This April I celebrate 25 years at WKMG-TV in Orlando. I traveled a rare path in television news from intern to News Director at the same television station. As my anniversary approaches, I have found myself reminiscing, and also contemplating the key elements that carried me to where I am today.
Initially, I reflected on my early ventures into journalism, which began, not uniquely, in high school where I was the loudest of 4 kids who lobbied the school to start a morning news program. From there, I was bound for Northeastern University in Boston and while I loved it, I really wanted to be home in Florida. To accomplish that goal, I sought out and won an internship at WCPX (now WKMG) and graduated from UCF while working full time. Upon graduation, I worked through a series of newsroom roles and responsibilities including assignment editor, producer, EP and News Director.
As I mull over my past, I realized my path has not been driven so much by specific events or traditional career choices, but by certain traits and philosophies that led me to those decision points and continue to guide me daily. I firmly believe that within each of us is the ability to achieve and succeed, but the measurements of each are as individual as we are. Here are a few of my guiding principles I’ve relied on to help me grow over the past 25 years at my station:
Initiative—I’ve always believed that if you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no.” I wedged my foot in the door by sending letters for an intern position that didn’t exist as this was the early 90's and well-before organized, paid intern recruiting efforts. At every opportunity, I’ve attempted to seek out challenging new assignments to grow. I’ve never learned as much—or as well—as when I took on a role that pushed me and allowed me to prove, to others and to myself, what I could do. When you proactively seek a project, you’ll have real ownership in the outcome and view the final product as being representative of you. That ownership-driven viewpoint continues to motivate me to ensure I put forth my best every time.
It’s a decision to have a positive attitude, a choice made every single day.
Hard Work—Sure, it’s a bit cliché, but it’s also true. Certainly, work ethic pre-dated my time at WKMG and much of the credit rightly belongs to my parents, but a strong work ethic honed in our deadline-driven world is powerful. Nights, weekends and holiday hours were standard fare as I took on different responsibilities at the station. Hurricane coming? Grab a sleeping bag and be home in 3 days. Need someone to take call over Christmas? Ok. Setting high expectations for myself and working as hard as I know how to reach them is the only way I know how to operate. It won’t always (or ever) easy, but I firmly believe there is no substitute for doing the work.. Period.
Maintaining a positive attitude—Perhaps one of the choices I’m most proud of is my decision to have positive attitude. It is the only thing we can really control, and it is so critical to success in work and in life. I say it’s a decision to have a positive attitude because it is a choice made every single day. It’s a choice that turns into a habit and then into way of life. I can attribute my ability to overcome obstacles, to rebound from defeat, and to keep pushing forward to my commitment towards a positive attitude. And note, a positive attitude doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days or that I walk around with rose colored glasses, but I do try to bring a positive perspective to the problems I face. Fixing a problem is far easier if you’re in positive frame of mind and are focused on solutions and outcomes instead of allowing yourself to be stymied by negativity.
Staying Flexible—Roll with the punches. Bend, don’t break. However you characterize it, the ability to remain flexible has been a key factor in my career. Change is a constant companion in news: changing personnel, changing priorities, changing directions, changes in management or ownership to say nothing of life changes outside of the newsroom. In the face of near constant changes—some big, some small—I’ve made a conscious decision to adapt. I’ve learned that evolving my skill set to accommodate the new environment has always left me more prepared and comfortable with the next inevitable change. Rather than dig your heels in and fight against things outside your control, remain malleable and use the various changes you faced as opportunities to grow to adapt and, hopefully, come out better for the experience.
Bend, don’t break.
Teamwork—Despite my liberal use of the word “I” to describes these steps on my path, none of my successes are mine alone. I’ve always endeavored to build meaningful, constructive relationships with all of my co-workers. Ours is team-generated product, and I learned long ago that we achieve more by working with others and championing their successes than by going it alone. Some of my fondest memories have been my contributions to a co-worker's success and some of my most significant achievements were made possible only with their help and support. Work to earn your team’s support. You won’t get far without it.
Grit —This is the toughest facet to describe and certainly the hardest to measure, but grit has seen me through many a tough spot and allowed me to live to fight another day. When all else fails, grit will get it done. In times when I’ve been tested and pushed beyond my limits and thought I couldn’t continue, I’ve relied on that intangible grit that is in each of us. Sometimes, you just need to be tougher than you think you can be for longer than you’d like. Sometimes you just have to want it more. Sometimes you just have to refuse to give up. Some of my proudest moments have come when teamwork and grit have combined to see us through.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for the people I’ve worked alongside all these years.
Traditionally, television careers evolve as the journalist oh-so-carefully climbs the market ladder making both their mistakes and their presence known as they migrate through new towns with new newsrooms, new styles, and new management. Some might say I missed out on those opportunities, but I would disagree. I was blessed to experience this all while serving my hometown community.
I hope my journey reminds you, no matter whether you climb the market ladder, the management chain, or both, to remember your roots. Help the person coming up behind you by giving them a hand and a kind word of encouragement. Be the shoulders for someone else to stand upon to reach their goals and you’ll find your own are that much closer to your grasp.