Leaving a successful career as a top television news reporter to work for a newly elected congressman who could be out of a job by the end of this year may sound like bit of a risk. But Preston Rudie says there's no guarantee of anything in this world, and the upside was too good for him to turn down.
Rudie announced officially on Thursday that he would be stepping down from his position at WTSP-10 News at the end of this week to go to work as newly elected Congressman David Jolly's director of communications, based in Jolly's district office in Seminole.
"I think with everything in life there’s a degree of risk. There’ s always a risk that my contract wouldn’t be renewed at 10 News," he told CL on Friday afternoon. Although he says such a prospect was unlikely, he has dismissed any concerns that he might have to look for a new job after this year's election, which could be one of the most fiercely contested congressional races in the country. It's a swing district that Jolly carried by less than two percentage points last month over Democrat Alex Sink (who remains undecided on whether she'll run for the seat again).
Although the Democrats don't have a candidate yet, they feel confident that they'll at least be turning out more of their voters this fall than in last month's special election. But that could be offset from benefits Jolly adds up as the incumbent, albeit a very brief one..
But Rudie says none of that factored into his decision. He says that since he got to know Jolly covering the CD13 special election, "I believe in my heart that David believes this is about service. This is about helping people, and as a matter of the fourth estate in television, that's still what we are at our core. We are about serving the public. Maybe in a different way than a public official, but that's really who we do serve. And I believe since David gets that, that's what really made the job appealing to me."
Rudie is a Wisconsin native. He attended high school in Milwaukee and college in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. His first stint in journalism was in Iowa radio before returning to Madison. He said that's when he got a bit of a political bug, covering then Governor Tommy Thompson and the Wisconsin state legislature. After TV news positions in both Milwaukee and Green Bay, he jettisoned to WTSP in St. Petersburg in 2002, where he's won a slew of awards, including more than 20 Emmy Awards.
Like his counterpart on Kathy Castor's staff, Marcia Meija in Tampa, Rudie will be situated most of the time at his district's main office, occasionally making trips to Washington when appropriate. His last day at 10 News is this coming Friday, and he will start work in Jolly's office on April 21. A family vacation will follow soon after that, but by early May he'll be facilitating communications for Jolly, who was elected to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young, an institution as Pinellas' representative for over 40 years.
An interesting sidebar to this development is the fact that Rudie broke one of the biggest stories during the CD13 race — that as a 16-year-old, Jolly accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian. He was never charged in the incident, and it went unreported until less than three weeks before the election.
As for Rudie's political leanings, he says he's non-party-affiliated, NPA — and has never been registered to a party. His departure from journalism to work for a conservative lawmaker is a bit of an anomaly of late, when many journalists who've made similar moves have gone to work for liberal rather than conservative politicians, like the nearly two dozen who have worked or continue to work in the Barack Obama White House, including press secretary Jay Carney (a Time alumnus). There have been others who have moved back and forth from government to journalism over the years, like George Stephanopoulos and Bill Moyers, and most controversially, John Miller, who has gone back and forth several times between working for police departments in New York and Los Angeles to ABC and CBS. Rudie said he doesn't think it will be an issue if he ever decides to get back into television.
But that's the last thing he's thinking about these days. He's just extremely excited to take on a new career challenge.
"It's an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up," he says.