Florida Station Finds its Way With New Leadership

By Kevin Eck 

Rob Mennie took over as GM of Jacksonville, Fla. ABC and NBC affiliate WJXX-WTLV in August.

The Floria Times-Union reports under Mennie’s leadership, the Gannett owned station is beginning to find its way again.

“This was a station … I’ll just use the word confused,” Mennie told the Times-Union “They didn’t know who they were. They were trying to figure out what makes us tick.”

One of Mennie’s first acts as general manager was to find a new news director. He turned to Meagan Harris, an executive producer at a station in Fort Worth, Texas. She took over at First Coast News in January, replacing Kathy Williams, who left the station nearly a year earlier.

Without a news director for so long, the news department had no central figure and was plagued by bad judgment and the ratings decline that followed, Mennie said.

News anchor Jeannie Blaylock, who has been with First Coast News for 30 years, said Harris was a welcome sight. “It’s like a ball of fire. It’s ideas,” she said. “The leadership you have in now … that’s making a big difference.”

First Coast News’ transition goes beyond management.

Longtime anchor Donna Deegan left the station about a year ago after more than two decades, although she sometimes returns to the station for special events and promotions. Dan Hicken, sports director for about two decades, joined rival Action News about a year and a half ago. Former First Coast News morning anchor Phil Amato also ended up at Action News in 2014.

Harris told the paper further on-air personnel changes were “unlikely, but said the station needs to change how it reports the news.

During the leadership void, the news report resorted to the lowest-hanging fruit; many newscasts were rife with crime stories, accident reports and other police blotter news.

“It’s just getting back to what makes journalism great,” Harris said. “It’s holding people accountable. It’s good story-telling, it’s community involvement and things like that. We’re just getting back to that place.”

Mennie said the tone needed to change.

“Imagine if you had a next-door neighbor that every morning came over and knocked on your door and said, ‘God, does this place suck. People are getting shot overnight. Our schools are terrible. Our politicians don’t know what they’re doing.’ You’d pretty quickly get to the point where you’d probably stop answering the door in the morning,” Mennie said.