Laura Emerson leaving FOX Toledo after 16 yearsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Once a year or so, WUPW runs a contest to choose a spokesperson who will introduce shows, appear in ads and promote the station. The winner is dubbed “The Face of FOX Toledo.”
But someone who has had a legitimate claim to that title for 16 years is preparing to depart the Glass City. Laura Emerson, who has co-anchored FOX Toledo News since it began in 1996, has decided to leave the station.
Beginning in mid-January, Emerson will relocate to Paducah, Ky., where she will work for NBC affiliate WPSD.
“It’s one of the two dominant stations in that market,” Emerson said. “It’s a hyphenated market that includes Cape Girardeau, Mo. and part of southern Illinois. But it’s one of two stations gunning for No. 1.”
Emerson’s final decision to leave Toledo was a recent one — she made up her mind in mid-December — but she’d been considering the move for some time.
“I’ve missed for a while being in a full-service newsroom. We do two shows a day, and I’m proud of the product we put on at FOX Toledo, but my previous two TV stations had morning, noon, multiple night newscasts. And it is helpful to have more coverage throughout the day, and I’m kind of excited to get back to that sort of a newsroom,” she said.
“It’s going to be a newsroom that does four and a half hours a day, versus the one and a half we’re doing here, so it’s significantly more.”
So, she’s leaving to do even more work?
“We’ll have a lot more people, too,” she laughed, noting WPSD’s staff will be nearly twice the size of FOX Toledo’s. “There’s an advantage to keeping that 24-hour local news cycle going.”
Emerson said shaking things up in her career is an appealing idea.
“Sometimes you’re just excited about change, for the sake of newness. Change kinda wakes you up, and gets you excited about life again,” she said. “And while it’s a little bit stressful not to know what the new people are going to be like, or the new place I’m going to be living, I’m kinda excited about just change.”
There is no doubt Emerson is leaving a considerable vacancy behind at FOX Toledo, one that is already being felt by those who have worked with her.
“We were very fortunate to have her as long as we did,” said Shaun Hegarty, who has co-anchored FOX Toledo News with Emerson since 2006. “She’s been a rock at this place for several years. The viewers have come to know her, come to like what she does. It is a substantial loss, but the news business goes forward.”
The early days
Perhaps, but Emerson’s tenure leaves a significant set of shoes to fill. Her run as one of the most prominent faces of the area’s media began when the inaugural broadcast of FOX Toledo News — “Fox 36 News at 10” aired Jan. 28, 1996, following the Super Bowl.
“It was interesting being with a news operation from the very beginning, because you didn’t have anything to build upon,” Emerson said of the news department’s early days.
“You could invent whatever you could dream up. And it was exciting to be a part of building that.
“Since we didn’t have ratings to lose in the beginning, we were able to be a little experimental and try things that just sounded cool — some of which worked, some didn’t. But that was kind of a fun, creative place to be.”
She also noted the uphill battle the station’s news department has fought to gain respect in the community.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve positioned ourselves as a news operation. It’s kind of tough to be a Fox label in a Democrat town. Because sometimes when you’re out covering something political, people automatically assume you are Fox News Channel, which we are not,” she said. “We are a very moderate news operation. But sometimes, we’ve had to fight hard to convince various individuals and entities of that. But I’m proud that we’ve stood our ground and worked hard to get that point across and become accepted in the Toledo market as a news operation.”
Karl Rundgren, managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News from 2003-08, said Emerson was a strong on-air partner.
“Laura was a huge help when I first started anchoring at FOX Toledo,” he said. “I was figuring things out on live TV, and she was always incredibly patient with my mistakes. Before long, we developed a strong partnership where we could communicate to each other silently while still reading the news.
“Laura barely ever cracked up on camera, but I do remember one time that we both almost lost it. She was reading a story about a bizarre crook in lingerie who was robbing people, and actually talked about how he would ‘shake his man-breasts’ at the cops. We came back on camera, and I just turned and looked at her and said, ‘“Man-breasts,” huh?’ Then we both struggled to keep from breaking into peals of laughter. It just sounded so bizarre for the phrase ‘man-breasts’ to be read in her refined voice.”
Her time at FOX Toledo has also helped Emerson mature as a broadcaster, she said.
“[I’m] so much more confident, just from experience,” she said. “Knowing how to handle breaking news, lots of years of helping young reporters write stories, being a mentor, making decisions, becoming a senior person in a newsroom.”
How will she face the challenge of relocating to WPSD — going from the highest individual on the totem pole to starting over?
“I’m looking forward to it, because it really has been a long time that, you know, I’ve sort of been just part of the furniture, and everyone just sort of expected me to be here,” Emerson said with a laugh. “I’m not saying [they] took me for granted, I don’t want to say that, but just saw me as completely a part of the product.
“It’s really going to be invigorating to be the one who is learning again. I have to learn a different style, a different philosophy, different newsroom computer system. I think all of that is going to be, while a little challenging, very exciting.”
‘Care about your audience’
But that excitement comes tinged with some sadness as Emerson prepares to depart a station and community she’s worked so tirelessly for. “I’m proud of being a consistent presence that people could depend on — as a co-worker, as a person on the air, I’ve always been dependable, and you know what you’re gonna get if you know me,” she said.
“I’ve just been fortunate to work with a pro,” Hegarty said of Emerson. “I’ve been very lucky to have somebody in here who knows this business inside and out, somebody who can give me guidance when I need to, and help us to be a big player in a pinch. It’s not like I came in here working with a rookie. I came in here working with a pro, and not a lot of people can say they did that, and I did. And I’m lucky.”
Asked what she will miss about the city she is departing, Emerson said her passion for the Toledo arts community, the good friends she’s made and the giving spirit of the city’s residents.
“I’m hoping I can find some of that in my new home in Kentucky, but all communities are different. I’m not taking for granted what I’m leaving behind in Toledo. There’s a lot of good here,” she said.
On that note, Emerson had simple words of advice for whoever is chosen to take her place at Hegarty’s side:
“Please try to uphold good journalistic standards, and care about your audience every night. When you’re looking over copy, when you’re writing a story, just care about the audience. I believe in that as the No. 1 thing for journalists of all kinds. You need to care about your reader, you need to care about the people you’re writing for. And do a good job for them, in addition to doing it for you.”