Donna Pitman remembers having an insatiable curiosity as a child. She always wanted to know about people, who they were, what they did for a living and what they enjoyed about life.

Donna Pitman remembers having an insatiable curiosity as a child. She always wanted to know about people, who they were, what they did for a living and what they enjoyed about life.

She wanted to know their story.

“I remember I was 5 or 6 years old, and I walked into a grocery store with my mother,” Pitman said. “I looked at the grocery clerk and immediately started asking him questions like how long he worked there and who he was as a person. I asked so many questions when I was a kid.”

Independence native

Pitman grew up in Independence. An only child, her father died when she was only a baby.

“I grew up with my mom,” she said. “We have a very unique relationship because it was just the two of us. We are really close. She is my mom, my sister and my best friend.”

After attending Independence Christian School, which is now closed, she made her way over to the Fort Osage School District. As a sixth grader she attended Fort Osage Middle School. It was like two different worlds, Pitman said.

“It was definitely a hard transition because I was the only child. I had no brothers or sisters making that move with me, so it was difficult,” she said. “I think I had a good foundation from the private school. But when I moved, I had to be the new kid.”

Inquisitive as a child, Pitman knew she wanted to do something in journalism, whether producing, becoming a photographer or reporting. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “media centers” and broadcast studios within the school setting were rare.

“I think there might have been an audio visual club,” she said with a smile. “I always liked English, and I liked school, but there was nothing for kids interested in broadcasting. I am amazed even today how much programs have developed over the years.”

Pitman said even then, she knew what drew her to reporting and the media field – the people.

“I knew it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “I think it is because I love talking to people. My job is like a field trip every day. I get to go out and tell a story. That is what I love.”

Kris Ketz, Pitman’s co-anchor on KMBC-TV’s FirstNews, agreed that Pitman is drawn to people.

“She is dedicated to reporting,” he said. “I think that is her first true love – telling a good story.”

Graduating from Fort Osage High School in 1993, Pitman did not have a hard decision about college – the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Most of her family, who are from Kansas, did not attend MU. Because they had backgrounds in architecture, they attended another Big 12 school – Kansas State University.

“I knew as young as eighth grade that MU was where I wanted to go. It had the best journalism school,” she said. “There was no pressure from anyone else. My family was very supportive.”

Moving on

At MU, Pitman received some of her best training and education to gain a foothold in broadcast journalism. Once wanting to be a cameraperson and not a reporter, Pitman became a “one woman show” shooting and editing her own footage. She said as a petite woman, she would have to stand with her feet braced apart just to accommodate the large camera equipment and battery pack slung around her waist.

“I am glad I had that experience,” she said. “Starting out in some of the smaller markets, you really had to know how to use some of that stuff.”

After a brief stint on public radio and then working at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., Pitman spent more than two years at WHOI-TV in Peoria, Ill. There she got her first taste of the “real work” of journalism.

Driving to work the day after Easter in April 2000, Pitman received a message on her pager. She was to go to the McClugage Bridge. A scaffold holding five ironworkers had broken free, sending the men into the shallow waters of the Illinois River. The bottom of the river was full of silt, essentially forming quick sand when the men hit the bottom. Three of the workers drowned.

“I was a young reporter just starting out,” she said.

“I was seeing things happen. It shook me to the core.”

While shooting footage of the accident, Pitman said she remembers a single red hard hat surface on top of the water. She said the thoughts running through her mind were of the worker’s families, watching the story unfold on television.

“I knew then that I had a big responsibility to tell their stories,” she said. “I knew I had to get this right. I have never forgotten that experience.”

Returning home

Pitman loves Independence and the Kansas City area. Growing up, she remembers watching KMBC-TV every night with her mother. Her dream was always to return to Kansas City to work at the television station she loved as a child.

“Something big happens, you turned to Channel 9,” she said. “So I set a goal for myself. Having the opportunity to actually work at Channel 9 has been a real blessing.”

First a reporter and then the weekend anchor, Pitman worked her way through the ranks to finally become a co-anchor with Ketz on “FirstNews.” Looking back, she said her first six months and the Kansas City institution was “paralyzing.”

“Here I was working with the people that I grew up watching,” she said. “It was definitely a bit intimidating.”

Ketz said he has enjoyed his time working with Pitman at KMBC.

“She is as nice a person as you will find in this or any other newsroom,” he said. “She’s so much fun to work with on the desk for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is her quick wit.”

People are still what Pitman is attracted to as a reporter. She said she feels lucky to have the opportunity to work on stories, interviewing everyone from politicians and celebrities to everyday people.

“Now as an anchor, I get the chance to do different types of stories and really dig into the human element,” she said. “It is fun and a thrill to do this day to day.”

Coming back to Kansas City, something unexpected has emerged for Pitman. She said because she has been here for a while, she has now become a part of the community and has rediscovered the city she grew up in. A supporter of the Truman Presidential Library & Museum, she said she is often amazed at how many people do not know about the history of Independence and their own community.

“The Truman Library is a gem and the Independence Square has so much to offer,” she said. “You could live 40 minutes away and spend such a great weekend in Independence. This is a good town with great people and one of the reasons I came back to the Kansas City metro area.”