"My contract was going to be up with CBS, and my agent approached me with a wonderful offer from another network," says Johnson. "I would have been working on exciting projects. But then I thought about how I didn't want to be on an airplane all the time or tied to a cell phone 18 hours a day. I believe there are seasons in life. I had a long, wonderfully exciting season in network news, but now I wanted a new season as a mother."
It was this decision that had people in the business telling her she was making a terrible mistake that she would regret for years to come. Johnson had achieved celebrity status as a news reporter in what seemed like overnight. She had arrived and was only going higher. In a business as cutthroat as prime-time news, no one just walked away.
"I wanted to raise my own children," Johnson says. "At the level I was at, it would have been impossible."
That level included interviewing the President and First Lady at the White House on a fairly regular basis. She sat beside Bryant Gumbel as co-host of the CBS Early Show where it was common for her to banter back and forth with notables such as Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon and others.
"Every morning was different," recalls Johnson. "I'd be interviewing the Secretary of State one minute, Martha Stewart the next. I met and interviewed the newsmakers, and I was a conduit from them to the audience. I loved it."
Johnson started her career as an intern at KSL while attending Brigham Young University. "When I graduated, KSL offered me a job as a part-time reporter," she says. "Eventually I went full-time. I was very young and very green. It was a steep learning curve for me. KSL was definitely a 'destination station,' and some of the more experienced reporters didn't think I deserved to move up as fast as I did."
But move up she did. Soon she wasn't just covering stories in the field, but often anchoring. She also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary while on assignment in China. "So many people helped me like John Hollenhorst, Shelly Thomas and Dick Nourse."
After working at KSL for seven years, Johnson was offered a job with ABC news as a network correspondent out of Los Angeles for the World News Tonight. "I had a lot of international travel going all over the world to places like Kosovo to cover stories," Johnson says. "I was with ABC until 1999 when CBS called from New York. Before I knew it, I was host of the Early Show."
It was in the chair next to Gumbel she achieved celebrity. And Gumbel had a reputation for being a no-nonsense guy. "Bryant was good to me," says Johnson. "He is a fabulous live broadcaster, and I learned from him. Bryant chose me for the job, so he had a vested interest to make it work. We were on-air partners and became friends."
But in the here today, gone tomorrow world of network television, Gumbel left the show in May 2002 and Johnson in September that same year after three years together. Johnson was reassigned to other CBS programs. "I worked on 48 hours and the National CBS evening news where I filled in for Dan Rather," Johnson says. "Some of the most talented people I worked with were on 48 hours. I'm very proud of the work I did on that show. I interviewed Elizabeth Smart and Jessica Lynch (the soldier who was wounded and rescued after being captured in Iraq.) There were a lot of hard working people behind the scenes. I worked hard too, but I was the 'face' for so many people."
So how could someone on the fast track decide to take a detour? "Not long after I had made my decision to leave the business, my husband and I were at a dinner meeting outside of Washington, D.C.," says Johnson. "The men in the room were asked to stand and introduce themselves and what they did for a living. They started listing off all these accomplishments. But when their wives got up, they would say 'Oh, I'm just a mom.' I thought to myself, 'What did I get myself into?' But then the journalist in me said, 'There's a story here.' That is when my book was born."
Johnson has just completed a book titled, "I Am a Mother." The book isn't just about her decision to give up her career and be a mother; it talks about how society needs mothers. "Mothering matters," Johnson states emphatically. "We give it lip service but we don't extend the respect to mothers as we do to someone with a title like 'lawyer.' Every woman should feel for herself what she does matters. Our society measures us based on our success. Motherhood can't be measured; we don't value it enough. It is not any less important or valuable, whether you are a mother, grandmother or aunt."
In her book Johnson shares incredible stories of brave mothers and grandmothers she met while covering stories around the globe. One such story was of a 65-year-old grandmother in China who had found a newborn abandoned on the steps of the Buddhist temple were she went to pray. The child had been left to die because her face was disfigured by a cleft lip and palate. Despite her own humble circumstances, she took the child in. When she heard that American doctors were coming to help children with those problems, she traveled some 300 miles to find them.
A year later when Johnson returned to China she tracked down the woman and baby. The child was happy and healthy. "All because a woman, who probably thought her mothering days were over, knew that we are all mothers--always," Johnson says in the book. "She gave of herself in order to give another human being the one thing we all need most: love."
The book is filled with similar experiences along with many personal stories of her own dive into motherhood. Johnson also enjoys caring for her husband Mark's three children ages 11, 14 and 15.
"We are busy," says Johnson. "My son was born three months premature so we have had a difficult year with him."
Besides writing a book and caring for her family, Johnson speaks to young women just starting out. "I tell them not to let anybody deny you of one season of your life because they believe you should be in or stay in another season," Johnson says.
She still looks back on her career with pride. "There is no question the world I lived in was cutthroat and competitive," says Johnson. "The stakes and expectations were high and it caused some people to do crazy things. I swam with the sharks. But I believe I kept my integrity throughout and tried to uphold my standards and moral values. I look back on it with fondness even though it was tough."