TV stations help FGCU grads launch careers

7 – minute read

Daft Punk released a futuristic song with a robotic voice repeating four words: “Television Rules the Nation.” Since its release in 2005, some, especially the younger among us, have shunned the fabled box in favor of tablets, phones and computers.


That shift hasn’t had the expected impact, at least not in Southwest Florida. Touring Fort Myers’ TV news houses leads one to believe business is still good. In fact, Hearst Television — a subdivision of the company started by William Randolph Hearst in 1887 — recently took an interest in this media-friendly region. It purchased locally owned Waterman Broadcasting and took over the content creation and programming for NBC2 and ABC7.


As one transition was underway, so was another. News Director Tim Klutsarits was changing his mind about hiring on-air talent. He was now willing to give recent college graduates the chance to secure a spot on NBC2’s and ABC7’s newscasts.

“The industry and the business model have changed within our industry, and right now, there is a crunch on the available people and available workforce out there in the world,” Klutsarits said.


“As that has changed, our position on that has changed as well.”


Enter Sarah Mankowitz. “I’m the first Tim has ever hired to go from the producer to reporter track like this,” said Mankowitz.


By “first,” the May 2022 Florida Gulf Coast University journalism graduate means she was initially hired as a newscast producer — responsible for laying out shows, writing copy and securing content.


She was fast-tracked to an on-air reporter position after her first six months.

FGCU grduate
2022 journalism graduate Sarah Mankowitz moved from producer to on-air reporter in six months at NBC2 and ABC7 in Fort Myers.
FGCU graduates
Samantha Romero, Tyler Watkins, Sarah Mankowitz and Sebastian Gonzalez are among 13 FGCU graduates and students working at NBC2 and ABC7.

Before Mankowitz, professional reporting experience was the only way to go on air at NBC2 and ABC7.


“Usually, you go to a smaller market and work your way up,” she said.


A “market” refers to a designated market area (DMA). As of 2023, Nielsen ranks 210 DMAs. On that list, New York City is No. 1, Tampa-St. Petersburg is 13, Miami-Fort Lauderdale is 18 and Fort Myers-Naples is 55.


Klutsarits’ decision to hire Mankowitz gave her career a significant boost. Over the last two years, reporters have left Fort Myers and landed jobs in Philadelphia (No. 4), Dallas (No. 5), Phoenix (No. 11) and even major news networks. While Mankowitz is up to the task, being first doesn’t make her job any easier.

Hearst Broadcasting
Tim Klutsarits is the news director hiring FGCU grads at NBC2 and ABC7.

“It’s not something that’s been done before, and we’re still working out all the kinks. But it really is a huge honor. It’s made me feel so proud of myself to have someone look at my work and be like, ‘You know what? I think I see potential here,’” she said.


The door Mankowitz kicked open was still ajar when classmate Samantha Romero earned her FGCU degree.


At her December 2022 graduation, journalism professor Judd Cribbs told her opportunity was knocking.


One month later, Romero joined NBC2 and ABC7. Like Mankowitz, Romero’s first six months were spent producing. In August, she moved to a hybrid role.


“I’m still producing some shows during the weekdays, and on the weekends, I report for the morning shows,” Romero said. “So, I’ll do some morning live hits, and I’ll do some [story] packages for the 6 p.m. and the 11 p.m. shows.”

FGCU graduate
Samantha Romero is a producer and on-air reporter for Hearst Television in Fort Myers.
FGCU graduate
Tyler Watkins landed a job with NBC2 and ABC7 before graduating from FGCU.

While being on television at NBC2 and ABC7 immediately after graduating is a relatively recent endeavor for people holding FGCU degrees, most of the 13 Green and Blue employees at Hearst work off camera.


Tyler Watkins wasn’t exactly sure what his career would entail until he took a class with journalism professor Lyn Millner.


The course helped Watkins discover his passion for writing. That passion led him to an internship in the university’s marketing and communication department, where he wrote for


“Keith Gibson, he was my mentor,” Watkins said. “I loved every second of working with him and Karen [Feldman], as well.”

FGCU graduate
2017 graduate Sebastian Gonzalez is now NBC2’s and ABC7’s director of photojournalism.

Under the tutelage of Feldman and Gibson — both former newspaper reporters — and through Millner’s class, Watkins learned how to write well.


He was so successful that he secured a position with NBC2 and ABC7 while still an FGCU student.


Watkins is a digital content producer, which means his journalism work is on the station’s website — writing copy and editing video — and pushing content to social media.

“I put in the work early on while I was in school at FGCU, and I really was grateful for my opportunities to grow with FGCU360 and also just to become a better writer within the classroom,” he said.

While Watkins is a more recent example of behind-the-scenes success for FGCU journalism grads at NBC2 and ABC7, photojournalist Sebastian Gonzalez has been working for the company (mostly) since 2017. But visual reporting wasn’t his first career path.


“I always wanted to be a writer,” he said.


He followed his writing dream to a local newspaper but decided the position wasn’t for him. He got a job at NBC2 and ABC7 and started learning about photojournalism.


“I just loved it,” Gonzalez said. “I think it only took me a couple of weeks here to realize, ‘Whoa, this is what I’m going to do.’”


Rising through the ranks, and a brief spell at a station in Jacksonville, led him to a new NBC2 and ABC7 role — director of photojournalism. In this role, he oversees the people running the cameras for the company. His employees include other FGCU graduates and current students.


“We’ve always wanted to have a pipeline of FGCU students who come here after graduation and have their first job. I think that we solidified that pipeline. I don’t want to say I created it, but I helped solidify it,” he said.

That’s a testament to the company’s belief in the FGCU journalism program and what it has to offer.


“Professor Cribbs used to have a meme on his office door with the words, ‘Small but scrappy.’ That was the journalism program,” he said. “It’s just becoming better and better and bigger and bigger.”


Klutsarits agrees.


“The [FGCU journalism] program has grown over the past few years and has continued to increase their stature,” he said. “Their students are much more viable coming straight out of the university.”


And as the program continues to grow, the value of each graduate’s degree is more valuable. That’s a great example of turning ideas into impact.

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