Mollie Cooney started at KCCI-TV when Jimmy Carter was vying for his shot at the White House and she’ll end her time on the anchor desk during President Donald Trump’s first year.
A longtime reporter and anchor, Cooney’s last newscast will air at noon on April 21, she confirmed Monday. Cooney’s husband, beloved local anchor Kevin Cooney, retired as head of the station’s nightly news in November 2015, after about four decades on air.
“I don’t think this comes as any great surprise,” Cooney said of her retirement during a phone interview Monday. “Ever since Kevin retired, one of the first questions people ask me is, ‘When are you going to call it quits?’”
Until Monday, her answer had always been the same: “When I’m ready.”
She wasn’t ready when Kevin decided to leave a year and a half ago, she said, but now her priorities have shifted and she wants to move on to the proverbial “next chapter.”
“They say you will know when you are ready to leave and I will tell you, that is really true,” the 64-year-old said. “I have been in this business for 42 years and I have loved every single minute of it. Where else can you get a front row to history developing? I have covered everything from politics to education to the courts and the statehouse. I’ve anchored every newscast and worked weekends and holidays and I just thought that it was time to move on, really.”
A Des Moines native and Iowa State University graduate, Cooney was KCCI’s first female newsroom reporter when she started in 1976 and became the station’s first female anchor. She and her husband left Iowa for a brief time in the early 1980s, but returned in 1982 and have been gracing the metro’s airwaves ever since.
In those four decades, Cooney has crafted segments on entertainment, politics and most every beat in between. Choosing which stories were her favorites over her decadeslong career is like “choosing which child you like best,” she said, but she did offer her most memorable stories: the McCaughey septuplets and the 1993 flood.
“Those were moments when the community rallied around itself and when people reached out and helped one another,” she said. “What an opportunity for storytelling I had with the McCaughey septuplets. I found out about them before they were born and followed them until they left the nest. I was like some weird great-aunt who would show up and say, ‘Tell me about your life,’ and then leave for a while only to show back up again.”
“Then in the floods of ’93,” she continued, “I was on the set for seven or eight hours without a break. We just threw to reporters on the scene, and producers were giving me updates on the fly in my ear. It was just eight hours of live TV, no script.”
While many broadcast reporters often leave Des Moines for new opportunities after a few years in the metro, KCCI has held on to many of its anchors and crew members for decades.
“It’s a family down at the station,” Cooney said. “It’s rare to have worked at a place where we’ve grown up together in so many ways. We been there for marriages and babies and graduations and the passing of parents. They are my family whether they like it or not, and, to be clear, I’m just retiring, I’m not leaving town.”
KCCI President and General Manager Brian Sather called it "an uncommon honor” to work with a reporter like Cooney.
“She has been an important part of KCCI’s newsroom for four decades, and we’re going to miss her credibility, her contacts in the community, and her wicked sense of humor that keeps us all loose,” he said in a news release.
Much like her husband, Cooney hopes that her final newscast is just that — a regular newscast. She wants as little attention paid to her as possible, she said with a laugh.
As far as what’s next, Cooney said she is not exactly sure. After working days while her husband worked nights for decades, she is looking forward to enjoying what many people would consider a normal routine. And, outside of spending as much time with her family as possible, she can’t wait to be able to get in the car and “just go.”
But she won’t ever be too far from the news, she said. As a news junkie, she’ll be watching, listening and staying informed, she promised.
“I got into this business in the shadow of Watergate and I truly hope there is a resurgence of people wanting to join this profession and be good storytellers and fact-gathers and to hold the powerful to account,” she said. “We’ve always needed hard-nosed journalism and solid reporting, and we will continue to need that long after I have signed off.”