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Fairbanks ready to settle into anchor chair

Sitting in an Allentown cafe late one recent morning, Buffalo's newest TV anchor Diana Fairbanks looked very much at home in jeans, sweater and a bright smile.

When Fairbanks takes her chair at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on WIVB-TV Channel 4, it will mark the third market for the newswoman.

"She's the real deal," said Chris Musial, WIVB-TV president and general manager. "We flew her in a couple of times, and you can just tell from the get-go. She's mature. She has life experience. She's a mom."

Fairbanks, 37, also will anchor the 10 p.m. newscast on WNLO-TV Channel 23, the highest rated 10 o'clock news on the CW Network nationwide, according to Musial. Jacquie Walker and Don Postles had been anchoring the 5:30 and 10 p.m. slots.

Fairbanks moved here in mid-January from Traverse City, Mich., and spent two weeks adjusting to a new job, a new set and her temporary digs in the Elmwood Village. She expects her husband and school-age daughter to join her in Western New York within a few months.

"This happened relatively quickly," she admitted. "I was offered the job around Christmas, and they wanted me out here by Jan. 16 for the February ratings period."

Fairbanks worked 11 years in northern Michigan as news anchor at WGTU/WGTQ-TV and WPBN/WTOM-TV. Before that she spent two years at KRTV News in Great Falls, Mont. She said she expected to be in Traverse City only a few years.

"I was hired to do the morning show," Fairbanks said. "I did that for two years, and then I was promoted to night anchor at 6 and 11. I also met my future husband, married and had a child. But after our daughter was born, we decided we both could not do long hours and nights, so Brian [who had worked for a competing television station] took a job in public relations at Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa."

Fairbanks' four-year contract in Traverse City expired at the end of 2011.

"You never know which direction the bosses are going to take, so you get your safety net in place," she said. "You put some feelers out there, and this one [Channel 4] sounded like a good fit, from what they wanted and what I needed."

Musial sees Fairbanks making a quick connection with Buffalo viewers.

"You're always looking for someone -- especially for a main anchor -- who sees the world in a real way, and has the ability to sift through things quickly, and can handle themselves in front of a group of a thousand at a dinner downtown or 300,000 people watching an evening newscast."

Fairbanks had built a following in Traverse City (population 15,000) with community volunteerism -- especially in raising breast cancer awareness.

"The newsroom I was coming from was small and it had gotten smaller in recent years. We'd gone through a couple rounds of layoffs," said Fairbanks. "I wanted more professionally. I was also looking for a different environment. I needed some inspiration and motivation."

Fairbanks will also report stories, and is accustomed to shooting and editing video.

"She was the first to mention that when she came into town," said Musial. "She said it gives her a sense of knowing from start to finish where she wants to go with the story."

Fairbanks took up running after the birth of her daughter.

"It inspired me to start running," she said. "A girlfriend asked me to run a 5K, which turned into a 10K, which turned into a half marathon and then three marathons [one in Chicago and two in Michigan]."

In addition, Fairbanks learned to ski as part of a season-long series in Great Falls.

"When I was in Montana, they couldn't believe I didn't know how to ski," she said. "So we did a series of weekly stories, from the selection of equipment to starting on the bunny hill. By the end of that season, I was skiing black diamonds."

Born in California, Fairbanks' family moved to southern Illinois when she was 3. By elementary school she was in St. Louis, and attended a middle school located one block from an Anheuser-Busch brewery. In high school she moved to Maryland, where her mother lives today.

Fairbanks graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in broadcast journalism and American literature.

"I liked to read, and I liked people's stories," said Fairbanks. "I remember looking through a course catalog and stumbling across Journalism 101. It clicked. I could tell stories for a living, and I didn't have to be a grad student to do it."

When Fairbanks started in television in Montana, her mother had a calming influence, she explained.

"I've always thought of her when I'm delivering the news," she said. "It helps keep me relaxed, but I also run the story through my head asking if my mom would be upset by it. If I'm talking to my mom, that means everyone else will understand it."

Starting in a new job in a different television market is a challenging experience, but Fairbanks said she is exactly where she wants to be.

"We're in a transition period," Fairbanks said. "I'm energized by the younger people who can multitask like crazy. I'm inspired by the older journalists who have this history of telling these incredible stories.

"I can learn from both," she said, "and I'm excited by that."

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com