Not long before Thanksgiving in 2003, I boarded a plane to Orlando from Washington, DC to interview for a reporting job at Central Florida’s NPR station, WMFE.
A late autumn chill had already enveloped the nation’s capital where I was working in my first journalism job, but Central Florida was at the height of its perfect season, when humidity drops, temperatures are in the high 70s, and everyone joyfully emerges from the long, hot summer. My day-long interview included lunch with the news director on a terrace downtown overlooking Lake Eola on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Orlando was pulling out all the stops for me.
A few days later, I was back in DC when I got the call offering me the position. I was excited — it was the chance I’d been waiting for to get into public radio — but I was also worried. What would become of my nascent journalism career so far away from the northeast corridor, where all the action seemed to be?
I still remember calling my mom to tell her the news. “I just don’t want to get stuck down there,” I said.
Today, nearly 18 years later, I’m writing this post from my house about a mile from that same lake where we had lunch, and words truly cannot express how honored I am to share the news that I have accepted an offer to become WMFE’s Interim President & General Manager.
This announcement may come as a shock to some of you — kind of like a committed bachelor suddenly announcing they’ve tied the knot. I have indeed been a committed independent and entrepreneur for the past eight years, and I’ve been a committed journalist for much longer than that. Many of you probably can’t imagine me crossing the firewall.
I’ll admit, I’m still a little surprised myself. I am passionate about journalism, and I do love my consulting work and everything it has allowed me to do and to become. Not much could have convinced me to step away from it — in fact, I can’t think of anything else. WMFE holds a very special place in my heart.
During the seven and a half years I worked at WMFE, Central Florida gradually became my home. My boyfriend moved down from New York and soon became my fiance. We adopted a cat. We got married by a beautiful lake in south Orlando. Our cat passed away, and we adopted two more. We bought a house.
WMFE also became my professional home, and my relationship with the station was filled with its own litany of ups and downs. I covered my first hurricane six months after I arrived — and two more over the next six weeks. I learned how to pitch during fund drives. I learned how to host an airshift and a talk show.
I was promoted to news director, and I learned how to edit. I learned how to plan for crisis coverage and how to lead a team through breaking news — I even ended up in the hospital with anxiety over it once. I learned how to manage people by trial and error, but I think I built a mostly happy, productive team. And I learned how truly awful it is when forces beyond your control mean your team gets broken up.
Time to start listening
I moved away from Orlando for what turned out to be a invaluable learning experience at Colorado Public Radio — and moved back two years later. I launched a journalism consulting business that allowed me to spend eight years doing exactly what I loved, helping public media organizations and collaborations build the structures, leadership, and culture they needed to support excellent, meaningful journalism for their communities.
WMFE was my second-ever consulting client, and I worked with them again a few years later. I tried to keep a respectful distance from the station outside of those engagements, but every time I was there, it felt like home. And it was always a little sad to leave.
Two years ago, there was a vacancy in the President’s office, and I got a stunning email out of the blue from a public media leader across the country suggesting I apply to fill the vacancy. I was flattered, of course, but it seemed crazy. Me? A GM?! I went back to running my business. But just over a month ago, when the position came open again, I got an eerily similar email from a different public media CEO.
“You’d be a good leader for WMFE,” it read.
This time, the words got under my skin. They were harder to ignore. Maybe, I thought, it was time to start listening.
Standing on others’ shoulders
The idea of myself as a GM still seemed laughable. GMs, I thought, are decades older than me, have business degrees, wear sharp suits, drive expensive cars, and go around looking serious and talking about things like systems and strategy and marketing and resources. Oh, and most of them are men.
But then I realized I needed to check my own stereotypes. I have friends who are GMs. They’re my age. Some are women. Some are (former) journalists. They like to laugh. They don’t all wear fancy suits, and so what if they did — I gave up trying to follow fashion trends decades ago. And you know what? As much as I love talking about journalism, I also love talking about systems and strategy and marketing and resources.
I started reaching out to those friends and colleagues, and they took the time to encourage me. They helped me see how my skills and background apply to the needs of this position and how this role would allow me, not only to advocate for local journalism, but to bring resources to bear to support it in my own backyard. They told me — even the ones with business degrees — that I could do this job. It is their confidence in me that has enabled me to take this huge step, and I am overflowing with gratitude. I am truly standing on their shoulders.
Like everyone else during the past year and a half of pandemic trauma and social justice reckonings, I’ve been taking stock of my place in the world, and I’ll admit I’ve felt a little lost. But this opportunity spoke to me in a way nothing has since I fell in love with journalism more than two decades ago. I’ve spent the past eight years working for myself and working on myself, and now feels like the time to step up and use that personal and professional growth to benefit an organization and a community that have meant so much to me over the years — not to mention an extremely talented and committed staff who deserve a smooth transition and a passionate advocate.
The announcement of a permanent President & GM is likely several months away, as WMFE’s Board of Trustees completes a national search — with my full support and with my hat in the ring. But for the first time in eight years, I’m not approaching this as a consultant. I’m diving in as though I’m in it for the long haul.
I got stuck, Mom, and I’m happy about it. For now, and at least for a little while, it’ll be great to be back home.