Jim Shella: Kudos to Debby Knox and her long Indianapolis career

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Jim ShellaI’ve never been much of a fan boy when it comes to meeting famous people, even though I had plenty of opportunities. Everybody who works in the media does. I didn’t collect autographs and didn’t ask to be photographed with celebrities.

Having said that, I was walking out of the arena that hosted the GOP national convention in Philadelphia one night in 2000 and felt the urge to say hello to Tavis Smiley when I saw him standing in the parking lot. At the time, Smiley was the biggest name on PBS. I hosted a show for the local PBS affiliate. I also knew that he grew up in Kokomo. I didn’t know he was a WISH-TV Channel 8 viewer, but when I approached him, he had one question: “Is Debby with you?”

Of course, he was asking about Debby Knox. I told him to stand still because I knew she was not far behind me. Then I got to introduce Debby to Tavis Smiley.

Four years later, I was covering the Democratic National Convention in Boston and encountered Smiley in a Boston restaurant. He didn’t even say hello. He again blurted out, “Is Debby with you?” Sad to say, the answer this time was no. Smiley and I were finished.

The moral of the story is that Debby Knox was the face of WISH-TV at a time WISH had the dominant newscast in Indianapolis. She shared the anchor desk for a long time with Mike Ahern, known by some as “the franchise,” but I’ll argue that he would not have become “the franchise” if not for Debby.

Debby retired from WISH in 2013, then came out of retirement two years later to work for WTTV-TV Channel 4 when CBS took its affiliation away from WISH and gave it to WTTV. It was a brilliant move by the station now known as CBS4.

That’s because viewers confused by the affiliation switch could still identify Debby as the local face of the CBS affiliate.

I thought Debby’s comeback would be a short-lived experiment intended to get WTTV through a transition period. But she stayed on for eight years, until her retirement last month, working well past the normal retirement age.

Over the years, every station in town has tried—without success—to find an anchor who would match Debby’s skills and longevity. And I can tell you that it takes two hands to count the number of people in the newsroom who thought wrongly that they could displace her on the evening newscasts during her time at WISH. Being on top also makes you a target.

When she decided to go to back to work in 2015, some people at WISH were bitter and disappointed. They thought her move to the competition was an effort to kick us when we were down.

I, for one, never saw a problem with it. She was presented with an opportunity, much like a free-agent athlete, and took it.

I do have one beef with her. As I’ve listened to interviews conducted on the eve of her retirement, Debby has focused on the big-name people she interviewed and the travel she’s experienced. I think she should focus on the fact that she was there, doing the dirty work every day, for a long time.

Debby will now be celebrated with a Hall of Fame induction or two, and other honors earned without question. In a business where divas are common, Debby was a hard worker, dedicated to her craft, an example others should follow.•

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Shella hosted WFYI’s “Indiana Week in Review” for 25 years and covered Indiana politics for WISH-TV for more than three decades. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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