WTHR remembers reporter Jane Harrington-Smith

Jane Harrington-Smith
Published: .
Updated: .

WTHR Channel 13 is mourning the loss of a former news colleague.

Jane Harrington-Smith passed away Thursday night at home. Her husband Dave Smith says heart failure was the cause. She was 61 years old.

Jane was a reporter on the WTHR staff from the early 1980s to 1998. She was the lead reporter on the Mike Tyson trial in 1992 and was also part of the station's investigative team.

"Jane always had the knack for uncovering unusual stories. She shied away from official sound bites and always seemed to find the 'people' angle of any story. Jane would even call in stories long after she had left WTHR from contacts that she stayed in touch with," recalled Bob Weinzierl, chief photographer at WTHR.

Funeral arrangements will take place Wednesday, February 20. A calling will be held from 10:00 am to noon, with funeral services following at noon, at the Greater Grace Apostolic Church, 319 W Howard St. Muncie, IN. A burial will be held at Gardens of Memory Cemetery in Muncie.

"Jane was just a people person.  When she covered a story she would get to know the families of those involved.  Jane listened to what everyone had to say and showed them that she cared and that family or person was the most important person to her at that point. Jane worked her beat like few others whether it was health, Investigative or police beat.  She would get tips day and night.  People she didn't know would call and ask for Ms. Harrington," added Bob Weinzierl.

"I've never met anyone who understood people better than Jane, and by that I mean she could get to the heart and soul of any story.  She made us care because she cared.  Jane also had a knack for asking the questions that would get people to cry – not tears of anger or frustration, but tears of recognition that someone so deeply understood what was happening to them.  She was also ready with a hug – so much so, that she often joked that people "thought she was Oprah."  Reporters are often stigmatized as cold, uncaring people.  Jane was the opposite.  Kind, warm and never a stranger for very long. She made an impression on everyone she worked with and everyone she met. Reporting the news is not hard, but someone who can report the meaning behind the news is rare. Jane had a rare combination of compassion, humor and empathy. Our community is diminished with her passing," said anchor John Stehr.

Memorable stories

"She covered the entire Mike Tyson trial from beginning to his release; and was the only reporter I know of that ever got an interview with Desiree Washington.  We met Desiree and her lawyer on a Saturday morning in downtown Boston at his office.  She and Desiree quickly became friends and stayed in touch over the years. She also covered the life and ordeals that  Ryan White and his family faced," said Bob Weinzierl.

"Another  story that she owned was Zachary Snider's death.  Zach was an eight-year-old who was murdered by a neighbor in Cloverdale.  Jane became close to his family and followed the trial of Christopher Stephens who was eventually convicted of Zack's murder.  Eventually there was a law passed that is still called Zachary's Law that dealt with registering sex offenders.  Jane followed that from beginning to end."

"Jane was just a friendly, kind person that touched the lives of anyone she met or worked with.  She was tough when she needed to ask the hard questions or compassionate when situations were difficult."

Reporter Rich Van Wyk used to work alongside Jane in the newsroom. "Under the worst circumstances, Jane Harrington many times brought the best out of people," he recalled. "No story was too big or too small for her, whether it was breaking the Mike Tyson story or stories of everyday people we pass on the street who were caught in extraordinary circumstances." She was "a really caring person."

Investigative reporter Sandra Chapman recalled, "I had the distinct honor to see Jane Harrington in action out in the field. She was an established, trusted journalist in Indianapolis when I moved into the market back in the early 1990s. Jane's passion, energy and drive were always evident in her approach. Though we were competitors at the time, we shared a mutual respect for each other's work and spoke on occasion about ongoing stories after I was hired on with Channel 13. I will always appreciate Jane's contribution to our industry and for the trails she blazed. I know those whose lives were touched will always hold her memory dear."

"Jane was an incredible person. As a wife and mother she struggled through difficult health issues but was a kind, intelligent compassionate person. She was a top notch investigative reporter who never forgot her humanity. I always enjoyed spending time with her. She was funny, kind and an all-around wonderful lady," said meteorologist Chuck Lofton.

"Jane was a go-getter," said sports director Dave Calabro. "If something was happening in our community, you could count on Jane to have the inside scoop! She had a special way of connecting with people. She was very trustworthy. Jane never made the story about herself. She was the conduit for those who needed to be heard. May we all remember our roles as journalists. We will miss Jane and her laugh."

"I never had the privilege of personally meeting Jane, but I spoke with her by phone several times over the years. She welcomed me to Channel 13 when I joined the news team in fall of 1999. From time to time, she also left me voicemail messages with story ideas and sources. But most importantly, I thank her for the affirming, encouraging, and supportive words that always came my way when I needed to hear them the most. Her genuine kindness and care for others will be missed," said Andrea Morehead,anchor/reporter.

"After being recruited by WTHR and working several years as the Crimebeat reporter, I got my first telephone call on my cell from a lady who introduced herself to me simply as 'Jane Harrington.' She went on to explain she worked the Crimebeat for Channel 13 years ago and she started complimenting me on several of my stories. Jane obviously won me over right there and then. We talked for at least 30 minutes about being reporters and covering mostly bad stuff. Jane would call periodically after that and encourage me and even thank me for covering stories she believed were extremely important. Believe it or not, we were due for another phone conversation. I never got to meet Jane in person but it felt like we had at least had coffee together. Jane never said anything negative about covering crime as a reporter. She just kept saying how much she enjoyed meeting new people even under bad circumstances. My heart sank when I learned she passed away during our daily morning news meeting Friday. I am just thankful to have heard her encouraging words," said Steve Jefferson, reporter.

"Jane Harrington was one of the finest reporters I worked with. She had built up so many great sources and took such a great interest in the story she reported. Jane wasn't motivated by awards even though she won many. She was motivated by helping people and she did that, too. She not only reported on the Mike Tyson case; she broke that story. Jane had a real empathy and her reporting reflected that deep concern she had for other people. She developed those good sources because she was a person of such high credibility that people trusted her. Jane also had a wonderful sense of humor. She was very funny and she had an energetic and genuine laugh that made you laugh," said reporter David MacAnally. "I'll especially remember Jane's beautiful voice - very rich, very professional. What a kind beautiful person who touched so many lives."

"One of the great joys of working here was spending time with Jane. She treated me like family and she was always cool under pressure. She was regal and personable and she was a treasure! She will be sorely missed," said Gregory Goggans, photographer.

"I can't think of a more professional at her job than Jane. We did so many stories together that the years have made them run together. I can tell you that she was one heck of an interviewer. We would be going to do an interview and while we were in the car she would always give me the heads up to when to go in for the tight shot. If she didn't know how the questioning would go during the interviews she would reach down and squeeze my arm or leg to zoom in. I still have a mark on my arm from her squeeze. Jane was also so funny and a true friend. I will truly miss her," said photographer John Kofodimos.

"Jane and I started working at WTHR around the same time. It was the summer of 1980 and she was the education reporter and Marion County was getting ready for the beginning of bussing. She spent many long days covering evening meetings. There were concerns that there would be riots and violence when schools opened. Fortunately that didn't happen. Since we started around the same time and the fact that we covered many stories together, we became friends. Jane was someone that was very easy to talk with and had a great personality. But in addition, she was a wonderful reporter. She always brought out the human side of the story, getting people to express their feelings during her interviews. If I remember correctly, she later became our health reporter," said Warren Mills, former photographer and current WTHR senior web designer.

"One of the most talented reporters to ever work in the Indianapolis market. Jane's style was unmatched. She was instrumental in breaking the Mike Tyson rape story, lead the way on the bizarre story of serial killer Herb Baumeister and uncovered countless other big stories. Perhaps Jane's most endearing quality was her ability to get people to talk. Victims felt at ease with her and she got them to open up. I think Jane truly cared about them and they knew it. So, they talked and Jane told great stories through them. I've been in the business for almost three decades and I've still never seen anyone with Jane Harrington qualities. We lost a one-of-a-kind. Rest in peace, Jane.  - "Millie"