After exactly ten years, Whitney Martin says goodbye

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- "Get your feet off there, that's a desk now”. They’re words I will never forget hearing as I sat in an edit bay on my first day at WIFR in 2007. That "makeshift desk" was mine and I couldn’t have been more proud to sit in the back corner of the newsroom. To other reporters, the area was once storage, to me, the start of my dream career as a reporter in my hometown of Rockford. I didn't care where I was sitting, just happy to be at the same table as the team I grew up watching.

After my internship at 18 years old, I nearly begged my News Director for a job. I sent him what felt like a dozen resume tapes and even considered standing underneath Mark's East State Street weather camera with a sign that said “Hire Me" so when the director took the shot during the newscast I would be smiling back in desperation. I would have either scored the job or ended up in jail but I was willing to take the risk.

My boss Dave finally gave me a shot as a photographer in 2007, two weeks after I left my job at a local nursing home where I would occasionally read the newspaper to the elderly with the sound of Andy and Aaron's voices blaring on the TV’s across the center. That sound had a major impact on the way I view news today. The people who lived there relied on WIFR to know what was happening across the nation and in Rockford. The residents counted on us to see a world outside of the walls where they were essentially confined because of care restrictions.

To be honest, I had no idea how to be a photographer, I didn't know the news terms or how to edit but I was determined to learn. I spent the first few years of my career driving and setting up a massive live truck alone. I remember seeing the reflection of the mast in a downtown storefront window and thinking, am I really driving this giant thing? I would show up to crime scenes solo and pull long cables and all-nighters to make sure our coverage was the best in the area. The job was grueling, but I knew I had a responsibility to my hometown.

I started reporting more during the week when my News Director asked me if I would ever consider being an anchor. If I’m being honest, the proposition was “process of elimination" at the time. I knew I was one of the only options however, just like that corner desk that just had the dust wiped off; I was just thrilled to be considered so I eagerly said "yes". Our main evening anchor, Tina left in 2013 and I was promoted to her spot where I have been beyond proud to represent WIFR with such a solid and dedicated team ever since.

They say if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I love my job however being on television is the last part. My position as a news anchor has given me the platform to give back to my community, a community, filled with friends, family, teachers, and viewers who I have grown to love with all my heart. Every late night Facebook live stream at crime scenes, urgent social media posts, and breaking story, I have thought of my responsibility to you. Thank you for turning to me for answers at all hours of the night. Rockford is so much more than a place where I work, this is my home and I've been so honored and grateful to report the news to you.

Now, about ten years to the day I sat in my first WIFR edit bay, there are bittersweet tears as I announce I am leaving WIFR for a Morning Anchor job in Milwaukee at our CBS affiliate, WDJT. I will be working side by side with Mike Curkov, a former 23 news sports anchor. The two of us started our careers around the same time and are so excited to reunite.

Leaving isn't easy, as many of you know I am lucky enough to coach a special needs cheerleading team at Gigi's Playhouse in Rockford. It’s an experience that means the world to me. The other night during practice one of my cheerleaders looked back at me and smiled. Sounds simple right? It meant so much more; my eyes filled with tears because she seemed so happy and content just being in the room. I thought how could I ever leave? It's a moment that will always stick with me. The team has come so far and their growth is an inspiration. I have to plans to start up a similar program at the Wisconsin location and you bet will be back often to visit my athletes in Rockford.

“I thought somebody should do something about that, then I realized, I am somebody."

It's a quote from Rock House Kids Director Dola Gregory, and one that couldn't ring more true for all of us. We all have the power to make a measurable difference in our community one person at a time. We have children who are starving, people sleeping on our streets, domestic violence on the rise, and fear for our safety. As a news anchor, I have the choice to tell you about the problem or become part of the solution. We can all be part of the solution. Make a few lunches for kids in need, give your blankets directly to the man shivering on the streets, or become and unofficial big brother or sister to a kid who has no one. We have so many opportunities to change lives and just reaching one person can be life changing.

My state, my hours, my TV station are changing but please now my love for Rockford never will. My family is here including my very young nieces and nephews. We have so much to look forward to and I am so grateful to have been invited into your living room for the last ten years. I often joke that Andy, Aaron, the Mikes, and Mark all feel like brothers to me. They tease me, make me laugh until I cry but most of all have always had my back. What you see on television is real; we all genuinely love each other. Work doesn't feel like work when you have such a strong committed support system around you. I'm so lucky my News Director took a chance on me at 20 years old and helped become the person I am today. I hate to admit it, but I love these guys and have truly grown up at WIFR.

My career may have started at the "corner office space” however some of my most cherished memories are behind the anchor desk. From Beefaroo, to the Rockford Symbol know there is nothing else that will replace my love for my hometown. My last newscast will be on March 22, please join me one last time. Thank you for trusting me tell so many of your stories, it's now time to start writing another chapter of my own.