Jenna Huff is the news director for WFXL-TV Fox 31 in Albany.
There’s a lot of ground to cover between Tecumseh, Mich., and Albany, Ga., and yet somehow Jenna Huff — the head of local Fox affiliate WFXL-TV — made that leap, plus another to a nice job in Knoxville, Tenn., before deciding to make Albany the place where she would settle down.
In a recent interview with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner, the former athlete turned newshound talks about her life in the newsroom, managing the chaos that comes with it and how one of the industry’s youngest news directors balances that with a growing family life.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was a — well, my first legit job — was a pizza delivery girl. I was the only girl in an all-male restaurant, which was a learning experience. I had a fun time at that. But I delivered pizzas at my local establishments in my hometown in Michigan.
Q: What did you do with your first paycheck?
A: The first paycheck probably went toward my car. That was about the only thing that my parents gave to me, that I didn’t really have to work for. They gave me the car, but they wouldn’t pay for anything to do with the car. So most of my paychecks for any of my jobs went towards gas or maintenance or tires or something like that.
NAME: Jenna McWilliams Huff
OCCUPATION: News Director, WFXL-TV Fox 31
YEARS OTJ: Six
PERSONAL: Married to Justin Huff and expecting their first child. Also has two dogs, Puddin’ and Deacon
Q: What would you say is your most valuable piece of office technology?
A: I don’t know about my favorite piece, I don’t think I really have a favorite piece of technology. If I didn’t have to have them all, I would probably get rid of them all. I’m not one of those people who has to be on Facebook 24/7, I mostly do it to keep track of the news or my staff or what’s going on in the world or use it toward my job in some way, shape or form, but I would say the one I use the most is my phone, most definitely.
Apps and alerts and constant communication with my staff or people here at the office or my boss or even when reporters are out in the field my phone is constantly going off. I think I would be pretty much lost if I didn’t have my phone.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, real or imaginary, who would it be and why?
A: I’m going to be very honest. I would probably say Justin Timberlake. I have been a huge Timberlake fan since day one — prior to N’Sync, Mickey Mouse Club style.
So I would sit down with him. Since, obviously, he’s married and I’m married that wouldn’t work out, but that would be my No. 1 pick.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person entering your career?
A: I think the most honest advice anyone could give in this industry is that it’s not easy so be prepared to work hard.
That means that we work on holidays; we work more than 40 hours a week; we don’t have a normal schedule; a lot of my staff and people that I know in this business juggle split-shifts and family vacations, and they miss out on things because it’s not a nine-to-five job.
You can’t stop the news from happening and if it’s our job to cover it, someone needs to be there. Unfortunately, it’s you some days and me the other day and we kind of share that burden as a team. It’s a lot different from the outside looking in.
I think a lot of people have a false sense of what our industry actually entails, and the different sides of it, too — what sales does and what management does and what the news staff actually does. So I encourage them, drop me a line, an email or whatever, I will let you shadow someone for a day.
It is not an easy job. It is chaotic and stressful and we juggle four stories a day and working on special projects on the side and you’re trying to that faster and better than everybody else, so it’s a lot and it’s stressful and you don’t necessarily have the answers all of the time; you just hope you’re doing the right thing. So take it with a grain of salt and a deep breath and know that you’re probably going to work your butt off.
Q: How did you find yourself in your business?
A: I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.
My sister always knew what she wanted to do, my brother always knew what he wanted to do, I had no idea.
I think I said that I wanted to be a dental hygienist or something like that, which is weird because I hate the dentist, so I don’t know why I just gave that blanket answer. But I didn’t find out that I wanted to do this or get into the broadcast industry until I job-shadowed someone in high school at a radio station. Then I started doing some research and I found that the pay wasn’t great in radio and maybe it was a little bit better in TV. So I decided to go that way.
And I was always asked, “Why don’t you do sports?” I was a three-sport athlete in high school and played sports in college and people would say, “You need to do sports; they need girls in sports.” But I never wanted to do that.
Once I caught the news bug of breaking news and having that scoop or scooping someone else or being the first one to a scene; it’s a little bit of an adrenaline rush and I definitely like things of that nature, I guess, so, I’m very competitive too so that helped as well and once I tested it a little bit in high school I decided that’s what I want to do.
Q: What are some of the bright spots of
A: The brights are definitely seeing some of my staff, who tend to be young, succeed.
It’s always good — I call them a “10” day — if you get that lead story or you scoop someone or you get to send that breaking news alert out or you have something that nobody else has, which is hard to do in our community, when you have that “10” day, you know it and you feel it and everyone else in the newsroom feels it too and they thrive off that and they share in your success.
And that “10” day gets you through the next couple of weeks until the next one comes around because they’re not everyday. That is definitely a highlight.
I think our staff gets along really well; not just the news department but I feel like everyone in the building. I feel like there is a camaraderie that has been improved upon and it’s noticeable and infectious and its fun and the people here are fun.
They know when to take things seriously and get the job done and they also know to be a team player or be a friend or be a mother or be a babysitter or something like that. If I ever needed anything, I know I could probably go to one of my staffers or one of the other employees at Fox 31 and I’d be covered.
Q: If you weren’t in the news business, what would you be doing today?
A: I have no idea. I have thrown around 100 different things in jest to my husband: “If I ever got out of this crazy business I would do this ...” and I’m going to stick with the one that I have been most serious about which is — and I don’t think that there is any money in this — opening up my own boarding facility for dogs.
I recently, a few years ago, rescued my first dog of my own. I’m in love with this dog and I’ve since rescued another one and I think if I had the land and the money to do it I would open this facility and take care of other people’s puppies and dogs while they’re on vacation. Have a big fenced-in yard, maybe with some playtoys out there and just hang out outside and walk them — could I be a professional dog walker? Is that possible ? Does Albany have a need for that?
Q: You first came to Albany as a reporter and then left for a bigger market only to come back for a leadership role. What made you come back?
A: I’ll first say that I’m a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. Whatever you attribute that to be: Karma, God, who knows, whatever. I do believe that if you think rationally about each decision you’re faced with in your life and your gut tells you to go, you go. And that’s kind of how I got to Albany. And that’s kind of how I left in the same sense. At that point in my career I was ready to move on and I took an opportunity I was faced with.
And my husband, with his horrible timing — we got engaged five days after I got the job in Tennessee — so I was already going. He was born and raised in Albany and so he was staying and his job was here at the time, too, so I left and did what I had to do there.
And then, during our engagement or prior to the wedding, I was looking for other opportunities that would bring me back here and didn’t think that there would be any in the broadcast industry here because there were very few opportunities, especially if you’re looking for a specific city, and so we sat and thought and prayed about it and kept all of our options open. And this just happened to open up at the right time in the right place it was presented to me and it was actually the assistant news director position and I thought, “Man, the timing couldn’t be better.”
I came back in April, got married in October, we already had a house. It all just happened to work out that way, so I definitely take that as a sign that I’m supposed to be here doing this and that I was supposed to come back and things have worked out OK for the most part now.
It is a weird thing and I know it’s different, especially in this business — everybody bounces around every two years, five years or whatever — this just happened to work out so we’ll see where it goes. I’m kind of a fly by the seat of your pants girl.
Q: Is there a saying or quote that motivates you to be successful?
A: Yeah, I think there is definitely something that stands out to me that my father says all the time and every time that I see him but I don’t think it’s appropriate for this interview so I won’t say it but it has something to do with the effect of “Make me proud and keep you head on straight.”
And I think, in knowing that someone is always wanting the best for you and is expecting the best out of you and is constantly checking on you and is super involved in your life — even from afar my parents are still wanting to know what’s going on here and are following accolades here at the station, all of that kind of stuff — and answering to them rather than just my boss or the community is very important to me and I’m a daddy’s girl so to please him and make him happy is something I strive for.