karaoke scene. She's planning to get more involved in the Asian-American community here, but in the meanwhile is making Filipino friends one by one.
"Every time I see a Filipino, I say, 'Kamusta kana?' which is 'How are you?' in Filipino. Then we are friends," she says. "Insta-friends."
Back in Ohio City, Fernandez heads into the West Side Market. It's not even noon, but she's already 10 hours into her day.
She stops at Steve's Gyros, where she asks Tammy Vasdekis behind the counter to get an overflowing gyro ready for her while she delivers her next line. Swinderman sets up a sweeping shot from the stand's sign down to Fernandez, who steps to the counter, takes the sandwich from Vasdekis and delivers, "And we can't forget about the food!"
After she's done, she steps behind the counter for a hug for Vasdekis. With everyone she meets along the way, Fernandez displays the same big smile and effusiveness as she does on camera.
"I've come into this city with a new vigor that new people have when they come here," she says. "Coming from big cities, I so appreciate the energy and attitude here. I want to showcase that to my friends in Los Angeles and New York — you don't know what you're missing here."