Hallie Jackson is fully immersed in her career as senior Washington correspondent for NBC News and completely invested in being the best mom and partner she can be. At 38, the Bucks County, PA, native is learning to manage each of those roles so she can do all the things that matter most without sacrificing her mental health.
A few days before one of the most white-knuckle moments of Hallie Jackson’s career, she came down with laryngitis. She was 8 ½ months pregnant with her daughter, Monroe, and elbow deep in debate prep with journalists from NBC News and Telemundo. She was preparing to co-moderate the ninth Democratic presidential debate, to be held February 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, and she could do little more than croak for 3 days. “I couldn’t opt out, and I didn’t want to opt out,” Jackson says. “It was one of the most intense professional experiences I’ve ever had. I did all my power poses and my meditations beforehand, but it’s a big moment—you don’t want to mess up.”
And, as Jackson tends to do in big moments, she found her voice when it counted. “I’m proud of that night because we asked good questions that helped illuminate answers for voters.”
Jackson’s career in journalism as a reporter and news anchor has been defined by taking on big stories and making hard news accessible to her audience. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2006, she became a reporter for local affiliate news stations before she was launched onto the national stage as a reporter for NBC News in 2014 and named chief White House correspondent in 2017. Today, Jackson is the anchor of Hallie Jackson NOW on NBC News NOW, covering everything from the January 6 Congressional hearings to mass shootings.
Jackson sat down with Real Woman to share how she balances being a parent with her career aspirations
and why she’s opening up about her mental health.
“Snack Bar Kid”
Although she works (and lives) in the high-stakes political environment of Washington, DC, Jackson grew up in the suburb of Lower Makefield, PA, riding the bus to middle school with her best friend from down the block, spending summers working at the snack bar at the township pool, and playing lacrosse in high school. “I had very little awareness of politics growing up. I was not a politics kid—I was a snack bar kid,” Jackson says.
She graduated from Pennsbury High School (where she recently became a Hall of Fame inductee) and went to Johns Hopkins without much clarity about what career path she wanted to pursue, but she found herself gravitating toward international affairs and the political science curriculum. “I recently found a binder that I made during my freshman year that was basically my 5-year-plan…Did I mention that I’m extremely type A?” Jackson says with a laugh. “There was a section for media jobs, one for the advertising industry, and one section for working on Capitol Hill. I even flirted with [the idea of] the intelligence community, working for the CIA or FBI. But ultimately, I was able to create my own path and find something I love that also had an accountability factor to it—truth to power and all that.”
Jackson joined NBC News as a reporter in 2014, and her first major role was as an embedded reporter with Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. In summer 2016, Jackson anchored MSNBC Live in the afternoon, and the network named her its chief White House correspondent in 2017. While she was covering the Trump White House, Jackson gave a talk on ethics in journalism at Duke University, in which she referenced advice she received from legendary anchor Tom Brokaw. He said, “‘there is a lot of noise. No matter what you’re covering, you’ve got to follow the facts.’ Doesn’t that sound dumb and obvious? But sometimes
My job can be very intense—you’re working on deadline on heavy topics—but I know what I need to do to keep my mental health in a good place.
“I was able to create my own path and find something I love that also has an accountability factor—truth to power and all that.”
Jackson and her romantic partner, NBC News producer and off-air reporter Frank Thorp, knew they wanted to have a baby, but their jobs presented challenges, including Jackson deciding whether she should travel to cover a meeting in North Korea between President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in 2019. At the time, the Zika virus was a concern as infection during pregnancy was causing birth defects and fetal brain defects for some pregnancies—and North Korea was a “Zika Zone.” Deciding whether to go on the work trip or wait to try to get pregnant was a source of concern. “I remember saying to a friend that this was the first of 100 million decision points [Frank and I] were going to have as parents balancing our professional careers,” Jackson says. “We ended up delaying, and I went on the trip to cover the summit. I did my job. But ultimately, we felt confident prioritizing our family and our child, and we do that now.”
Jackson and Thorp announced their pregnancy to the world via Instagram on November 17, 2019, with a picture of the two of them holding up a onesie alongside their dog Dawkins (named for her favorite Eagles player). Jackson was able to work throughout her pregnancy, including moderating that Democratic presidential debate.
Monroe, whom Jackson and Thorp call “Ro,” came into the world about 3 weeks early on March 9, 2020, at 5 pounds 9 ounces. While Jackson and Thorp’s world was changing, so was the world at large. “I was released from the hospital on the day that we found out Tom Hanks had Covid-19 and President Trump delivered that primetime Oval Office speech [about the pandemic]. So Ro was a pandemic baby in the truest sense,” Jackson explains. “Frank and I were in our newborn bubble while everyone else was in their pandemic bubble. It was a strange and scary time.”
When her maternity leave ended a few months later, Jackson had to quickly learn how to juggle the demands of being a new mom with performing at the top of her game covering the Trump White House and the presidential campaign. “I was so fortunate that there were many women who had come before me who had kids and offered me great advice. They would tell me, ‘This is how you pump in the basement of the White House, and here’s where you can pump on the way home from Walter Reed (which does happen). If you’re crying today, that’s okay, because you miss your baby, and we will get through it together,’” she recalls. “It is such a supportive community of women, and it made it so much easier for me to have a model to help me through new-mom challenges.”
Balls in the Air
Jackson launched Hallie Jackson Reports on MSNBC in September 2021 and Hallie Jackson NOW on the NBC News streaming service a few months later, but not before confronting a sense of overwhelm that so many working parents experience. Not only was Jackson mentally drained, but she felt a deep sense of shame around it, she says. “I remember being in a meeting with my boss and my HR representative, telling them that I literally could not do what I was being asked to do and that I needed to take a step back. I was unable to get through the conversation because I was on the verge of unhinged sobbing,” she recalls. “Going into that meeting, I had a single index card where I had written what I needed to say because I knew that it was going to be one of the hardest professional conversations I’d ever had. I was convinced that acknowledging that I couldn’t do what I was doing was going to hurt my career. But I did it anyway, because I knew the consequences to my health were just too intense.”
Although that conversation did not ultimately impact her career negatively, Jackson says it’s taken a great deal of personal introspection and therapy to confront her shame around her own very human limitations and to understand the importance of having a career and a life that she can sustain. “Do I still feel shame? I don’t, because I know the only way to get rid of the stigma [around mental health] is to talk about it. When I started opening up about it, many of my peers in the industry shared that they felt the same way, that they’d their own struggles and believed they couldn’t talk about it,” Jackson says. “My job can be very intense—you’re working on deadline on heavy topics—but I know what I need to do to keep my mental health in a good place.”
Jackson says she divides her life into the things she knows she can let go of, which she thinks of as plastic balls, and the more crucial components of her life, which she considers the glass balls. “Housework is a plastic ball. If you came into my house today, I have mail everywhere and laundry that’s not done, and that’s fine. I’m constantly thinking of all the things I’m juggling, and which are glass and which are plastic, so I know where my energy needs to be spent,” she says. “And that keeps me sane.”
Hallie Jackson Now
Hallie Jackson’s news show, Hallie Jackson NOW, expanded to 2 hours and now streams live from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the NBC streaming service NBC News NOW. On her show, her coverage spans national and international news, culture, sports, and technology.