Wuzzardo: Thank you, southeastern NC; appreciate what you have

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 13 years.

It was Monday, June 5, 2006, when I joined Marcy Cuevas and Jerry Jackson on Good Morning Carolina. Oh, how young we all looked.

A lot has changed in those years. I moved up into management, eventually becoming WWAY’s news director five years ago. Shortly after I got here I met my wife. We got engaged, got a dog, got married, bought a house, got another dog, had a couple kids, moved to a different house. And now we are moving again. This time, though, it won’t be from Wilmington to Leland or from one side of Leland to the other. No, this time we are moving a state away. And all the way across that other state.

When September comes I will be the managing editor at Fox 13 in Memphis. I’ll be the No. 2 person in the newsroom, working for the guy who brought me here way back when before he left seven months later. The circle of life, you might say.

It’s been a heckuva run. The station and the Wilmington market have changed significantly over these 13 years. I couldn’t even begin to figure out all the people I’ve seen come and go or start to count all the ways southeastern North Carolina is so much different then when I arrived.

One thing has remained the same, but also gotten even better over time: This area has some really good journalists. It really does. Whether they are at TV stations, newspapers, websites or radio stations, there is a small army of devoted reporters, photographers, editors, managers and more working hard around the clock each and every day to serve you. And I hope you appreciate that.

The folks who work here are not the “national media” so many of you like to rail against, though we frequently face the rage from many. They are often very young. Most in their first jobs out of college. They honestly don’t have the time to be biased. They’re too busy learning their way and trying to inform you, and they all deserve your respect and admiration.

When I got here Wilmington was what I called a “kiss the ring market.” I called it that because statewide officials often came to town to get away from the Raleigh press corps or the other veterans reporters in Charlotte, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. It was quite literally a day at the beach where they expected the news people they met to be in awe of them practically to the point of genuflecting and kissing their ring. I actually saw a long-departed reporter from another news outlet hug an elected official running for higher office during a visit and later thank a US senator for coming and ask if the office holder would be getting to do any shopping or see the beach while they were in town. I’m not making that up. It made me sick. But I saw those things because at the time I had been assigned to go after those same politicians for not doing enough in our corner of the state. It took some time and a few stories calling them out, but they began to figure it out, and things, while still not perfect, got better.

I may have been among the first to take a bite at those “leaders,” but many others followed, and you, the people who live here have benefited.

Today, when the governor or a member of Congress or a candidate for state or national office comes to town, they know it’s not a day off from the unrelenting pressure of the free press. They are expected to answer real questions about real issues and be prepared to defend their answers. It’s easy to take that for granted if you’ve only lived here a short time, and especially if you came here from a bigger news market, as many of you have, but believe me when I tell you many of us worked very hard to get things to this point.

This really is a great place to live, and it’s hard for me to even think about saying goodbye. But it is time. It’s time for a new challenge. It’s time for me to move myself forward. It’s time for someone else to come in with a fresh vision for WWAY NEWS. I hope whoever that is takes this place much farther than I ever could have imagined. I think I leave it in a better place then when I arrived. I know it has a great team of people who are here for you.

In my 13 years here I’ve had some truly amazing experiences. I’ve done interesting things, gone fun places, met wonderful people. In 2008 I called myself “the most educated voter in America,” because I had met and questioned almost every person on my ballot, from the presidential candidates on down to the local level. I have never taken for granted the access I have had in my job, or the fact that I have the personal number of my state senator, state representative and Congressman in my phone and can reach out whenever I want and expect them to respond.

The journalism business has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but it’s power is still amazing. I’ve seen it so often in the way we can effect change in our community, the way we can make people’s lives better.

But that power comes with an awesome responsibility. One I hope I have managed well and for the greater good. I know I have rocked some boats and rattled some cages, but always with a larger purpose of getting answers from people in power or making things better for those without the power. I once shocked Chief Meteorologist Scott Dean when in the middle of a conversation during an ice storm I answered a call and ripped into the person on the other end.

“Who was that?” Scott asked, his mouth agape with shock.

“The governor’s press office,” I told him.

An hour later my phone rang. It was the secretary of transportation, at the request of the governor, calling to tell me salt trucks, plows and other equipment were on the way to the Wilmington area help us dig out.

My point is that you really do have people in news here who care. Value that. Help them. Demand more of them.

I have certainly had the honor of working with some great people here at WWAY and beyond over the last 13 years. There are far too many to name here, but I hope they know how much they’ve helped make me who I am and how appreciative I am to them.

To those of you who have tuned in or logged on, who have said hello out in public, taken the time to write (good or bad) or have just made this area the wonderful place I’ve called home for nearly a third of my life, thank you. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be a part of this community.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Categories: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Community, Local, New Hanover, Pender

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.