Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hagit Limor traces journey to top of SPJ

By Anthony Fenech

Hagit Limor remembers the Six Day War like it was yesterday.

She remembers the air raid, with sirens swirling and missiles flying, as she ran to a shelter in the middle of the Israeli night, a first-grader with a heart beating out of her chest.

“I do remember that very clearly,” she said. “I grew up innocently, feeling completely safe until that war broke out.”

It was June 1967 in Tel Aviv, Israel, and, during the war, Limor saw her hometown transform into a very different place.

“I grew up in a little town where nobody locked their doors,” she said. “It was a different time.”

She remembers dancing in the streets a week later, in celebration of the war’s end, but what she remembers most is the adrenaline of the whole experience.

Four decades later, that adrenaline has taken Limor overseas, across the United States and to the top of the Society of Professional Journalists as the organization’s 92nd president.

“I just fell in love with the whole adrenaline of the journey,” she said.

The child of a father who survived the Holocaust and a mother from Russia, Limor began composing poetry at age 4, before she could even write, by memorizing words as her parents translated them into Hebrew.

At 6, she was writing poetry. At 8, she was writing songs, a Jewish girl in the music heaven of Nashville, Tenn., where her family had since moved.

By 10, she was writing constantly.

“I think I was meant to be a writer,” Limor said. “I wrote and I wrote and I loved it before I could even form the alphabet.”

So she kept writing — all the way to Northwestern University, where she eventually received a master’s degree in journalism. Intent on a future in news reporting, she stumbled across a broadcasting class in her final year as an undergraduate at Northwestern.

She liked it, so she tried an internship. She liked that, so she tried another one.

“They were great,” Limor said. “That’s when I realized I’m really enjoying this broadcasting thing.”

She graduated in 1983, with double-digit unemployment and a job market eerily similar to today’s. She took her resume and tapes and packed into a beaten car, traveling to every television station within five hours of Nashville, a trip she dubbed the “Broadcast Tour of America.”

Limor would call ahead to set up interviews or sit in the lobbies of stations that didn’t answer those calls until they would see her. She did this for two weeks, staying in hotels that Limor said she “wouldn’t want my own children to stay in.”

Eventually, the hard work paid off with a minimum-wage gig in Bristol, Va., where she did everything from reporting to producing to sports play-by-play.

“In some ways, that job was almost better than the master’s degree,” she said. “It was just the best training I could ask for.”

After Bristol, she reported in Asheville, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., before heading to WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, where she has been for the past 16 years, winning awards while anchoring the station’s investigative reporting unit and running SPJ’s Cincinnati Pro Chapter for the past four years.

She is married and has a 5-year-old son, Jake.

Her experience with SPJ includes stints as secretary-treasurer on the national membership committee and as a board member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

As SPJ president, she wants to spread the word about First Amendment freedoms for the press and focus on helping the public appreciate why having a free press is important.

“I fully expect that Hagit will take the reins and SPJ will be in an even better position than they are now,” said outgoing president Kevin Smith.

Limor is excited about her new leadership role at SPJ.

“We don’t just represent our members, but we speak for every journalist in the country. And we fight for laws that would support anyone that goes after the truth, not just journalists,” she said.

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