Three top newsroom leaders credit Florida A&M University for their success

“This is really a dream come true,” one editor said.

Byron Dobson
Tallahassee Democrat

Leon Tucker speaks with humbleness and excitement about what’s ahead as he describes his recent appointment as editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.

A veteran news manager, he becomes the first Black editor of the news operation located a little more than an hour’s drive from his hometown of St. Petersburg.

“This is really a dream come true,” Tucker said from his home in Delaware, where he’s currently overseeing the paper remotely. “It’s always been an aspiration of mine. Even when I was a reporter, when I was in college, I wanted to be a top editor at a newspaper. That was my career goal.

“It’s a pretty big deal to be in this position,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Tucker’s appointment also is significant on another front.

He joins Rana Cash, who in May 2020 was named executive editor of the Savannah Morning News and the Georgia state director overseeing The Augusta Chronicle and Athens Banner-Herald. And Marlon Walker, who assumed the role of interim executive editor this month at The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

Each outlet is owned by Gannett and is part of the USA Today Network, as is the Tallahassee Democrat, where all three interned during their college days.

But what binds them is all being graduates of the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. The school was established in 1982, and the journalism program was the first accredited program of its kind at a historically Black college or university.

FAMU has a history of media leaders

Since its inception, it has produced media leaders throughout the country, such as Kimberly Godwin Manning, executive vice president of CBS News; Anica Butler, deputy managing editor for local news at The Boston Globe; and Caryn Wilson, recently named The New York Times' weekend audience editor.

“It sort of establishes a ready-made support group because there are so many of us at a key time in our history,” Walker said of the appointments of Cash, Tucker and others. “It seems like this moment was almost made for Black journalists who have worked hard to establish themselves. At the same time, it speaks to the rigors of the program we came through.”

Tucker, Walker and Cash – who each have worked at newspapers across the country – credit Florida A&M University for instilling in them the skills they needed to succeed and the opportunities they needed to get hired.

Leon Tucker, a 1998 graduate of Florida A&M University, has been named executive editor of the Lakeland Ledger .

“FAMU has always been a journalism powerhouse,” Tucker said, noting that his professors and former deans, Robert Ruggles and the late James Hawkins, made sure students were “equipped” for prominent internships, the critical threshold in landing a job after graduation.

“They created those opportunities through offering us those high-profile internships at the likes of The Miami Herald, the Boston Globe and the St. Pete Times, and the list goes on and on," he added. "Sending us to blue-chip internships equipped us to work and thrive in those newsrooms.”

Tucker graduated in 1998 and immediately went to work as a reporter at the Tennessean in Nashville. That led to reporting and editing positions at the then-St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), Fort Myers News-Press, The News Journal in Delaware and the Courier-Post in New Jersey, where he served as managing editor for nearly three years before his job was eliminated during a Gannett restructuring in 2013.

Tucker worked with success in the private sector and launched Leon Tucker Public Relations but was yearning to get back in news: “I never lost that desire to be in the newsroom, specifically as an editor,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure the opportunity would ever present itself again, and it did recently. I jumped at the opportunity to come back home to the newsroom and the bonus was to be able to come back to Florida.”

More:Florida A&M releases schedule for spring commencement ceremonies

From sprinter to news executive

Cash, a native of Sanford, graduated from FAMU in 1992. She attended FAMU on a track scholarship as a sprinter.

Rana Cash went to Florida A&M on a track scholarship as a sprinter.

She began her career as a sportswriter for The Miami Herald, followed by The Dallas Morning News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sporting News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Louisville Courier-Journal, before her current promotion. 

She not only is executive editor at Savannah, the first Black person to hold that position, but she also is responsible for Gannett’s Georgia news coverage.

Like Tucker, she says FAMU is where building a strong foundation started.

“FAMU means everything to me. FAMU started this whole journey,” she said. “This is how we all feel. We feel this is where it started for us and it gave us the vision of what we could become ... There are those who came before you who you want to make proud and then you want to be an example for those behind you.

“We grew up on that campus and so to know that everything that was poured into us has come to fruition in this way. Being able to lead newsrooms, it means the world to me, and I’m sure the others feel the same way.”

Rana Cash is still a Rattler at heart.

Cash said program graduates want to ensure the school continues to produce “high-quality” journalism students who are prepared to move the industry forward.

"I want them to be trailblazers for where journalism is going in the future." she said. “Don’t try to be like me, try to be better than me — that’s the goal."

A dream not deferred

Walker arrived at the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, in August 2020, accepting the No. 2 newsroom position as senior editor for politics and investigations.

Prior to that he held reporting positions at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press.

Marlon Walker, a 2005 graduate of Florida A&M University, is interim executive editor of the The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi/

With the paper’s former executive editor, Mary Irby-Jones, being appointed executive editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal last month, Walker now is the paper’s interim executive editor.

“Just to be entrusted in something like that, that’s a big deal to me,” he said.

It isn’t his first big deal in the industry. Walker, a native of Detroit, graduated from FAMU in 2005. His first job was a copy editor at the St. Petersburg Times.

“To leave FAMU and go to the St. Pete Times four days after graduation was a dream for me,” he said. “It’s worked out.”

A staunch advocate for promoting diversity in newsrooms and mentoring young reporters, Walker is the former vice president for print of the National Association of Black Journalists. He has served on the Board of Visitors for FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communications for more than five years.

He feels his life and work experiences will help him make an impact in Jackson, a city where the Black population is 81 percent. Tens of thousands of residents and businesses have gone weeks without running water after winter storms in February wreaked havoc on the city’s aging water system, freezing pipes and causing numerous water main breaks throughout the city.

“I feel that what I bring to this newsroom is a unique experience, but also an experience that (helps me) understand this community,” he said. “I’m a native of Detroit and Detroit’s issues are eerily similar to Jackson’s.”

More:FAMU journalism major chosen for NBC's 'Meet the Press: College Roundtable'

Walker said it is important for him to understand the needs of the city’s residents and have conversations where people can understand “how genuine we are.”

“As a journalist, my duty is to tell the story,” he said. “As a Black man, my duty is to project the feelings of Jackson’s people and what they deal with on a regular basis. It’s not something we are known for doing. I take my responsibility as Black man in charge of what people think of Jackson very seriously.”

Walker also said he feels it is important that FAMU journalism students take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. He also hopes that visibility of alums as news leaders also will inspire them.

“I also think that by seeing more of the journalism school alumni rising through the ranks to these positions will inspire (students) to recognize what that education means, and also to want to do better than us, as they should," he said.

Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at or on Twitter @byrondobson.

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