Time for change, a leader moves on to new challenges: Matt's Memo

Rae Fulkerson

She stood before a newsroom filled with most of the staff at the television station. The group also included several retirees from WSTM-TV. They had returned to the building to send off News Director Rae Fulkerson. After ten years as the leader of an expansive, award winning news operation she is making a career change.

She begins work at Lockheed Martin as a communications specialist. It is a move being made for all the right reasons. Rae wants a new professional challenge, but more significantly she wants more time at home to spend with her husband and two young girls. The job of television News Director requires attention every day and all day. She deserves a new approach.

As she talked this afternoon about the end to nearly 14 years at the station, she recalled the year we first met. It was 1999. 18 years ago. I was anchoring at the old WTVH at 980 James Street. Rae was less than a year out of Newhouse at Syracuse University. She first worked briefly at WROC in Rochester before taking the job producing newscasts at Channel 5. She was bright. Quick thinking and willing to take charge.

I have several distinct memories of Rae from that time. She never wanted to be an on-air reporter, but one night we needed someone to do a live report after a case of West Nile virus was discovered. She did great, but forever left the reporting to others.

Then there was the dark day of September 11, 2001. We all reported to work as soon as the second plane hit the tower. While we took to the air for long stretches to deliver the story we also dealt with our own fears and uncertainty of what might come next. It is the one time I can remember Rae tearing up and becoming emotional in all our years of covering major stories together.

She is a fighter. She can be tough. Yet, at that young age, even she would admit, she was often more interested in who was going out after the late newscasts then worrying about where her career path might lead. That would change. She became a producer of for NBC in Miami. A couple years in Florida and she would return to Syracuse this time as Assistant News Director at WSTM. She was now a manager.

Her early years came flashing back for me today as I watched her say goodbye. 14 years later she has hired, promoted and fired dozens of employees. She took the reins of the news department during some the most difficult times in the history of broadcasting. The souring economy of 2008-09 led to layoffs of people who were friends and colleagues. The merger with WTVH immediately followed bringing a new array of challenges.

It took many years of survival before the tide would turn and Rae would have newer technology, a larger staff and more support to elevate the news product and be able to truly compete. And that she did.

The last few years have seen great progress and shelf load of awards for our station and news operation. Topping the list the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence and two Emmys for Best Newscast. Ratings have grown in all parts of the day over three stations that all broadcast from the same building. Each day is a remarkable feat.

Over the years, the news producer that was the young Rae Newman had matured into the Award Winning Television News Director Rae Fulkerson. She stood up for journalism, she understood winning in television and she sacrificed a great deal to ensure success for so many others. I couldn't be more proud of the person, the professional she has become. It will be odd to come to work Monday and see her office sitting empty. We will move ahead. Carve a new path. But, it won't be the same.

If you see Rae in the Lockheed Martin cafeteria (I assume they have one) tell her we said hello and thank you.

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