Local news anchor Jessica Ralston leaving city for new job
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For nearly a decade, Jessica Ralston has been reporting and disseminating news for WSAZ, an NBC affiliate for the Huntington-Charleston market.
Ralston, who has become a fixture in the news community, will leave the place she has called home since December 2003. The anchor desk, from which she hosts four daily newscasts, will see a new face following her departure Oct. 4.
Ralston got her start in television news at WFMJ-TV 21 in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1998. She spent 3 years there before moving to WDTV in Clarksburg, where she worked as an anchor, reporter and producer for the morning and evening newscasts.
Ralston joined WSAZ in 2003 and began as a general assignment reporter and fill-in anchor. She was promoted over the years and began to produce, report and anchor more often.
"In 2006, I was ready to leave," Ralston said. "I told my general manager that I was looking for employment elsewhere and he presented me with the opportunity to be the executive producer of my own show. I was excited, so I stuck around."
Ralston began producing, writing and editing the "my Z Ten O'Clock News" in 2006. She chose her own content and was in complete control of the program.
"I anchor the newscasts at 5:30, 6, 10 and 11," Ralston said. "It's a lot and I lose my voice quite a bit."
Ralston has received four Emmy awards for her reporting of breaking news and anchoring. Her "my Z Ten O'Clock News" has been twice named "Best PM Newscast" by the West Virginia Broadcaster's Association. She has also been recognized by The Associated Press and has received several consecutive wins as "Best Reporter," "Best Enterprise Reporter," "Best Anchor," "Best Breaking News Coverage" and "Broadcast Journalist of the Year."
"Every time I win something, I'm shocked," Ralston said.
Ralston has stepped out from behind the anchor desk several times and reported from the field. Her most memorable assignment was when she traveled to Montcoal on April 5, 2010 to report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners.
"I left the station approximately one hour after the explosion," Ralston said. "I stayed in Montcoal for five days. I barely slept, and lived out of the news car.
"I only came home once and that was to take a quick shower and grab some extra clothes. Otherwise, I was at the mine and was keeping our viewers updated as new information surfaced."
Ralston won an Emmy for her coverage. She said some viewers still thank her today for her coverage.
During her time here, Ralston has volunteered hundreds of hours to charitable organizations. She has served as a host for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, Miss West Virginia Scholarship Pageant and the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee. She also does work for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the Children's Therapy Clinic that provides services to children with disabilities, the YWCA's domestic violence efforts and the Ronald McDonald House.
Ralston has guest judged the FestivALL West Side Weiner Dog Races. She has two miniature dachshunds, Ginger and Buster.
"Over the years, I have gotten involved in a lot," Ralston said. "When I think about leaving, I get emotional because I have done so much and I will miss volunteering.
"I express to our younger reporters and producers the importance of getting involved in the community. As journalists, we need to be a part of the community we are working in and be connected to the world we live in."
Ralston said she was able to organize a WSAZ team for the Komen Race for the Cure a few years back.
"We all showed up in our WSAZ shirts and were all excited to participate in such a positive event," Ralston said. "We ended up getting the team spirit award and that truly meant a lot. Sometimes we just have to look outside our jobs and make a positive difference in the world . . . a world filled with much negativity."
Ralston said leaving took some time and effort.
"For me, I couldn't go anywhere from here," she said. "I wanted to go to a place that was inviting and had friendly people just like Charleston. I kept going back to Nashville. The people there are hospitable, and the people at WTVF Nashville are really invested in their station. I knew it would be a perfect fit so I accepted the job."
Ralston will be the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. anchor for WTVF Nashville. She is moving into a much larger market and will have the opportunity to host programs on WTVF's sister network, News Channel 5 Plus.
After Ralston accepted the Nashville job, she contacted her general manager who sent out a mass email noting her departure.
WSAZ General Manager Matt Jaquint said he is going to miss her.
"She's been here nearly 10 years and she's been great for Charleston, great for the Kanawha Valley and great for WSAZ," Jaquint said. "We want all our employees to get out in the community and get to know some of our viewers. Jessica is a great example because of her involvement and her commitment to serve the community."
Jaquint said a search is currently ongoing and he hopes to find Ralston's replacement soon.
"A lot of jaws dropped once that email was sent out," Ralston said. "I had to inform my viewers that I was leaving and it was difficult for me to find the words to say."
On Sept. 11, Ralston wrote the following message on her public Facebook page:
"My heart is pounding as I write this . . . filled with sadness and excitement at the same time. I wanted to let all of you know that my 10-year run at WSAZ is coming to a close. As of mid-October, I will be the 5:00 / 10:00 anchor at WTVF in Nashville. It's a fantastic opportunity and an amazing station. I am so sad to leave WV after all these years but so excited to begin this new chapter. I can't thank all of you enough for being such loyal, faithful and friendly viewers. This page is almost 30,000 strong so I plan to keep it and hope you will stay here too."
She has received more than 5,000 comments since posting her departure announcement.
"When I read those comments, I begin to cry," Ralston said. "There are comments from parents who consider me a mentor and say their daughters look up to me. I never knew I had that much influence on people.
I guess I just kept doing what I was doing and never thought I had such an impact on people. It's definitely overwhelming."
Ralston is engaged to get married. She said her fiance will live a dual-city life, considering he has a business in Charleston. Ralston and her dogs will transition from country to city living when she moves to her condo in Nashville next month.
"It will be a big adjustment but I am excited for this new chapter in my life," Ralston said. "I want people to know that I have truly enjoyed my time here and Charleston will always have a special place in my heart."
Ralston begins her Nashville job Oct. 21 and will not waste time getting involved. She plans to volunteer at the Nashville food bank her first week in her new city.
Contact writer John Gibb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1796.