Alumni Spotlight: Gail Levy

| Wed, 11/16/22
FSU alumna Gail Levy reporting at an event. Courtesy photo.
FSU English alumna and reporter Gail Levy. Courtesy photo.

Gail Levy graduated from Florida State University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in English, with a concentration in editing, writing, and media, from the Department of English, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. During her time at FSU, she interned with broadcast news stations WPBF 25 in West Palm Beach, Florida, and WCTV in Tallahassee. These experiences led to Levy’s postgrad position at WJHG-TV in Panama City, which she held from 2018-20 and during which she reported on Hurricane Michael. This onsite coverage of Hurricane Michael in 2018 earned her a Florida Associated Press award. Levy has been with WINK News in Fort Myers since 2020, and she is currently reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Why did you choose FSU?

I was born and raised in Palm Beach Gardens and staying close to my family was a big deal to me. I’m a Florida girl through and through, so that’s why I stayed in state. My family members are huge FSU fans; my dad, my grandparents, and my brother all went to FSU. Even my great-grandmother went to FSU back when it was still the Florida State College for Women. Obviously, as a rite of passage, I had to go to FSU, too. My time at college was spectacular, and choosing FSU was one of the best decisions I ever made.

What inspired you to major in EWM and to go into broadcasting?

You can really make the EWM program your own. I knew I wanted to be a journalist when I was 10 years old and participated in the news program at my school. Journalism doesn't have to be defined by a major. That is what journalism is — you learn a little bit about a lot of things, and then, you're able to talk about them. I knew that even if I decided journalism wasn’t for me, an EWM degree still gave me a great opportunity to explore other paths.

Tell me about your experience reporting on Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Ian this year. How are the two similar and different to cover?

Four months into my time working for WJHG-TV in Panama City, Hurricane Michael hit, and everything changed. I remember an entire roof blowing down the street like tumbleweed. The hurricane devastated the area, and it was difficult to take all of it in and report on the situation. Flash forward to now, and reporting on Ian has caused me to go through the same thing. I meet someone just about every day who lost everything, and that can become emotionally challenging to report on over time.

While the damage in the Panhandle from Michael was really devastating, Ian was almost worse because it destroyed such a populated area and had such a wide geographic impact. While reporting on Hurricane Ian for WINK News, I heard more horror stories about storm surge. Instead of roofs blowing down the street like Michael, Ian lifted houses up and floated them down the street. Some of these homes still had people in them when that happened.

These storms are horrible and devastating, but I have found that disaster brings out the best in communities. When roads were closed and nobody could come in or out of Apalachicola after Michael, everyone came together. They brought whatever food they had to this one restaurant, and they would cook everything up and serve it for free for everyone to eat, no questions asked. I see similar sentiments while reporting on Ian, too. In a way, I feel like these disasters also create a renewed sense of trust in local news because it gives us the chance to really show our community we're here for them.

Why is natural disaster reporting important?

It’s so important to report on these storms because the people they’ve affected need help and attention. I remember during Hurricane Michael, the national media was there for about a week, and then they were gone. The area still needed a ton of help, and the national media just left. When you don't have eyes on a problem, it's easy to forget about it.

What were some organizations or university-related experiences that impacted you during your time at FSU?

I loved studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. The whole experience of study-abroad through FSU’s International Programs was so special, and I enjoyed meeting new people. Getting to know a different culture is so important. My only regret is that I wasn't there long enough. I was also in the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha, which was an amazing experience.

Are there any faculty or staff members who inspired you?

I met Jack Clifford, media specialist for the Department of English, while I was studying abroad. While he is technically a staff member, he co-taught a class in Valencia, Spain, and I think he's the greatest. He's always been my No. 1 fan and supported me through every endeavor; having a teacher like that is priceless. Trust me, there are days when my job is hard, but when you have someone like Jack who will text you and say, “Gail, you’re doing amazing. I saw your report, and I just want to congratulate you. I'm so proud of you,” it makes a world of difference.

What was your favorite place on campus?

Probably the stadium. I didn’t go to every football game, but it was so fun to be there on game day. I also had classes in the stadium. I went to the Leach Center all the time, too. I also used the Health and Wellness Center as my primary doctor. I loved being on campus in general. It's so beautiful with all the hills and beautiful brick buildings. As someone from south Florida, I appreciate getting to experience all four seasons in Tallahassee.

What advice do you have for current students?

Follow your dreams! Your path won’t always be easy, but work hard and try your best. It’s also okay for your dreams to change. Even if what you thought you wanted doesn’t work out, it can still be a valuable learning experience.