2009 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
UW Major: Journalism and Sociology
Age: 38 | Denver, CO
Investigative Reporter, CBS4 News
"UW-Madison not only impacted my life, it has impacted hundreds of newborn babies who now have chance at life."
With television reporters on the scenes of breaking stories, it's natural for them to be associated with the news they cover. It's rare for them to become the story. But that's exactly what happened to Jodi Brooks.
While working as a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Mobile, Alabama, from 1998 to 2001, Brooks covered a story she couldn't simply move past during a commercial break. It involved a young woman convicted of murder after drowning her newborn in a toilet.
These abandonments at birth often resulting in death were making headlines across the country at the time, because young girls and women wanted to keep their pregnancies secret.
This is where Brooks went from reporting the news, to making the news... and making a difference. And she credits her Badger background for making it possible. "UW-Madison taught me how to use my voice. I learned to speak with a message."
To get her message out, Brooks enlisted the help of Mobile County's district attorney, and met with social workers and hospital administrators. Together, they created a program to save the lives of babies and save mothers from a lifetime of guilt. The program, called A Secret Safe Place for Newborns, began in November 1998.
And thanks to her continuing efforts, Alabama lawmakers eventually passed the "Jodi Brooks Law," which allows mothers to drop off their unwanted babies at hospitals without fear of prosecution for neglect and abandonment no questions asked.
"Without my education, my experience, and my personal growth at UW-Madison, I would not have had the drive or passion to fight for this legislation," says Brooks. "UW-Madison not only impacted my life, it has impacted hundreds of newborn babies who now have chance at life."
But why was such a law even necessary when adoption is already an option?
"These women are in denial. They do not want to admit they're pregnant. It's a secret they don't want anyone to know about," Brooks says. "In their minds adoption is not an option. There are a lot of questions that go with adoption."
Today, every state in the country has enacted its own version of the "Jodi Brooks Law," with Nebraska being the most recent (and most controversial since its law doesn't include an age limit).
Quite an accomplishment for someone who started her career at a TV station in Kenosha, Wisconsin, answering phones in the morning and reporting the news in the afternoon... for $5 an hour!
Brooks now works for CBS4 News in her hometown of Denver, and is also working with writers and producers in Los Angeles on a made-for-TV movie based on her efforts to save unwanted newborns... It's just one more example of how this reporter remains newsworthy.