WHAS11’s Christy Moreno and Julie Wolfe are taking charge and shattering ceilings
By Laura Ross
Photos by Louis Tinsley
Meet the rock star and the badass. The breaking news at WHAS11-TV is the recent appointment of two dynamic, focused women to the top echelon of leadership at the venerable Louisville news station. President and General Manager Christy Moreno and News Director Julie Wolfe joined WHAS in late 2018 and are transforming the station into a news powerhouse for the future.
Christy Moreno started her career as a news producer and quickly moved through the ranks at stations in Houston and San Antonio, Texas. Later, she was tapped for news director positions in Knoxville and Denver and while in Denver at KUSA, was part of parent company TEGNA’s executive leadership program. She set her sights on a general manager position and when the opportunity arose at WHAS, she grabbed it. She fell in love with the city and brought her family, including her husband, Juan, and children, Isabel, 11, and Beverly, 8, along for the ride.
“We all loved Denver, so it took something special to make us move,” Moreno said. The family is settling in and looking forward to their first Kentucky Derby, and Moreno has already joined the board of the Kentucky Derby Festival. But first, she dove into the work at WHAS as the station’s second-ever female president and general manager.
“When I got here, WHAS had been without a news director for several months,” she said. “I knew that was my first critically important hire. I needed a badass who could transform news content, and Julie popped in my head.”
The two had met previously through TEGNA conferences and projects. Wolfe was comfortably ensconced in an executive news position at WXIA in Atlanta, a top-10 market. With fingers crossed, Moreno reached out to Julie on Facebook and asked about her interest in coming to Louisville. Wolfe politely responded that she’d think about it, and Moreno thought that was the end of the conversation.
“But then she got back to me,” Moreno said. The stars aligned and Wolfe accepted the news director position at WHAS in September 2018. “I really couldn’t have a better partner in this,” said Moreno. “She’s such a strong journalist with an incredible background. She’s an innovator. You know those movies where you see people with data popping up around their brain? That’s the way Julie thinks.”
Wolfe spent much of her early career thinking on her feet – literally – as a one-(wo)man-band, serving as both field reporter and photographer. She moved to Atlanta’s WXIA, where she made the jump to digital, multimedia journalism just as the trend took off. She became the manager of social media and later the director of digital content and assistant news director. The opportunity to join Moreno in Louisville appealed to Wolfe, and she and her husband, Ryan Watton, and 3-year-old daughter, Katherine, made the move.
Two female leaders in traditionally male-dominated positions was a big change for WHAS’s newsroom. Long-time anchor Rachel Platt, who joined the station in 1989 and recently moved on to a new role in marketing at the Frazier History Museum, is a huge cheerleader for Moreno and Wolfe.
“When I started, women were just trying to make their mark on-air mostly, and we fought for that and certainly achieved great success,” Platt said. “Before I left WHAS, I had never had a female GM and female news director at the same time, and it was exciting to see another glass ceiling broken. Our attention for women now needs to be on managerial positions, running the place and even owning it.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of from my time in Atlanta is helping create a culture that was very friendly to working moms,” said Wolfe. “In our industry, that isn’t normal. As an industry, we’ve told women for a long time you must choose: You can be a mom or a journalist.”
Moreno and Wolfe know a key focus is supporting their female staff.
“I’ve worked with people in this industry who thought they had to hide the fact they are moms,” Moreno said. “That makes me so sad. I want that to change in our newsroom culture.”
“We lose so many good producers and reporters in their early 30s because the industry has always said, ‘Well, you can’t keep up this pace and be a mom, too,’” explained Wolfe. “These women are at the peak of their careers, and we are losing them. For any industry, that’s terrible, but it’s something we must look at in journalism.”
Moreno and Wolfe are working with staff to be more flexible with time off and family needs, even with the hectic and unpredictable nature of news. “We understand moms because we are moms,” Moreno said. “My spinning plates are falling all the time. I do my best here, at work and at home to be a mom and role model to my girls. Some days are better than others. Mom guilt is real.”
“Being a working mom is complicated, hard and messy – kind of like journalism,” Wolfe laughed. “It’s important, amazing and wonderful. You must love both halves of your life. It’s OK to not always be perfect.”
News as we know it is changing, from the people on air and behind the scenes to the content produced. The revolution of 24-hour news only hit around 25 years ago, and today, it continues its rapid transformation to the digital realm. “I love the feeling of this new frontier,” said Wolfe. “If you’re not ahead every day, you’re behind and I enjoy that.
“I love social and digital because the analytics provide such immediate feedback,” she continued. “If you have a story that people react to, you can change a headline or switch out something right away.”
Are on-set, anchor-led television newscasts dinosaurs today? Will there be a traditional six-o’clock television newscast in the future? Wolfe says yes. “As a station, we are always looking ahead,” she said. “We want to serve our audience wherever they are. Our television newscasts are still huge, especially our morning show and 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. But we can’t ignore the fact that many people are getting their news through apps and online. We specialize our content across all the platforms, and that is the future.”
Moreno agreed. “The viewer is choosing us over so many content choices. We need to understand that and respond.”
Both women acknowledge that while WHAS has a long, storied history of powerful ratings, legendary reporters and anchors and community support, success is not a given. “I did not come here to fail,” Moreno stated. “Absolutely, we want to be number one in every newscast, but we also realize we have formidable competition. There is excellent news product here in Louisville. Julie and I both know we have a great shot at being where we want to be because we have a great foundation in WHAS, great community outreach through the WHAS Crusade for Children and great people inside this building.”
Julie Wolfe is such a strong journalist with an incredible background. She’s an innovator. You know those movies where you see people with data popping up around their brain? That’s the way she thinks.”
— Christy Moreno
As Wolfe and Moreno revamp and reenergize the newsroom and newscasts, they know some things – and people – will change. “I let people know that they have a clear path to believe in themselves,” said Moreno. “They know our goal and how we’re going to get to it.”
Both feel the newsroom has a good mix of seasoned journalists and hungry, young reporters. Moreno likes to call them “rock stars” and “superstars.” The “rock stars” are the long-time staff who carry the essential institutional knowledge and act as mentors to the younger staff – they are the “rock” of WHAS’s newsroom. The “superstars” are the eager and talented new hires who Moreno and Wolfe are bringing on board.
The news business today is more tumultuous than ever, often with the news itself becoming the story. In an era of cries of “fake news!” how do Moreno and Wolfe navigate those waters? “When people talk about a newsroom being slanted, I crack up,” admitted Moreno, noting that her newsroom staff is made up of many different backgrounds, opinions and political leanings.
“When we order pizza, no one can agree on the toppings because there are too many opinions,” she laughed. “It’s human nature. I’d love to bring visitors into this building to hear the editorial meetings each day and see how the news process actually happens. They’d see the debates and arguments and conversations on how we think through coverage. We don’t just do a story one way.”
Wolfe agreed. “We have to peel back the curtain more and be as transparent as possible,” she said. “This is our community – we go to school with your kids, we eat in the same places, we go to the ballpark with you. That’s what local news provides. We are here, living the stories that we cover. Why would we do fake news? We have a tremendous opportunity to break through the noise, and you can trust us.”
Building that trust starts in the newsroom, where Wolfe and Moreno aim to craft a culture where people can share all ideas and perspectives.
We have to peel back the curtain more and be as transparent as possible. This is our community. … We have a tremendous opportunity to break through the noise, and you can trust us.”
— Julie Wolfe
“We work in a really difficult industry,” said Wolfe, “The hours are bad. We work holidays and weekends and overnights. The news never ends. Plus, sometimes the stories we do are just hard emotionally. All of that is continuing and even speeding up, but the only way we can control it is to focus on our team and how we treat each other with respect.”
“Sometimes people leave and viewers miss them,” Moreno said. “But while faces may change, our commitment and vision for our station and our community does not. You can pay tribute to your history, but to stay relevant and current, you must always try new things.
“We will never turn our back on the principles we were founded on,” added Moreno. “We might present it differently in the future, but it always goes back to our roots of having great people, great stories and doing great journalism at WHAS.” V