TV journalist/alumna describes her journey
By Audrey Sapunarich
Journalist Jenna Wolfe ’96 returned to Binghamton University on Nov. 11 to discuss the past, present and future of her career.
Wolfe (right of photo) spoke to students as part of the Cool Connections, Hot Alumni series and Harpur Edge’s “Lunch and Learn” session. The visit came less than a week after Wolfe announced that she is leaving NBC after more than eight years on the TODAY show.
Her career as a journalist began at Binghamton, where Wolfe majored in English and French and finagled her way into an internship at WICZ-TV, now FOX 40.
“I hopped on my bike and in the only dress I had, I biked my way down to the affiliate and knocked on the back door,” she said. “The news director laughed at me and said, ‘There’s an application process. It’s three weeks (after) we’re taking interns. You can’t just walk in.’
“I went back to the English Department and I got the application. I took the date; I whited it out. I backdated it to three weeks before it had to be in. I got back on my bike and went right back into the station. I got the internship. Then I took that same piece of paper and made Xerox copies, whited-out the date, and I interned for two years at the TV station. Nobody realized it and by the time I graduated, I knew everything at that station.”
Wolfe said she transferred to Binghamton University from SUNY Geneseo knowing exactly what she wanted: to be a news reporter. Upon graduating from Binghamton, the station she interned for offered her a job in sports.
She said she knew nothing about sports but took the job and became a self-taught expert.
“Binghamton set the foundation for who I am today. That was the first door that opened up for me. I ended up doing sports for 12 years at various affiliates,” Wolfe said. “Then one day the TODAY show called. I thought it was a prank.”
The TODAY show loved Wolfe’s personality and wanted to hire her, though it didn’t have a sports position available.
Wolfe, who became a fitness correspondent for TODAY and a co-anchor for Weekend TODAY, said her national audience watched her life unfold.
“I came out on national television; I had two children basically on TV. It has been an educational and fulfilling experience. And 99.9 percent of those years were funny, athletic, exhilarating, conceptual, off-the-cuff crazy, let-you-do-what-you-want-Jenna years,” Wolfe said. “Except for one story.”
Wolfe returned to Haiti, where she lived for much of her childhood, after an earthquake hit in 2010. She said her goal for the story was to find Andremeeze, the woman who helped raise her.
With a producer, two bodyguards, two camera people and a translator packed in a Caravan, Wolfe drove for hours picking up people who said they might know where Andremeeze could be.
“It was 100 degrees; there was rubble everywhere and we could barely get through the roads,” Wolfe said. “My producer kept saying, ‘We have to get back. We have to feed this back to New York. We don’t have a story.’ It was 5 o’clock. One person said she might be at the top of this hill. I said, ‘Alright, we’ll make a deal. We drive to this one place and if she’s not there, we can go back to our camp base.’ We get to this place and no one is there; it’s desolate. I get out of the car and I’m emotionally drained, sweating, tired. I turn around to walk back to the car and out of the blue, someone calls my name. Out of nowhere, Andremeeze comes around. Tears started streaming down my face. I’ve never cried on camera; I’ve never been serious on camera. It was uncontrollable.”
Wolfe said she was wearing a black blazer with her white skin and Andremeeze was wearing a white T-shirt with her black skin. Their foreheads met and they held each other, crying as the camera rolled.
“It had been about 35 years,” Wolfe said. “I left Haiti when I was 13 years old and here I was, 30-something and she remembered me as if I never left. All this Creole I hadn’t spoken in years came back to me. All of these memories I hadn’t remembered came back to me.”
After having the most incredible experience of her life while working with the TODAY show, Wolfe said she now has an appetite for change.
“The easy thing to do is stay in your 9-to-5 job, collect your paycheck and never
do anything scary,” she said. “But why not shake things up a little bit? I have an
opportunity to do that right now. At NBC, I knew how to do the job and I enjoyed doing
the job. It was safe. But I have this thirst to do something more now.
“While NBC was fantastic, I was in a news umbrella. I was only able to do certain things. Now that the friendly handcuffs are off, I have a chance to go explore the rest of the world and I couldn’t be more excited.”
She said she is ready for whatever the future brings, but she has some plans in the meantime. Wolfe said she will design fitness plans for health companies, give empowerment speeches to young women and appear on a few segments of The Dr. Oz Show, as well as an episode of Law & Order: SVU, airing Nov. 18.
“Say ‘yes’ to something new, something scary, something different, something that will challenge you, something that will make you succeed and make you fail,” Wolfe said. “You may have regrets. You may feel like you made mistakes. But I promise you that’s the life that is going to be rewarding.”
B-CONNECTED with other graduates! B-connected is a secure virtual community only for Binghamton University alumni. Update your personal profile, search for alumni, and submit and read Class Notes.
SHARE YOUR EXPERTISE WITH US! The Alumni Relations office is asked to recommend alumni who are expert speakers. If you are well-versed in subjects including national security, politics, technology, career networking, environmental studies or etiquette, please contact Melinda Holicky, associate director for alumni volunteer engagement. Include your name, class year and a brief biography. Supporting material could include a c.v. or link to your website.
'TIS THE SEASON to stock up on Binghamton gear! Alumni and University spirit items make great gifts - for you and for those near and dear. The Binghamton University Bookstore is your one-stop shop for apparel, accessories and home decor goods. On Nov. 30, the Bookstore will have a Cyber Monday sale: 30 percent off all Champion brand alumni merchandise, and shipping is free!