by Leslie Barker
What media executive Stacia Philips Deshishku has done in the 29 years since graduating from Meadows School of the Arts would make most people’s heads spin.
As a producer at CNN and CBS, and most recently as deputy bureau chief at ABC News in Washington, D.C., she’s covered plenty of headline-heavy national events, such as presidential campaigns and the pope’s visit to the United States. She’s told stories from the thick of unexpected situations around the world, including being one of the first journalists at Columbine High School after the mass shooting in 1999.
Watching CNN cover the fall of the Berlin Wall first whet her appetite for a career of adrenaline rushes. “It made me think, ‘How could I be in front of breaking news?’” Stacia says. “I wanted to be someplace that’s not a studio. I wanted to be a live producer. Producers are bossy. They’re like me.”
She was in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and again, a month later, for Hurricane Rita. “Everyone was leaving and we were going in. There were seven lanes of traffic coming out; one in. That was all I wanted to do.”
Back when she started SMU, though, journalism wasn’t even an afterthought. She planned to major in political science, what she saw as the first step to becoming the first woman president. But the unexpected happened.
Stacia hated her first poli sci class. She decided she’d drop out of college. Her mother, however, didn’t exactly agree with that decision, and strongly encouraged her to undergo career evaluation at SMU’s Counseling and Testing Center.
“We’re going to suggest what we think could be your major,” counselors told her. “Take one class and if you don’t like it, you can drop out.”
The major? Journalism. The first class? A writing class with then-senior lecturer Kathy LaTour (now an author and motivational speaker.)
“Kathy LaTour changed my life,” Stacia says. “We are still friends. I’ve never looked back, never thought for one day I shouldn’t be doing this, all because of that woman. She was such a tough professor. After that, I was bound and determined that this is what I wanted to do. It’s amazing I took that one class, that I met that woman who challenged me in a way nobody had.”
She earned a degree in religious studies as well as in broadcast journalism. A week after graduation in 1990, she headed back east to work for CBS on 60 Minutes, where she’d had an internship her junior year as part of a semester she spent at American University.
Two years later, CNN offered Stacia a job.
She moved to Dallas in 1996, then to Atlanta in 1998 to run the political desk for the 2000 presidential election. During this time, she traveled to Macedonia to visit a friend who was covering the refugee crisis caused by the war in Kosovo. There, she fell in love – with the country and also with her interpreter, whom she later married. She left CNN in 2001, moved to Kosovo with her husband and took a post with the United Nations. In 2004 she rejoined CNN and moved back to Dallas. By now the family included two sons. Stacia and their father divorced, but live four blocks apart and share custody of the boys, who are now 15 and 17.
From Dallas, Stacia moved back to Atlanta in 2006 and then to Washington, D.C., in 2011. In 2014, she became deputy bureau chief for ABC News in Washington.
Every day in the news business is different, but one thing has never wavered: her passion for storytelling. That word is peppered throughout her conversation, especially when she talks about up-and-coming journalists.
“Study something you love,” she encourages them. “What’s your passion? Your passion is what you’ll do stories on. What stories do you want to tell? We’re looking for somebody who has a passion for storytelling.”
At Meadows, she says, “Almost everybody is a storyteller, probably a good writer. It isn’t about the degrees; it’s about your passion.”
She cherishes her time at Meadows for planting dreams in her, and for every aspect of what the school offered.
“Some of my favorite classes were not my journalism classes,” she says. “How crazy is this? I took ceramics. I have all over my house the bowls I was able to throw. That was a wonderful outlet for me.”
She also took acting classes that “have served me well. When we have to address large crowds, I use some of those techniques about centering myself, about becoming a character.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, heading home to Kensington, Maryland, on the train from New York, she reflected on the happenstance of her career journey.
“If my mother had let me come home … if I’d never met Kathy … if I’d never been to American University … if I’d never had an internship at 60 Minutes … who knows what would have happened?”
Photo: ABC NEWS – Stacia Deshishku, Deputy Bureau Chief (ABC/Randy Sager)