“I’ve learned to never forget what God has done for me. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged and think I can’t take another step. But then I think of how He helped my mother send five boys to junior academy, academy, and then to Oakwood College. He cleared the brush in every problem-plagued jungle to make a smooth path for me.”
Jeff Williamson is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Oakwood College. Jeff currently works as the Public Information Officer & Media Specialist for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Orlando, Florida. Jeff is also the published author of Feeling Tall, an inspirational book about defining your worth and pursuing your dreams. Jeff began his career as an accountant, but later decided to pursue his dream of becoming a news journalist. Jeff has previously worked as a reporter for the New York Times, as well as for affiliates of CBS, NBC, and FOX. Jeff, his wife, Meryl, and their three children live in Apopka, Florida, U.S.A.
CQ: Jeff, in your book, Feeling Tall, you write about a major career change in your life: transitioning from a full-time accountant to a news reporter. What led you to make this major career move?
JW: I never felt as if accounting was what I really wanted to do. I was an OK accountant, but not great. I wanted to be great at what I did and not just average. I was a very good news reporter.
CQ: What was the motivation for your book?
JW: Well, I’m not a tall man. But my mother always gave me a lot of confidence, and I had great teachers. They all motivated me to be courageous and to have a great deal of confidence. I wanted to put a product out there to tell people that they are important, but what’s more important is how you see yourself. Self-confidence is so important. So since I could not be tall, I sure felt tall!
CQ: What advice would you give to students or adults who are trying to decide what they want to be “when they grow up”?
JW: I saw a great interview with talk show host Larry King. He said this: “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Find those things that you are naturally good at, those things that you enjoy, and use them to make your career choices. You may not get everything you want, but you will be ahead of the 90% of people who say they hate their jobs.
CQ: How did you get your foot in the door of news reporting?
JW: God’s watch care―that’s all I can say. I did all the right things―I made a resumé tape, sent it to dozens of news stations, took a small TV market, and moved my way up. But with every decision, I gave God the lead. It was rough in the beginning, but I’ve found that if you just hang on, everything will be fine.
CQ: What is one of your most memorable experiences as a news reporter?
JW: I was a reported for the NBC station in Panama City Beach, Florida. The news director wanted someone to do a story about a farmer who was going to have to get rid of a pig because of a new ordinance. She pitched the story at the news meeting and no reporter wanted the assignment. So I said I’d do it. I went out there and did the story of my life. I even got in the pigpen. To make a long story short—it was so good that CNN picked it up and ran it nationally.
CQ: Tell me about your current role. What is a “day in your life” like?
JW: Right now, I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m a Media Specialist/Public Information Officer for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. I also host my own TV show called to “To Serve and Protect.” My day usually starts with my duties as “PIO” in which I give television interviews to TV stations about crime that my agency is involved with. I discuss criminal activity with detectives and then give the sound bites. I then spend the afternoon talking to my producers about my show and writing and editing my show for broadcast. I spend time with the SWAT team, homicide, child abuse, and robbery detectives. Sometimes, it’s information overload, but as a former reporter I have a good handle on taking lots of info and being able to relate it all to the average viewer.
CQ: What are some of the challenges in the news industry? What are the rewards?
JW: The challenges are that it is very demanding and time sensitive. That six o’clock newscast is going to start, and you had better be ready. The pressure is intense, and the competition between reporters at competing stations, and even within your own station, is daunting. News directors want what they want immediately, and for every fired or exiting reporter, there are 20 to 25 applicants who want your job. So you must always be on “your game.”
The rewards are unbelievable. In each news market there is great opportunity to do wonderful things in the community. For many people, a reporter is as close to a celebrity as they will ever get. I have been a speaker at more schools than I can count. People grow to love and respect your work, and it’s a great vehicle to move into high profile jobs like the one I have right now. And simply having your story seen by thousands of people is a great reward in itself.
CQ: If you could interview anyone, who would you choose to interview, and why?
JW: I think it would probably be former President Bill Clinton. The platform he’s taking in Africa and around the globe to help people with AIDS and to make the world a better place is very admirable.
CQ: Who is a person you admire, whose life or legacy has impacted you? How so?
JW: Probably my late uncle, Aaron Gordon. He taught me the importance of hard work and how to be a great husband and father. He also was a wonderful example of how to follow Christ. So much of how I behave was being molded while I lived with him when in college.
CQ: What spiritual lessons have you learned during your journey?
JW: I’ve learned to never forget what God has done for me. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged and think I can’t take another step. But then I think of how He helped my mother send five boys to junior academy, academy, and then to Oakwood College. He cleared the brush in every problem-plagued jungle to make a smooth path for me. When I think about the story of Joseph, I think that he would’ve liked a smooth path in life. But it was just the opposite for him. However, his problems eventually brought him ultimate success.
CQ: What are your upcoming plans? Any more books in the works?
JW: I’ll probably have another book out sometime in late 2008, and I plan to begin doctoral work sometime in 2008 or 2009.
CQ: Last, but not least, is there anything else you would like to add?
JW: Thanks for thinking me worthy or interesting enough to share my perspective. I had the wonderful privilege to interview Governor Jeb Bush once. I asked him the key to success, and he said, “In all things, be courageous.” That’s the advice I sign whenever I autograph my book. So to all who read this: “Be Courageous!”
To contact Jeff, please visit his Web site: www.jeffwilliamson.net