After a long, successful broadcast journalism career, Linda Williams is signing off.
Williams is retiring after a 42-year career at Fox 10 Phoenix where she worked as a reporter and anchor. Her journey began at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where she graduated in 1981. She joined FOX 10 when it was called KOOL-TV and started as an editor getting paid $5 per hour.
Williams worked hard to fulfill her dream of working in broadcasting and climbed to the top as a co-anchor at FOX 10 while becoming a familiar face to the Phoenix community. She recently reflected on her career, offering insight on what influenced her to get into broadcast journalism, advice for aspiring journalists at Cronkite and how ASU prepared her for a long career on TV.
Q: You started off as an editor. How did you adapt to that when you didn’t know much about the position? How did you push through to climb the ladder?
A: It was an entry level position. I focused on just learning something I really didn’t know much about and that was videotape editing. And as I got confident, it took me about six months to figure it all out. I just got a germ of an idea because that whole line ‘get your foot in the door’ is so true.
Once I was there, I learned a skill: editing. What could I do with it? I could edit stories. I learned how to put my voice down. I would just write stories, edit them myself using video from other reporters stories and then I would have my own stories. I was basically making my own resume tape and that’s what I used to climb the ladder. I took that resume tape to my boss and he said ‘Oh, we don’t judge production and editing’ and I said ‘no, this is to be a reporter.’
They played all three stories I had done and they called me in. The executive producer, producer and the news director were in the office and they said ‘in every case, the story that you put together yourself using old reporters’ videos was better than the story we aired that day.’
Q: What would you say was the peak moment of your career, your ‘I made it moment’?
A: It’s not so much how other people view me making it; it’s how I personally view me making it. I think getting through a tough live shot with a lot of things going on at the same time … I kept my calm and pushed through and told a good story even though I was live and thinking on my feet. That was my bar that I set for myself, not to let my emotions of excitement and everything take over and turn me into just another jabbering person. But to stay calm and frame it correctly and give a fair accounting of what happened, when my heart was racing still from the adrenaline of a live event. That’s when I said to myself, ‘good job.’ My ‘aha I made it’ moment was when I could do a good job under really changing and dynamic circumstances.
Q: You attended the Cronkite School when it was a journalism program housed in ASU’s College of Public Programs. How do you think the program prepared you for success?
A: Sometimes the people around you have insights into what you can do, what you’re good at, more than you do. It was my third year, I was a junior at ASU studying my degree in print journalism. I was going to be a writer, a print writer. I wanted to work for newspapers and magazines. I had a professor, (Frederic) “Fritz” Leigh, and one day after we were learning how to edit radio and putting our voices down, he said ‘you know, Linda, you have a really nice voice. Have you ever considered broadcast journalism?’ And I hadn’t. It never crossed my mind and I said ‘no.’ He goes, ‘you might look into that.’ Just that one comment from an ASU professor really changed my trajectory. I changed my major to broadcast journalism that semester.
When I’m speaking to young people, I always say sometimes the people around you via your teachers, your mom, your barista, whoever kind of goes ‘huh, you know, you’re really good at this. Maybe you should think that or have you ever thought of this.’ What’s more, I got the chance to tell him. I said ‘you’ll never guess what pushed me on this path.’ He’s like ‘what?’ and I said ‘you did it.’
Q: In 2000, you were inducted into the Cronkite Alumni Hall of Fame. What was it like to be a part of other notable alumni?
A: It was amazing, it really was. Talk about my ‘aha moment.’ It was probably being inducted into the Hall of Fame. When you’re just working day after day, you’re churning stories, you’re churning and you’re burning. You forget that it adds up to a body of work that might someday be viewed as Hall of Fame worthy in that regard. So, that was my moment when I went ‘wow.’ I looked around at the other people who’ve been inducted and first I thought ‘do I really belong up here?’ But just to be there, I was honored, and I still am to this day.
Q: What important information would you give to students who are just starting out and navigating Cronkite and journalism and starting their careers?
A: That they are at a pivotal point for journalism right now. They need to pay attention to ethics and focus on being good storytellers, and focus on being a part of a community that they’re reporting on. It’s not just about, ‘hey I’m standing here as an observer.’ You live there too. It may only be two years but for those two years or your two-year contract, you’re a part of that community. So you need to commit to the community and to the story when you go into it because some of them will start off in very small markets that they may feel just socially, culturally aren’t up to par. But you have to become a part of that community to tell good stories.
Focus on the basics because you never know what will make you a standout. If you get into a bigger market and try to work your way up the way I did, get your foot in the door of a big station and use all their millions of dollars worth of equipment to learn your craft, whatever that is and then go for it. I would advise them to learn as many things as they can. If they can say ‘I’m a general assignment reporter but I can also fill in and do weather, I can also fill in and do sports,’ they just become more valuable. I don’t want them to spread themselves thin but the more things they can provide to a news director, the more likely they are to get that first job.
Q: Can you describe any tough moments you encountered as a journalist? What advice would you give to students so they can handle those challenges?
A: When you’re a journalist the toughest thing that you will do is face parents who’ve lost a child or someone who has lost someone they love. That is always the hardest, deepest agony that someone can have, and you are coming in as a person to do your job at the worst time of their lives. You’re trying to be sensitive, but you’re trying to get information at the same time. Navigate those situations with your heart leading the way instead of being like ‘Okay, what happened?’
So learning to be sensitive in those situations, and try not to just break down. That’s hard because some of the stories I’ve seen I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m gonna cry.’
I remember being in court one time, so emotional. Everybody cried, including the judge. It was a sexual assault case. I cried, the cops who had testified cried, the judge cried and we were all in tears.
Probably controlling your emotions that first time, and when I was in my 20s it was a lot easier to not weep along with people. What happens to you will change the reporter that you are and you’ll handle it differently and better as you age if you stick with it.
Q: What exactly do you have planned after retirement and are you still going to continue writing?
A: I am going to continue the writing because it is what sustains me. It’s what I loved about the business in the first place. And that’s what kept me there for 42 years because at the end of a stressful day, I got to tell a story. Maybe I got to connect people who needed help with someone who could give them help. But the writing is what I loved.
However, I have certain passions. One of them has always been real estate. So maybe I’ll combine the two but I am going to get my real estate license. I haven’t been in a classroom since I graduated from ASU in ‘81 so this should be an interesting learning process for me as I learn to sit, to study, to retain information that I’m not familiar with, but I’m excited to do that. I’m excited to continue all of my platforms, my tweets, that’s probably what I do the most. That’s the beauty of retiring right now in 2024 is the opportunities that are out there in the media to continue to get your voice out there.