Photo courtesy of KAY ENGLISH PHOTOGRAPHY
If you watch News 12 New Jersey, you’ve probably seen Marisa Brahney, a Scotch Plains mom, in action—at the anchor desk, on a Food & Fun shoot or talking to moms throughout the state for her weekly Mom’s Minute segment.
Brahney is a weekday anchor who's also known for her hard-hitting reporting. She co-produced and anchored a documentary special called Choices & Chances: New Jersey’s Heroin Epidemic, for which she won a 2015 New York Emmy Award. Brahney hosts and produces Mom’s Minute, a weekly segment showcasing topics, businesses and events of interest to NJ moms. Her Jersey Food & Fun segments feature some of the state’s most delicious eats and adventurous activities.
After working in TV news at stations throughout the country, Brahney was thrilled to return to NJ, her home state. Brahney grew up in Wall and spent many of her childhood days plopped in the sand on one of Monmouth County's beaches. Brahney is a mom to Kennedy, 2, Ashton, 8 months, and a daughter Charlotte, who passed away suddenly shortly after her birth in 2014. Ever since, Brahney and her husband have worked to reach out and support families who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
We asked Brahney about her work with those families, as well as her family, her work with News 12 and her favorite NJ spots.
When did you know you wanted to be an on-air reporter?
Truthfully, this was all I wanted to do for as long as I can remember! I think I was maybe 8 or 9. My parents have always been big news viewers, and we used to watch The TODAY Show when I was getting ready for school. I was always so fascinated with how the anchors and reporters got the chance to meet and talk with so many interesting people, and be in the mix of everything as it was happening. When I was in high school and college, I realized more fully what a privilege and responsibility it is to really be a witness to history and share people’s stories. It’s still what I love about my job—being able to help viewers see, hear and FEEL what’s happening as if they're right there with me. I was always the family narrator in all our home videos too…there are quite a few SUPER embarrassing ones of me giving the play by play of Christmases and other special occasions. So it was only a matter of time!
How did you get your start on TV?
In college, I helped launch our campus TV station and got the incredible opportunity to intern at Dateline as well as a local station in Baltimore, where I went to school. I made a resume tape and the summer after I graduated, sent out about 35 tapes to every small market station around the country that was hiring. Barely 22, I took the first on-air job I got, part-time, one-man-band reporting in snowy Binghamton, NY. It was 3 days a week for $9 an hour. I worked at Starbucks the rest of the week so I could pay my rent! Within a few months, I was full-time…but STILL worked at Starbucks some weekends (hey, a girl’s gotta eat!) I had an amazing experience learning the ropes of the TV news business there and met some of my best girlfriends.
You grew up in Wall in Monmouth County and worked at a number of stations before joining News12. What has it been like to be back in New Jersey?
It's been incredibly rewarding to cover my home state and report on stories, events and issues that directly affect so many friends and family. I have also learned SO much more about my home state since joining News 12 five years ago…it’s amazing how “big” this little state is and just how much it has to offer! Even growing up here and being back in the state for several years now, I’m still always discovering new “Jersey gems” as I like to call them. And I love sharing them with our viewers.
You juggle the demands of reporting and being on the air with raising two adorable boys with your husband. Can you tell us about your sons and what that juggle has been like?
My boys Kennedy (2) and Ashton (8 months) are the sweetest little lights of my life. They're both very happy, sociable little boys and make me laugh and love so, so hard every day. I'm so blessed to have them. Every mom has a juggle of some kind! It’s an adventure every day, and there are definitely lots of bumps, but like anything, I’m learning as I go. As a lifelong (and hopefully recovering) perfectionist, I’ve had to let go of expectations and the unnecessary pressure I put on myself. I’m my own harshest critic, which I fully admit is NOT always the way to be! My boys are early risers, my husband works overnights and my work schedule is demanding, so I find preparing as much as possible the night before, going to bed early and exercising when I can fit it in helps keep me sane, energized and feeling SOMEWHAT organized. Accepting help is key, too. I'm incredibly grateful for my husband, mom and nanny, as well as great neighbors and friends, who are always there in a pinch and understand the juggle!
Those who know and follow you on News 12 know you suffered the heartbreaking loss of your daughter Charlotte shortly after her birth in September of 2014. Ever since, you have done so much to honor her memory and support other moms who are parenting after loss. What helped you cope through this unimaginable loss?
Losing Charlotte completely changed me as a person. It was my first pregnancy, and completely healthy and normal. She was a week or so late, and after a normal, fast labor with no signs of distress, she wasn't breathing when she was born. She had aspirated meconium in the womb and despite doctors frantically trying to save her, they couldn’t. It was a shocking, traumatic and devastating way to begin my life as a mother. At first, my husband and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other each day, the best we knew how. I leaned heavily on family and friends, but even more so on other moms I found, mostly through social media, who had been through similar heartbreak. It's often called the club no one wants to be a part of, which is true in every sense. But talking with, crying with and now parenting with moms who understand has been invaluable to my coping with life after loss. I hope to offer that same support to others, whether they're in the throes of initial grief or trying to navigate parenting after loss, which I'm finding is filled with a lot of conflicting emotions and challenges. I never shy away from talking about Charlotte or my experience losing her, because it's such an integral part of my motherhood journey. I miss her every day, but feel her with me always. Your kids (ALL of them!) are what make you a mom, and she's still my child even if she's not here. With that said, I try to be careful about not letting her death overshadow my boys and the joy they bring me in any way. I just try to live my life in a way that I hope makes Charlotte proud of me as she watches down, and my boys proud of me as they watch me daily.
You're deeply involved in The Tears Foundation. Can you tell us about your work and its mission?
The New Jersey chapter of The TEARS Foundation is actually based in my hometown of Wall. When we lost Charlotte, within hours the chapter leaders reached out to me, knowing through my role on the news what happened. The organization is made up of families who themselves have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, who work tirelessly to raise awareness on how to best support families who are going through it. The TEARS Foundation also raises money for final expenses for families who face the unimaginable challenge of having to bury their beloved babies. One of our favorite days of the year is the annual TEARS Foundation Rock and Walk in Bradley Beach, where we remember Charlotte and raise money in her memory to support other families who share in our heartbreak. I’m fortunate to have my News 12 New Jersey family sponsoring the event and supporting the organization, along with many of our family members and friends.
PHOTO COURTESY OF Marisa Brahney
You’ve carved out a unique niche on News 12, and we love watching Moms Minute and Food & Fun. What do you love most about these segments?
Thank you so much! I have SO much fun doing both segments and get lots of great feedback about them from our viewers, which to me is the most important and the true litmus test. With Mom's Minute, I love finding and connecting with so many New Jersey moms who are doing amazing things. Whether it be running businesses, finding helpful products, places and tips or coming up with solutions for common challenges of motherhood, I love sharing those "wins" with our viewers and always love when they tell me how beneficial they find them! Food and Fun is right up my alley. I've always loved eating out and cooking, and did a fun cheap eats segment when I worked in Philly, so being able to now showcase some of the Garden State's yummiest stops is the BEST. This state sure knows how to eat well, and I'm always up for the task of giving our viewers a tasty tour!
Through Moms Minute, you've met some truly inspiring moms. What have you learned from them while doing this segment?
The moms I've interviewed and connected with through Mom's Minute truly blow me away. I've learned a lot about that "juggle" we discussed above, how it's different but the same, for every mom…if that makes sense. I think we can all learn from each other, even if we do things differently or have different circumstances. I've also learned how resourceful, resilient and truly HEROIC moms are with all they do for their kids, their career, their family and their community.
You're an avid foodie and home cook. What are some of your favorite kid-friendly or date night restaurants in NJ?
So many options, it's tough to choose! Some kid-friendly faves are good ol' neighborhood Italian spots like Ferarro's in Westfield or Federici's Pizza in Belmar. We also love River & Rail Cantina in Cranford, which has a great outdoor patio. We used to live in Hoboken and enjoy heading back there to Pilsner Haus or Pier 13 on a nice day. For a date night, we'll head to Summit to Fiorino, Ristorante da Benito in Union, Razza in Jersey City, any of the great new restaurants in Asbury Park or have a sushi date; Sumo in Wall is one of our favorites!
What are some of your favorite family-friendly spots in NJ?
Both my husband and I grew up at the shore, so we're definitely beach bums and spend most summer weekends there. We also love bringing the kids to Hoboken for the day to stroll along the waterfront, hit some playgrounds and have lunch. And we have some GREAT local parks in Union County; the splash pad at Ponderosa Park is so much fun!
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARISA BRahney
What for you is the #1 bucket list item every family in NJ should experience (whether it be food, fun, nature or all of the above)?
This is a toughie because the state really has so much to offer. I would say taking a trip (even if it’s for the day!) to LBI. I'm slightly biased since we're there so much (that's where my husband's from), but between the beaches, the family feel, the restaurants and those sunsets on the bay, it just has so much to offer families. Our 2-year-old has a ball at Fantasy Island and Thundering Surf with his cousins, and we love all the fresh seafood and beach days.