Not many Emmy Award winners have sold meat door to door. But then again, not many Emmy Award winners are as diverse as Tabitha Lipkin.
Raised and educated deep in the heart of Texas, Tabitha Lipkin’s mix of humble beginnings and contagious curiosity have made for a story that not even the San Diego based storyteller could imagine.
“I was raised by my grandmother,” Tabitha Lipkin recalls of her childhood on her episode of the Behind the Smoke podcast with hosts Shawn Walchef and Derek Marso.
“We weren’t exactly a rich family growing up, it was just me and her. She took a pay cut to move and I graduated at the top of my high school and was able to go to the University of Texas. It’s all because of her.”
At the University of Texas, Tabitha Lipkin would juggle jobs bartending, selling meat door to door and being a full-time student. While catching commission off steak sales wasn’t the end-all-be-all for Tabitha, she knew she a future in broadcast journalism was in her sights since she touched base at the University of Texas in Austin.
“I knew from the day I stepped on campus that I wanted to work in broadcast journalism,” recalls Tabitha. “It was something I always wanted to do from the time I was a kid. I think people are very interesting and I like to tell their stories. I like to travel. I think the world is such an incredible place and there are so many people to meet, places to see and stories to tell. I thought the best way to do all that was to study broadcast journalism and jump right in.”
It was at the University of Texas that her hard work in her broadcast journalism major would open the door for internships on TV shows in LA and NYC for the likes of Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert.
Ironically enough, it was an elective far removed from her major that paved the way to travel and see the world outside of the States.
Digital marketing? Basket weaving? Nope, deep sea diving.
“I started at the University of Texas,” Tabitha Lipkin says of her underwater exploration. “There was a one-credit elective program they had. I became a Dive Master in 2015.”
Yup, a one-credit course positioned Tabitha into the title of Dive Master. Just how? While perusing dream jobs through an Australia based internship program, Tabitha met a friend who also enjoyed diving. That friend was the reigning Miss Scuba USA and felt Tabitha could take on the same title. All it would take was some curiosity and some luck.
“She told me that if I could get to Malaysia then everything from there was taken care of,” Tabitha says in regard to competing for Miss Scuba honors. “She told me I had to do a pageant – I’d never done a beauty pageant – and I had to get a sponsorship.”
As noted, Tabitha did not come from a lot of money. She did however happen to have a valuable connection.
“Body Glove sponsored me,” Tabitha says. “Their founder’s boat was next to my grandfather’s back in the day – and I went. I was competing against other countries who had been competing in pageants leading up to this, and then I won! I was like, Well, alright, this opens a whole new chapter of my life.”
That chapter would be a winding road of endless adventures and life-long friends.
While a one-credit course would take her around the world, her dedication in the classroom and networking around Austin led to her first disappointment. It would also lead her to her eventual big break in media.
“When I was a senior I was actually turned down for an internship with The Daily Show with John Stewart,” remembers Tabitha. “I was really upset about it because I really wanted it. Everything happens for a reason and I ended up being offered an internship with Conan in Los Angeles.”
A blessing in disguise indeed.
“I made friends for life,” Tabitha says on her time with Conan. “There were 50 interns. Conan took care of his staff after they were let go from NBC, he paid everyone’s salary for eight months! Everyone pretty much still works there.”
Her time at Conan and connections made in college led to her next break.
“I was offered an internship for The Colbert Report in New York,” remembers Tabitha. “I met a writer at SXSW, and he forwarded my resume, so it was kind of one of those lucky things.”
Interning for major shows in LA and NYC may sound glamorous, but it wasn’t all big names and red carpets. In NYC, she’d balance bartending 60-hour weekends at Ace Hotel while working for The Colbert Report.
“There were days when I got down to $5 in my bank account.”
Seizing opportunity back on the West Coast, she’d move to San Diego where her acclaimed aquatic background would eventually lead her back to broadcast journalism.
“I came to San Diego without a job in media,” Tabitha says. “I taught people how to fly those water jetpacks out of Mission Bay.”
Right around that time, Tabitha began working in broadcast journalism for the CW6. Her curiosity made her the perfect utility player for the station, taking on all types of titles and gaining tons of experience.
The station would eventually close, but another network would be very aware of her work. FOX5 would hire on Tabitha and it’d be a move to remember.
“I absolutely love my job,” Tabitha says of FOX5. “Back in March when the CW was closing down, we basically got 30 days’ notice that we were all going to be out of jobs. Everyone was scrambling. Some news stations didn’t email people back, some kept them waiting to drive down the price. FOX5’s Scott and Rich hired me before CW6 closed down and let me work at both places until they closed down. They let me finish there, start at FOX5, gave me an incredible wage and I will never forget that and be loyal to the end.”
At FOX5, Tabitha has been given the freedom to spread her wings and grow.
“They let me be myself!” Tabitha exclaims. “They don’t put me in a box. They know that people like me for me and that brings viewers.”
That growth includes writing and producing her own shows and segments.
“I created a show called Keeping Tabs that ran on Fox Sports San Diego,” Tabitha notes. “I wrote it, I produced it and I edited it.”
She also took over the travel show Private Islands. Her episode on St Lucia? Let’s just say it did alright.
“The St Lucia episode was what I felt was my episode,” Tabitha notes on Private Islands. “It was the very last one ever made, and it was the one that won an Emmy.”
When she got to the Emmys she may not have known where she was going, but she sure didn’t forget where she came from.
“I went to the Emmys last year and my grandma was my date,” Tabitha says with a smile. “As I’m sitting their nervous, she grabs my hand and goes to me, ‘Remember to exit left.’ Then they called my name! That just proves who she is.”
So, with an Emmy in her possession and her grandma by her side, what’s the next adventure for Tabitha?
“Once I have a little bit more time, I want to do more standup comedy,” she says.
Standup is all part of her goal to work in late-night television someday. On the road to her goals, she’s had to take some risks. One of them was a photoshoot with The Chive that most in network news would shy away from.
“I made a very conscious decision to do that Chive photoshoot because I know that my ultimate goal is to work in late-night television,” Tabitha says. “I want to be more of a comedian than a hard newscaster. I decided to set myself apart by doing that shoot.”
Still, she was uncertain.
“I asked my grandmother,” Tabitha recalls on doing the shoot. “And she said, ‘If that’s your ultimate goal and it sets you apart from other newscasters than why not?’”
Mission accomplished. Decades down the road when Tabitha is a grandma it’ll be all the sweeter.
“When I’m 80 years old I’m going to be really happy I took those pictures!”
In the meantime, Tabitha is on her grind both in the studio and on social media.
“I knew that the only brand I could ever be loyal to was myself,” Tabitha notes in regard to modern media. “We’re in a position as local news where we’re seeing what happened to newspapers ten to fifteen years ago.”
Tabitha’s understanding of social and building her brand has evolved over the years.
“Facebook was our main thing in college,” says Tabitha. “I started my own page when I came here to San Diego and started working at the CW6 so that I had an outlet to put all my stories, so I didn’t overrun my friends with all the things I was doing at work.”
The next frontier? Instagram. Even that saw a learning curve when it came to her digital brand.
“If you were to scroll to the very back of my Instagram, you wouldn’t see pictures of myself,” Tabitha says. “I like to take pictures of places, other people and things. But there became a shift when people seemed more interested in my life.”
That interest in her own life has created non-stop work in some ways, but also new habits.
“Social media is its own job,” Tabitha notes. “I know that if I’m invited to do something or even if I’m at work, I have to make sure I put them on all my pages separately. You get to a point where it becomes second nature.”
Social media is now second nature for Tabitha. Grandma’s girl from Texas is now just as beloved in San Diego as she continues to grow on air and in the community.
While she’s living in the moment, she’s always open to what’s next.
“I have to create a market for people to want what I have to provide,” Tabitha states. “That’s the next step. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I know it’s going to be awesome.”
From selling meat to interning for Conan O’Brien, we’re pretty sure what’s next for the deep-diving storyteller we’ll be even more awesome than we can imagine.
“I think in life things are 90% hard work and 10% luck,” says Tabitha.
Maybe that’s how Tabitha keeps getting 100% out of each opportunity.
Behind the Smoke with Tabitha Lipkin Episode Summary:
- Emmy Award winning, FOX 5 San Diego broadcaster Tabitha Lipkin is creatively using social media to promote her personal brand while staying authentic.
- Tabitha’s love for traveling and meeting new people motivated her to study broadcasting at the University of Texas.
- A certified SCUBA Dive Master, Tabitha talks about being Miss SCUBA International 2014 on this episode too.
- Shawn and Tabitha shared the importance of family support and how valuable it can be to success
- Later, Tabitha describes how being a Chive model opened doors instead of closing them.
- Make sure you listen to hear the stories of how Tabitha ended up working on the Conan O’Brien show and The Colbert Report while working 50 hour work weeks.
- Derek and Shawn also talk about how being uncomfortable helps foster growth and generates innovation.