WJW-TV8 reporter and anchor
When the campaign trail brought her to Cleveland last year, NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell assumed the role of tour guide for her fellow journalists. It was easy. She was born here and raised in Euclid and University Heights, and she began her career in Cleveland at the then-CBS affiliate WJW-TV8.
O’Donnell, now 44, had wanted a network news job since her days on our city’s airwaves; she just didn’t know how to make it happen until a prison riot on Easter morning 1993 provided the way. After 450 inmates took over the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, O’Donnell was dispatched to cover the story. “It was happening at the same time as Waco, and a lot of networks had their resources [in Texas],” she recalls.
That meant O’Donnell appeared on air throughout the country as affiliates picked up her reports. She covered the story for two weeks — on two days worth of clothes. “That was my first lesson in how you always pack for more days than you can imagine,” she says.
Wardrobe issues or not, O’Donnell’s work was noticed. Within a year of the Lucasville riot, she was working as an NBC reporter. Since then, O’Donnell has covered the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial. She was embedded with the Third Infantry Division in Iraq in 2003 and was a White House correspondent from May 2005 to December 2007. The work she is the proudest of, however, is her coverage of the 2008 presidential election — her fourth since 1996 — during which she followed Republican candidate Sen. John McCain.
“We would ride his campaign bus squeezed in sitting right next to him, talking for a very long time about a variety of subjects,” O’Donnell says. “To be able to see candidates as people and to go through that journey with them, it’s just my favorite thing to do.”
Now, O’Donnell covers Capitol Hill for NBC, but much of the other big news these days comes from her personal life. “I am engaged to a man,” she says. “And I have known him for a long time. I’m very lucky to have him.” She will say only that his name is “David” and he works behind the cameras in the news business.
O’Donnell hasn’t set a date, but there’s a chance the wedding will be in Cleveland. She has family here, and the city still holds a place in her heart.
“I always enjoy going there,” she says. “I feel very connected to Cleveland.”