Watkins left Action News on May 31, writing on her blog, "I no longer thrive in how news markets function." We caught up with Watkins to ask her about the crazy world of TV weather and what comes next.
Folio Weekly: Why did you get into TV news?
Julie Watkins: I was in college, and I was like, I wanna make a difference in the world, and I felt news did that, especially watching investigative reports, undercover stuff, 'cause these were life-changing things for me. I wanted to make that positive difference for someone else. So I went to college for mass communications and got into the news business, and I realized you're not so much able to do these investigative reports, it's more about covering murders, fires and all this other stuff.
Why did you choose to do weather?
I was good at math and science in school, so I got introduced to the meteorology aspect of it, and I love the environment, I love learning about it, seeing how everything's connected, and I was like, yeah, this is for me.
Do you know more about the weather than the average person?
I would like to think so — after 15 years, yeah. I at least know where to go to dissect [the weather] better than the average person. How to get the models and how to interpret them, all the data the National Weather Service accumulates, how to interpret that.
Is it fair to make a distinction between a meteorologist and a TV meteorologist?
Yes. I think so. Because [there are] different skill sets and different job requirements. For broadcast meteorologists, your time to put that forecast together is diminished because you've got to record promos, you've got to do web updates, social media updates, you've got to build graphics and all these other side things. People that work at the National Weather Service or even those that work for the Golf Channel and do the weather for each of those tournaments, they're looking at radar a lot longer than we are and can be more specific about the winds and directions and all that stuff.
So TV meteorologists actually do the dirty work?
The ones I've worked with, yeah. And they're science and weather geeks.
Did you ever aspire to work in a major market like New York, LA or Chicago?
I thought I did because I thought the news got better in top-20 markets. I thought in small and medium markets like Jacksonville we're all stressed out and hating it because we're working on a shoestring budget, there's not enough people, or there's not a real sense of operation. But it's the same in these top-20 markets.
Did TV bosses ever pressure you to look nice?
Oh yeah! They would talk about my hairstyle. I remember one time there was a boss who wanted me to part my hair a different way because the way that I turn on screen, my bangs would cover my face in the side profile. These image consultants would come in, and they would look at your clothes and they would say, "This looks good, we're gonna piece this together, you could put a belt with this, this will make you pop on-air."
Tell me a criticism a consultant gave you.
When I first started, I was sing-songy. You're trying to develop this voice — a lot of reporters aren't speaking in their normal tone. Everyone develops this same voice. I was told to make more eye contact during the presentation so I'm connecting to the audience and talking on their level. You've got to come across as credible and likable.
You've decided to leave all that behind?
I've wanted to get out of TV news since 2007. When these weather people were geeking out over the weather and I wasn't, I knew my passion was somewhere else. Dealing with animals and the environment, I wanted to develop that.
And you're totally done with TV?
I'm done with local news. I won't say I'm done with TV forever.
What do you do now?
There's a couple things I wanna do that I'm not really ready to reveal yet, but a lot more energy is going into Girls Gone Green, a local nonprofit. I also represent a company based out of San Francisco called Hampton Creek Foods. They produce healthier alternatives that are vegan, and they're affordable.
What does Girls Gone Green do?
We do environmental, animal and health initiatives. We put on two big events in Jacksonville, Northeast Florida VegFest and No Meat March. VegFest is Nov. 8 at Riverside Park; it's just a day that we can bring local eco-friendly sustainable organic health-conscious and humane nonprofits all under one roof, but to make it fun. No Meat March is actually international. Everyone from across the world can sign up.
Are you vegan yourself?
I am, yeah. I went vegetarian in 1997, and then while working in Norfolk, there was an activist group there, and I became a little more informed about the egg and dairy industry. You think, "Hey, I'm not killing any animals, it's OK," when in fact it can be even more cruel than eating a steak or chicken or fish.
Do you remember the last thing you ate that
Yeah. [Laughs.] It was my mom's Scottish dish called mince and tatties. It's basically ground beef and potatoes. But now she makes it with the fake meat.