Former news exec puts lens on bullying

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Longtime Chicago television news executive Phyllis Schwartz reads a copy of her new children’s book, “Mom Wombat Says Make War No More!”, from her San Diego home. Schwartz, who led newsrooms at WBBM Channel 2, WMAQ Channel 5 and WLS Channel 7 for nearly 20 years, said she wrote the book to shine a spotlight on bullying. (Photo courtesy of Phyllis Schwartz)

Although 1,700 miles to the west, Phyllis Schwartz’s heart is still in Chicago.

Schwartz, who spent nearly 20 years leading Chicago television newsrooms and newscasts, has a fondness for Chicago that has not waned despite now being in San Diego.

“I love the area. The weather was rough. I’m a California girl. I grew up out here,” Schwartz said from her San Diego home. “I love Chicago and the area. I had a hard time with the weather. My husband is from there. My kids were born there.”

Schwartz led the newsrooms at WBBM Channel 2, WMAQ Channel 5 and WLS Channel 7 from 1980-99. She came out of retirement in 2012 to run the newsroom at WFLD Fox 32 but after a year and a daughter still in high school in San Diego, she decided to return to the West Coast.

“I love living in southern California, but there is not a day that I am not involved in Chicago news,” Schwartz said.

She noted that she still has a friend in Chicago news who she speaks with daily.

Following a then-boyfriend to Chicago when he got a job as the main producer for Channel 2’s 10 p.m. News, Schwartz went door to door, literally, trying to get a job in local television news.

“I had not gotten anything in six or seven weeks. I was working at a wine and cheese shop in Lincoln Park and boohooing about my life,” she said.

Channel 5 gave her the break she needed, bringing Schwartz in as a fill-in for people sick and on vacation.

She would be a fixture in local television newsrooms for 19 years, working twice at WMAQ, twice at WLS, and a few years at WBBM. She would leave Chicago in 1999 to take the general manager position at the NBC station in San Diego.

Schwartz attributes her career path to her parents.

“My parents were big readers. They read to us all the time,” Schwartz said. “As a kid, I was a big writer. I would write my grandparents letters. I kept a diary. My parents taught us a sense of fairness. Those attributes led me to decide to be a news writer for TV.”

Schwartz noted she wrote poetry her whole life. After working weekends, holidays and other “crummy shifts,” she would use poetry as a release.

The cover of “Mom Wombat Says Make War No More!” (Photo courtesy of Brown Farmer Media Group)

“I would lean on poetry. I would write poetry like ‘Boo hoo, my boyfriend left me,’” Schwartz said. “Because of my news skills, my poetry was written observationally. It was written like a newsperson. I had yellow-line legal pads full of poetry.

“When I moved to San Diego, I also moved my boxes filled to the brim with poetry. I never looked at it, but then during the pandemic I thought I would. I got sentimental and I saw that some of the poetry was good. I separated the wheat from the chaff.”

Not long after Schwartz moved to Chicago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

From age 26, Schwartz has battled one type of cancer or another. She has battled Hodgkin’s, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Schwartz said her radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s triggered breast cancer.

“I wrote a short, terse poem about waiting to find out if a biopsy was malignant,” she said.

Schwartz found the poem and submitted it to a local paper in the San Diego area; and it was printed.

She then started writing poetry to children.

“I wanted to turn the poems into rhyming picture books, like Dr. Seuss or Madeline.”

That led Schwartz to write her first children’s book, When Mom Feels Great Then We Do Too.

“I wanted to write an upbeat book about cancer to help families figure out how to help an injured or sick family member,” Schwartz said.

The author said she wanted to give parents a jumping-off point to talk about tough subjects with their kids.

“I want to help families not only encourage reading, but also to tackle tough subjects that they can talk about in a safe environment,” Schwartz said.

Her latest book, Mom Wombat Says Make War No More!, is an attempt to tackle the lack of tolerance we are seeing today.

“Reading and watching the news, I did not like that someone can just take a neighboring country as a bully, that people are screaming and yelling just so the opposite-view people cannot speak,” Schwartz said. “I continue to read that kids kill themselves because they were bullied.

“One of my kids herself had been bullied in elementary school. It was traumatic.”

Schwartz said she did not grow up in San Diego, so when she entered junior high and high school there, she was different and faced bullying, aggressive teasing and was made to feel bad about herself. She added that she had bullying and harassing bosses during her career, and was in newsrooms where people made antisemitic comments around her not knowing she was Jewish.

“I had all this swirling in my head,” Schwartz said. “I wanted to bring kids into value discussions early on. Maybe they can grow up and be more conciliatory in the workplace or at city council meetings.”

She noted that the end of her new book promotes solutions to conflicts by finding new things to do as a group.

“My message is anti-bullying, pro-peace, pro-getting along and pro-solutions,” Schwartz said.