At top-rated WGN Morning News, Lauren Jiggetts enjoys ‘freedom to be myself’

Lauren Jiggetts

Long before Lauren Jiggetts joined WGN-Channel 9 to anchor its top-rated morning news show, she already qualified as one of “Chicago’s Very Own.”

As the daughter of Dan Jiggetts, former Chicago Bears offensive tackle and one of the founding fathers of sports/talk WSCR 670-AM, she grew up in north suburban Long Grove and began making a name for herself at Stevenson High School.

Even then she was one to watch.

Jiggetts interned at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 and the former CLTV before graduating cum laude with a degree in sociology from Harvard University, her father’s alma mater.

TV news jobs in Los Angeles and Boston led her back home in 2007 when she joined NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 as a general assignment reporter. She later moved up to weekend news anchor.

Lauren Jiggetts and Dan Jiggetts

After 10 years at NBC 5, Tribune Broadcasting came calling with an offer to co-anchor the 4-to-6 a.m. hours of WGN Morning News — the Monday-through-Friday ratings juggernaut that redefined local morning TV.

Without missing a beat, Jiggetts joined co-anchor Dan Ponce, scion of another prominent Chicago media family.

Jiggetts, 40, and her husband, Pat Donovan, a private investor, live with their two sons on the North Side.

During a rare break in her day, Jiggetts shared a few thoughts on working with her WGN colleagues, a fateful decision at Stevenson High School, and the future of the Jiggetts media dynasty:

Q. Another huge ratings victory for WGN Morning News, I see. Doesn’t all that success ever get boring?

A. My goodness, no! When you get up at 2 a.m. every morning, it somewhat justifies the hours! But there is the expectation that we will do this in perpetuity. The team knows I’m obsessed with ratings and it feels good to know there are folks that like what we are doing.

Q. I have to tell you, Lauren, that from the beginning, you fit in so well at WGN it seems like you’ve been there a lot longer than five years.

A. I think I felt a certain freedom to be myself. [Former WGN news director] Jen Lyons sat me down early on and said she didn’t want me imitating anyone else, just to be myself. And that means embracing my eccentricities. Dan [Ponce] and I joke that we are probably the most awkward team in town, but we embrace it. What you see on TV is who we really are.

Q. Other than the terrible hours and lack of sleep, what’s the toughest part of the job?

A. Dealing with massive egos: Wink Winkle, Greg the Vampire and Sharkman.

No, I think it’s being an independent station. We don’t have a massive network to rely on during national and international news. I think that’s made us more resourceful and put more pressure on the anchors to be informed on news around the world.

Q. You and Dan Ponce are referred to as the “B-Team” — along with Marcus Leshock, Sarah Jindra and Morgan Kolkmeyer. Does that mean you guys have to try harder?

A. I think we have to work harder for viewers . . . ha! The A-Team [led by Larry Potash and Robin Baumgarten] has worked so hard to establish an incredibly loyal audience — and that doesn’t happen overnight. We had to find a footing and develop chemistry and think we have found that. Also, we work holidays . . . ha!

Q. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve had to do on the show?

A. It was all my fault. I did an imitation of a dolphin and it comes up almost every time we talk about marine life. In the grand scheme of WGN Morning News, I suppose it could be a lot worse.

Q. What’s the best advice your father gave you about the business?

A. I watched my dad go through a lot at The Score. He has always been true to who he is. He’s taught me to know my worth and never underestimate myself. I think I had doubts as to whether I would succeed at a weekday anchoring job, but my family never did.

Lauren Jiggetts

Q. How important was the broadcast journalism program at Stevenson High School in shaping your career?

A. It became pretty clear early on that I was not destined to play college basketball. I quit my senior year so that I could be a news anchor for “Alive on Stevenson Drive.” One of the best decisions. I was very shy and was the type that tried to fake a sickness on public speaking days. It helped me come out of my shell.

Q. Wouldn’t you love your kids to see Long Grove the way it was when you were growing up?

A. I loved growing up in Long Grove. Obviously, the pandemic has hurt so many local businesses and Long Grove wasn’t immune to that. I’ve taken my kids to Chatterbox and Enzo & Lucia for meals and they’ve really enjoyed it. They also attempted to tear down the lovely holiday decorations, but we didn’t hit the Covered Bridge so I call it a success. We will be back!

Q. What do you think you’d be doing now if you hadn’t pursued journalism?

A. I’m fascinated by diplomatic relations. I could see myself working for the State Department in some capacity. I wouldn’t be Antony Blinken. I’d want to be the one doing the research for him.

Q. Can we expect a third generation to continue the Jiggetts media dynasty in Chicago?

A. I’m going to work my hardest to ensure it ends with me. Just kidding. It’s an honor to do this job, to tell people’s stories and work in this city. I want to raise children who are informed and curious about the world around them. If that curiosity leads them to journalism, I’ll be the first one to read their articles or watch their first live shots.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Bob Jordan: I am deeply saddened by the death of Merri Dee. She was a vibrant, strong, determined, loving spirit who spread felicity and cheerfulness wherever she went. In the 50 years that I knew her I never saw a sour word come out of her mouth. After being shot twice in the head and crawling to safety, barely alive, she refused to whine or grumble. Instead, for the rest of her life she committed herself to helping others: An amazing woman!

Dan Ponce and Lauren Jiggetts