When it comes to journalism, Ella Johnson-Watson has done it all — radio, television, print, and new media.
Yet the trajectory for her career may have been set years ago on the University of Evansville campus, where Johnson-Watson shared classes and radio waves with fellow student Lloyd Winnecke. Following graduation in 1982, their careers would allow them to cross paths several times. Years later as a seasoned reporter for the Courier & Press newspaper, Johnson-Watson again was offered the chance to work with her former classmate — this time as the communications director for Mayor-elect Lloyd Winnecke. Now in the first year of the Mayor’s second term, Johnson-Watson weighs in on her role disseminating important information to Evansville’s residents and media.
Evansville Living: How did Mayor Winnecke offer you the job?
Ella Johnson-Watson: It was after the election. I was at the newspaper and he called, asked me if I could talk. I thought he wanted some information. I said, “I’m kind of in the newsroom.” He said he wanted to talk to me about offering me the job as his communications director. I was surprised, but I stepped out on faith. I’m not surprised he ran for mayor. I think he does a great job. He is involved in everything, and it’s not just because he’s the mayor — it’s who he is. I believe in him and that message. So I said let’s add this to the background and see where it leads me.
EL: How did your career as a journalist prepare you for the Mayor’s Office?
EJ-W: I think it prepared me well, but the reality is you don’t know what this office involves until you step in here. I think I had a better feel for it than maybe some people because I covered the office and dealt with the public as a reporter. But until you step in the office and you see all the things that need to be done — it’s one thing to write about snow removal; it’s another to make sure people understand about snow removal. Once I stepped into government, it elevated the importance of getting the information out and getting it out correct.
EL: What is a typical day like?
EJ-W: You come in and know what you want to do, but I’ll have my to-do list, and some days I get none of it done and I add to it. It’s very interesting and unpredictable. It’s gratifying, too. I feel like what I do is important for the community. I’m informing them.
EL: How have you seen Evansville change under Mayor Winnecke’s leadership?
EJ-W: Before he took office, there was a lot of negativity in the community. I’m not naïve to think that’s all gone away, but I think it’s a lot better. I’ve seen the community’s belief in itself improve and enhance. Just look at Downtown. I’ve worked in this area for 20 years, and I’ve never seen as much activity in Downtown Evansville as is occurring right now. I truly believe a strong downtown core helps an entire city be strong. It’s not just Downtown — these little things are starting to sprout all over; it’s really good to see the city grow. I’d love to see more people come back and stay here. I’d like to see the talent stay here and maybe some of the talent we lost come back because there’s tremendous opportunity here in Evansville. If you want to do something, Evansville’s a great place to give it a try.
EL: What do you enjoy doing away from office?
EJ-W: I’m really kind of a boring person. Just to go home and do nothing is an enjoyment for me. My husband Gerald and I like to listen to jazz and blues. You might see us out somewhere sipping wine and listening to music. To me a good day is when I can go home and not have to go anywhere. Sounds crazy, but that’s enjoyable to me — to not have any obligations, have a totally free day, and not take any phone calls. In my spare time, I watch National Geographic, the Food Network, HGTV. I also collect cookbooks, but I’m not a very good cook. I read them and look at the photos and occasionally try something.
For more information about Ella Johnson-Watson and the Mayor’s Office, visit evansville.in.gov or follow them on social media: Twitter @MayorWinnecke or @evansvilleINGov, Facebook @Lloyd Winnecke, and Instagram @MayorWinnecke.