Edina native Jennifer Mayerle is back in town and doesn’t have plans to leave anytime soon. The new WCCO reporter returned home to Minnesota in May after spending close to 14 years working on award-winning journalism around the country. Her return to the Twin Cities is more than just a homecoming; it’s a return to where her career started as a WCCO intern following her sophomore year in college.
“I grew up watching WCCO,” Mayerle says. But it wasn’t until she was a senior at Edina High School, after having chosen a college, that Mayerle realized she wanted to go into journalism. Since her school, the University of San Diego, didn’t have a journalism program, Mayerle took internships at TV stations and helped start a college TV station. Her experience at WCCO was unlike any other, she says. “The people there were just such great teachers and they were very open to giving advice and helping … It kind of [felt] like a family, even though I wasn’t quite part of it yet. Ever since then I knew I wanted to come back home to WCCO,” Mayerle says.
But first, Mayerle wanted to go out and learn everything she could about the industry. This education started at a news station in Midland, Texas, the town that inspired the book and TV show Friday Night Lights. From Texas, she moved to Mobile, Alabama for three years, where she won her first Emmy for reporting on Hurricane Katrina. “This is the [story] that people keep coming back to,” Mayerle says.
Sent to track the hurricane, Mayerle and her team were filming a news segment when a man on the street told her that he’d lost his wife. “I didn’t know what he said at the beginning,” Mayerle recalls. “I turned to him and said, ‘What’d you say?’ and we had a conversation.” He explained that he and his wife made it all the way to the roof as the water was rising when the house split in two. “He was hanging onto her with one hand and she said, ‘You can’t hold me. Take care of the kids and grandkids.’ And then she let go. I started to tear up a bit,” Mayerle says. This story then went all around the world, airing on every major network, although Mayerle had no idea. “I was still right in the middle of [the storm],” she says.
Two days later, Mayerle made it her mission to find the man she spoke with. “I found him, and we’ve been friends ever since,” she says. Someone purchased a house for him in Atlanta, and just a few months later, Mayerle moved to Atlanta for her next reporting job. The two kept in touch, and she helped him and his family until he passed away. She still keeps in touch with his family. “That was a defining point in my career, because the story was internationally shown, but I also, to this day, get emails about it,” Mayerle says.
It’s stories like this, stories that change lives or inspire people to take action, that Mayerle is drawn to. Julie Mellum, a family friend in Edina, says, “She’s especially interested in stories that can make a difference in people’s lives.” Having watched Mayerle grow up in Edina, Mellum notes that Mayerle has always liked interesting people. “She’s just sort of interested in everything and open-minded, and I think she’s always had that tendency,” Mellum says.
“I have never been a TV watcher,” she adds. “Now that Jenny has landed this job locally, I watch every night that I’m in town. She has turned me around to be in touch with what’s going on in the world.”
Having her work recognized with three Emmy Awards, two Edward R. Murrow Awards, and 12 Associated Press awards from Texas, Alabama and Georgia, already in her young career, it’s safe to say that this homegrown reporter isn’t finished yet. Mayerle hopes she can make just as much of an impact in the land of Minnesota Nice.