Education: Bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, University of Kentucky
Resume: Reporter, KTLA, Los Angeles, California; reporter, anchor, and assistant news director, WFIE-TV; executive director, Southwest Indiana chapter of the American Red Cross, January 2022-present
Hometown: Liberty, Kentucky
Family: Husband Reed Kress; son Oliver (8); daughter Caroline (1)
Beth Sweeney signed off for the last time at WFIE on Jan. 7, but her final day at the station was far from a farewell.
After 16 years at 14 News, Sweeney now leads the American Red Cross’s Southwest Indiana chapter as its executive director, heading a volunteer agency covering 24 counties in the Tri-State.
The longtime journalist uses her storytelling and community skills by coordinating Red Cross efforts, including disaster response, blood services, lifesaving skills training, and services globally and for the armed forces.
Why did you pursue a career in broadcast journalism and what brought you to the Red Cross?
I love talking to people and hearing their stories, so I think that was my initial interest. I just felt like this was really the right fit. I started out as a theater major — I loved to act. I took a journalism class and fell in love with it and knew that was where I wanted to be. When I was on maternity leave, I wanted to pursue something with a more flexible schedule so that I could be with my children more. That was my priority. I was just at a stage where I felt like it was time to look for something different. I saw the Red Cross executive director position opening. I called one of the board members that I knew and said, ‘Hey, tell me more about this.’ Things just progressed from there.
How has your career as a storyteller translated to your role at the Red Cross?
I’ve served on nonprofit boards and been involved with various nonprofits. But being the leader of a nonprofit is very different. It’s a huge responsibility that I certainly don’t take for granted. Some things were very similar because I have been involved in the community. I worked with emergency officials and community leaders a lot on stories, but being the head of a nonprofit agency is a great responsibility. The American Red Cross mostly is made up of volunteers, and that’s really important. When I see them walk in and out of these doors, running to a disaster, helping with a blood drive, or working with a military family, it really is an honor and a privilege to be a part of an organization that does so much.
What experiences have prepared you for interactions with people in a vulnerable state in their life?
My very first experience with the Red Cross was during the November 2005 tornado that hit the Evansville area. It was actually the first big story that I covered after I moved here. I remember being out at Eastbrook Mobile Home Park. I went to Newburgh where homes were destroyed, and I saw all of these people in red vests helping families. While I knew about the Red Cross, I didn’t know the depth of what they did and what they provided.
As a journalist, you have to be a good listener. The Weinbach explosion (in August 2022) was my first disaster as the Red Cross executive director. It’s really interesting being on the other side of the yellow tape, because now as Red Crossers, we are also first responders. We’re a part of that operation, helping those emergency workers who are on scene, providing any kind of support we can to them, and then to families as well. It’s just eye-opening to see what’s happening in real-time.