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2023 Women’s History Month: Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas

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Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.
Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Women’s History Month honors the incredible trailblazing women throughout U.S. history every March. “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories” is this year’s theme, recognizing women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling.

Today, we’re celebrating one of our own–a trailblazer for Black women in the news media industry.

Mellissa Thomas is the Chief Editor and face of Florida National News and Managing Director of the FNN News Network. She became both my right and left hands, and she has consistently delivered for nearly ten years. She has helped grow the network from the flagship Florida National News site in October 2014 to a family of five active digital news sites and counting as of today: FloridaNationalNews.com, FNNNews.com, FloridaSportsChannel.com, FNNNewsNetwork.com, and FNNNews.tv.

The Jamaica-born, five-year U.S. Navy veteran is an avid storyteller both in and outside of the news media industry. She’s a self-published author with seven books under her name, all available on Amazon; is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright, and is a burgeoning public speaker.

Mellissa Thomas poses for a photo at the Epcot Showplace Pavilion during Florida National News's coverage of the 2018 Don Quijote Awards, presented by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando and Prospera USA. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas poses for a photo at the Epcot Showplace Pavilion during Florida National News’s coverage of the 2018 Don Quijote Awards, presented by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando and Prospera USA. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Making Women’s History in News Media

From FNN News’s inception in 2014, Mellissa has relentlessly carved a path for black-owned news media outlets with sharp reporters by embodying just that. The FNN News Network is one of very few black-owned news networks among mainstream broadcast news outlets across the state and country.

Florida has a sparse black media presence, most of which is radio or print media. The Florida Courier, Florida Sun, Miami Times, Orlando Times, and Orlando Advocate, for example, have been in operation for many years (the first three for many decades). National black media is comprised mostly of digital news outlets, blogs, radio and print media. However, black broadcast news outlets are few and far between.

In press conferences involving elected officials at the federal level (President Trump, President Obama, Sen. Cory Booker, etc.), state level (Governor Ron DeSantis) and local level, major league athletes (NFL, MLS, NBA, FIFA, PGA, NASCAR, etc.), and celebrities (ESSENCE Festival, Miami International Film Festival, American Black Film Festival, Tom Joyner Family Reunion, etc.), FNN News is typically the only black-owned broadcast news outlet present. Mellissa’s trademark Afro has become iconic as she boldly represents the network, blowing the minds of the people she asks questions to by proving that black reporters from black-owned media outlets can ask the same relevant thought-provoking questions that any black reporter (or any reporter, for that matter) working for mainstream news outlets would ask.

Mellissa’s consistency has elevated FNN News Network to cover stories in real time alongside our mainstream colleagues. She has amassed the respect of industry veterans and newer reporters alike, creating a trusted brand and path for any other black-owned news outlets to take a seat at the table.

Mellissa Thomas interviews Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer during the City of Orlando's 2022 Veterans Day Parade in November of 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas interviews Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer during the City of Orlando’s 2022 Veterans Day Parade in November of 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

How Mellissa Helped Florida National News Quickly Evolve

Mellissa’s versatility and quick learning helped Florida National News transition from a single Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, cell phone-recorded interviews and written content from October 2014 to early 2015, to the addition of video content with our first Sony HD cameras. Of course, videos need editing, right?

Mellissa covered that too.

She dug back into her Film Bachelors degree experience from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, revived her Final Cut Pro software (which she received from Full Sail) and refreshed her memory on how it works, then got to work, transforming Florida National News into a multimedia news outlet by mid-2015, offering written, photo and video content.

Web presence and social media engagement are pivotal to a digital multimedia news outlet, and I leaned on Mellissa’s expertise daily from her Entertainment Business Masters degree (also from Full Sail University) and her personal journey into blogging for three years before we met in order to constantly improve our brand, and our brand quickly became not only credible, but also attractive to people seeking news media experience or who wanted to get back into the industry.

FNN News 2022 Super Bowl coverage crew (l-r): Florida National News Publisher J. Willie David III, FNN News Los Angeles reporters Erik Liebin and Jamecia Stoudemire, Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas and sports reporter Michael Brodsky pose for a photo in Radio Row during Super Bowl LVI Week at the Los Angeles Convention Center in February of 2022.

FNN News 2022 Super Bowl coverage crew (l-r): Florida National News Publisher J. Willie David III, FNN News Los Angeles reporters Erik Liebin and Jamecia Stoudemire, Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas and sports reporter Michael Brodsky pose for a photo in Radio Row during Super Bowl LVI Week at the Los Angeles Convention Center in February of 2022.

Assembling the Team

For almost ten years, Mellissa has overseen a stellar team of statewide and national contributors, which peaked at roughly 30 people. True to her alma mater, Mellissa has recruited quality writers, reporters, and photographers from Full Sail University, some of which are still on our team.

Our contributors have reported from Cleveland, Los Angeles, Charleston, Atlanta, and Cannes, France; within Florida: Miami, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Space Coast and Palm Coast.

Two affiliates have also come alongside us, also run by phenomenal women: an independent Central Florida-based nonprofit digital news site; and an international affiliate, a high end luxury beauty magazine that covers the most high profile fashion and beauty events every year. Through our connection with the latter, Mellissa has overseen our coverage of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for six consecutive years, as well as the 2023 Miss Universe Competition in New Orleans.

(Fun fact: We actually met the owner of our international affiliate magazine while covering Miss Universe in Las Vegas. Yes–that infamous competition when Steve Harvey announced the wrong winner. We witnessed it in person. Mellissa got us there.)

As Florida National News grew, she facilitated expanded leadership, welcoming Associate Editors (90 percent women) to manage content creation in some of our more popular categories, including Sports, Entertainment, Business, and Politics.

In October 2021, Mellissa helped spearhead the expansion of the FNN News team with the launch of its Spanish-speaking arm, FNN News en Español.

Mellissa Thomas and FNN News en Español Associate Editor Janira Garcia after recording a stand-up at Lake Lorna Doone Park in 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas and FNN News en Español Associate Editor Janira Garcia after recording a stand-up at Lake Lorna Doone Park in 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Coverage that Built Credibility

As Editor and Managing Director, Mellissa determines what we cover, and building the credibility of Florida National News and the FNN News Network has always been top of mind. She has secured incredible coverage opportunities for the network, facilitating unforgettable experiences and memories for the crew that covers them while increasing visibility for the FNN News name and brand across the country.

During her tenure, she has overseen our coverage for some of the biggest events:

  • NFL Super Bowl (2020-2023 Miami, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Arizona)
  • Cannes Film Festival (2016-2022, France)
  • Tony Awards (2016, New York)
  • Writers Guild Awards (2016, Los Angeles)
  • Essence Festival (2017-2019, New Orleans)
  • Golden Trailer Awards (2016, Los Angeles)
  • Miss America Competition (2015-2016, Atlantic City)
  • Miss Universe Competition (2015, Las Vegas)
  • Miami Film Festival (MIFF)(2015-2019, Miami)
  • American Black Film Festival (ABFF)(2017-2019, Miami)
  • Jazz In The Gardens (2016-2018, Miami Gardens)
  • Tom Joyner Family Reunion (2018-2019, Orlando)
  • Funk Fest Orlando (2016, 2018)
  • Florida Film Festival (2016-2019, Orlando)
  • NCAA March Madness (2015 and 2023, Orlando)
  • Miami Open (2022-2023)
  • Rolex 24 At DAYTONA (2018-2023, Daytona International Speedway)
  • DAYTONA 500 (2016-2023)
  • DAYTONA Supercross (Bike Week 2017-2023, Daytona International Speedway)
  • DAYTONA 200 (Bike Week 2017-2023, Daytona International Speedway)
  • Coke Zero Sugar 400 (2019-2022, Daytona International Speedway)
  • Inaugural Daytona Soccer Fest (2022, Daytona International Speedway)
  • Arnold Palmer Invitational (2019-2023)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015-2022 seasons)
  • Jacksonville Jaguars (2018-2022 seasons)
  • Orlando Magic (2016-2022 seasons)
  • Orlando City SC and Orlando Pride (MLS/NWSL, 2015-2023 seasons)
  • NBA Playoffs (Round 1, 2019, Orlando)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL, 2020 season)
  • Monster Jam World Finals (2021, Orlando)
  • MLS All-Star Game (2019, Orlando)
  • SheBelieves Cup (FIFA, 2023)
  • Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (MLS, 2022, Orlando)
  • Runway to Hope Spring Soiree (2017-2019, Orlando)
  • AIMExpo (2017-2018, Orlando)
  • Central Florida International Auto Show (2017, Orlando)
  • Festivals of Speed (2018-2019, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Mission Inn)
  • InfoComm 2015 (Orlando)
  • Trump presidential candidate rallies (2015-2016, Orlando and Tampa)
  • Hillary Clinton presidential candidate rallies (featuring then President Barack Obama 2015-2016, Orlando, Tampa and Miami)
  • CPAC Orlando 2022

Conquering COVID

Like every other business, we had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic. After the world (and Florida, temporarily) shut down, we knew we would need to go virtual in order to remain relevant and continue to provide our audience with coverage, so we did.

(Want to watch the interview? Click the image below.)

Mellissa’s versatility came to the rescue again. She took the initiative to find a virtual platform for us to create content with, and with our great team of contributors, launched and produced six virtual shows within a month, creating a consistent seven-day lineup of content for our viewers:

  • Evening News Rundown, hosted by Mellissa Thomas (daily news briefing) – Monday through Sunday at 6pm ET
  • FNN Politics & Power Series, hosted by Mellissa Thomas – Tuesdays at 1pm ET
  • FNN Sports Take with Kasey Hudson (sports news show) – Tuesdays and Fridays at 6pm ET
  • FNN Business Talk, hosted by Mellissa Thomas (interview show with business owners and entrepreneurs) – Wednesdays at 1pm ET
  • Let’s Clarify, co-hosted by Angel Perry and Mellissa Thomas (political and current events talk show) – Wednesdays at 5pm ET
  • Entertainment Buzz, hosted by Jennifer Rosario de Casiano (entertainment interview show) – Fridays at 1pm ET

(Want to watch the interview? Click the image.)

Mellissa Thomas interviews Florida Lottery Secretary John F. Davis on the "FNN Politics & Power Series" July 6, 2021.

Mellissa Thomas interviews Florida Lottery Secretary John F. Davis on the “FNN Politics & Power Series” July 6, 2021.

In the span of seven months (March to November 2020) after launching the shows, Florida National News:

  • Produced over 700 live videos
  • Netted over 343,100 total video views
  • Created highly engaging videos that drew viewers in for over 17,100 hours of watch time
  • Garnered 1.8 million impressions

Once Mellissa mastered several streaming platforms, Florida National News evolved again, entering into live broadcast alongside our mainstream peers in 2021.

Award Winning COVID-19 Coverage

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings presents Mellissa Thomas an award for consistent coverage of the County's 110 COVID-19 press briefings Thursday, August 19, 2021. Florida News Channel, one of the channels in the FNN News Network, was recognized in addition to Florida National News. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings presents Mellissa Thomas an award for consistent coverage of the County’s 110 COVID-19 press briefings Thursday, August 19, 2021. Florida News Channel, one of the channels in the FNN News Network, was recognized in addition to Florida National News. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

While she handled things virtually, Mellissa also ensured our consistent in-person coverage of the City of Orlando’s and Orange County’s 110 COVID-19 press briefings, earning Florida National News awards from both Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings in 2021.

(Want to watch the interview? Click the image.)

Building Strategic Partnerships

Under Mellissa’s leadership, Florida National News has developed partnerships and media sponsorships with Central Florida’s major business organizations:

  • Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando
  • Prospera USA
  • Indian American Chamber of Commerce of Orlando
  • African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida
  • the Orlando chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO Orlando)
  • Central Florida Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials

FNN News has been a media sponsor for the prestigious Don Quijote Awards, the largest annual business event in the region and presented by the Hispanic Chamber and Prospera, for three years: 2018, 2019, and 2022.

As a result of our Don Quijote Awards media sponsorship, the Paul C. Perkins Bar Association reached out to Mellissa and we became the media sponsor for their organization’s inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony.

"FNN Good News & Reviews" co-hosts Mellissa Thomas and Kathleen Michelle try out Haagen Dazs's new 2022 summer flavors while featuring the newly opened second shop at ICON Park on International Drive in April of 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III / Florida National News.

“FNN Good News & Reviews” co-hosts Mellissa Thomas and Kathleen Michelle try out Haagen Dazs’s new 2022 summer flavors while featuring the newly opened second shop at ICON Park on International Drive in April of 2022. Photo: J. Willie David III / Florida National News.

With the addition of news media industry veteran Kathleen Michelle to the team, she and Mellissa launched FNN Good News & Reviews, a talk show in which the two co-hosts build relations with small businesses across Central Florida by highlighting and promoting their services, from health and wellness experts to amusement parks to restaurants–and they sample the rich and yummy flavors Central Florida has to offer.

In 2022, she secured our trustee sponsorship with the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association (ORRA), one of the nation’s largest real estate organizations with over 20,000 members.

Mellissa Thomas interviews new National Entrepreneur Center President Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard in an episode of the "FNN Politics & Power Series" in February of 2023. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas interviews new National Entrepreneur Center President Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard in an episode of the “FNN Politics & Power Series” in February of 2023. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

As of 2023, Mellissa has also begun building relations with the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando and the organizations connected to it.

Mellissa Thomas co-hosts the City of Orlando's 2023 MLK Parade alongside Clarence Reynolds for Orange TV's broadcast. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas co-hosts the City of Orlando’s 2023 MLK Parade alongside Clarence Reynolds for Orange TV’s broadcast. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

She has also fostered strong relations with Orange County Government. In 2019, she was tapped to be the street correspondent during Orange TV’s broadcast of the City of Orlando’s Martin Luther King Day Parade. She was invited again in 2022, but this time as co-host alongside Clarence Reynolds. (Watch it here.)

That’s a lot to do and be responsible for…but it’s not all.

 

But Wait, There’s More…

In December of 2018, Mellissa emceed the Oath of Office ceremony for then re-elected Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Daisy Morales and newly elected Supervisor Dawn Curtis, a historic ceremony in which Orange County’s first African American elected mayor, Jerry Demings, swore Morales in for her second term.

Mellissa Thomas hosts the Oath of Office Ceremony for newly elected Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Dawn Curtis and then re-elected Supervisor Daisy Morales in Orange County Government's Commission Chambers in December 28, 2018. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas hosts the Oath of Office Ceremony for newly elected Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Dawn Curtis and then re-elected Supervisor Daisy Morales in Orange County Government’s Commission Chambers in December 28, 2018. Photo: J. Willie David III/Florida National News.

After Morales was elected state representative, she filed House Resolution 8053, recognizing World Vitiligo Day in the state of Florida. As someone who has vitiligo herself, Rep. Morales is a strong advocate for others who suffer with the “silent disease.” She hosted a World Vitiligo Day event at Orlando City Hall June 25, 2021, for which Mellissa emceed. The event featured vitiligo activists from across the state as well as medical professionals sharing their story of living with and caring for people who have the autoimmune disease.

 

Mellissa Thomas hosts State Representative Daisy Morales's inaugural World Vitiligo Day event at Orlando City Hall June 25, 2021. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

Mellissa Thomas hosts State Representative Daisy Morales’s inaugural World Vitiligo Day event at Orlando City Hall June 25, 2021. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

 

Photo: Mellissa Thomas.

Photo: Mellissa Thomas.

As her term as state representative came to an end, Rep. Morales honored Mellissa’s journalistic contributions with her office’s Communications & Media Excellence Award in 2022.

 

Mellissa Thomas receives the Honorary Teacher for a Day certificate as part of Evans High School's Community Partnership School in Pine Hills, Florida.

Mellissa Thomas receives the Honorary Teacher for a Day certificate as part of Evans High School’s Community Partnership School in Pine Hills, Florida. Photo: Mellissa Thomas.

 

She was also Honorary Teacher for a Day as part of Evans High School’s Community Partnership School in Pine Hills, Florida, sharing her production expertise with students in Evans’ Drama class, answering questions and inspiring the next generation of journalists and artists.

All that, and Mellissa is still just getting started. We at Florida National News and the FNN News Network are proud to honor her for Women’s History Month. She strives to inspire more black women to take their rightful place as leaders in the news media industry and expand our presence at the table. She is inviting more sponsors and advertisers to support the FNN News Network as it continues to recruit more journalists and creatives and expand the credibility, high-quality contribution and impact of black-owned news media to the broadcast journalism industry for years to come.

To learn more about Mellissa Thomas or to schedule an interview with her, email info@floridanationalnews.com.

_________________________________________

J. Willie David, III is the Publisher of Florida National News and the FNN News Network. | news@floridanationalnews.com

Central Florida News

Zaxby’s Voted as Having the Speediest Drive-Thru in Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Zaxby’s has been recognized for having the fastest drive-thru service in Orlando, delivering quick and efficient service to its customers. This accolade highlights Zaxby’s commitment to providing a great dining experience with minimal wait times.

According to research by SIXT, the average fast food drive-thru wait time typically ranges between 3 to 5 minutes. However, the car rental brand has identified that Zaxby’s outpaces all other fast food chains in Orlando with an impressive average drive-thru time of just 52 seconds.

Zaxby’s Claims the Fastest Drive-Thru Time in Orlando, Averaging Just 52 Seconds!

Zaxby’s is known for its signature chicken fingers, wings, and distinctive sauces, offering a menu centered around Southern-style comfort food in a fast-casual dining experience.

They strive to provide fast, casual, and friendly service. Zaxby’s locations across the Orlando area take service to the next level; not only are they speedy with a 52-second drive-thru time, but they also maintain a stellar 4-star reputation.

Where else in Orlando can you receive speedy drive-thru service? See below.

Rank

Restaurant

Average Drive-thru Speed of Orlando Area Chains

Avg. Review Score (Out of 5)

1

Zaxbys

52 seconds

4

2

Popeyes

90 seconds

3.9

3

Chick-Fil-A

2 minutes and 52 seconds

4.4

4

McDonald’s

3 minutes 22 seconds

3.7

5

Arby’s

3 minutes 30 seconds

4.1

6

Dairy Queen

4 minutes

4.2

7

Taco Bell

4 minutes and 40 seconds

3.5

8

Wendys

4 minutes and 50 seconds

3.6

9

Burger King

4 minutes and 50 seconds

3.0

10

Culver’s

5 minutes

4.5

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Central Florida News

State Attorney’s Office Hosts Free Workshop to Help Citizens Clear Non-Violent Arrest Records

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Orange & Osceola State Attorney Andrew Bain was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the NAACP Orange County Branch, in Orlando. Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The State Attorney’s Office is pleased to announce a free sealing and expungement workshop for people seeking to seal or expunge an eligible non-violent single arrest record in Orange County.

Event Details:

WHAT:
Sealing & Expungement Workshop

WHEN:
Friday, July 12
8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

WHERE:
Holden Heights Community Center
1201 20th Street
Orlando, FL 32805

CareerSource Central Florida will also host federal bonding workshops at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to help those with a criminal record secure employment.

This event is only available for eligible Orange County cases. While it is free, a nonrefundable money order or cashier’s check for $75 made payable to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) must accompany the application. Please note, FDLE does not accept cash, gift cards or temporary personal checks.

Adult and juvenile walk-ins are welcome, but advance registration is strongly encouraged at www.SAO9th.com/register. A government-issued ID is required for all attendees.

Please visit our website for additional details and eligibility requirements.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the following community partners: Orange County Clerk of Courts, Central Florida Urban League, African American Council of Christian Clergy, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Inc., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Orange County Branch, Orange County Parks and Recreation, Florida Voters League, Inc., Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, African American Chamber of Commerce Central Florida, CareerSource Central Florida and Community Legal Services.

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Central Florida News

Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell Re-Elected Unopposed & Installed as President of Statewide Clerks Association

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ORLANDO – Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell, Esq., has been re-elected unopposed to another term as the Orange County Clerk of Courts. With no challenger in the race, Clerk Russell was re-elected and will serve another four-year term.

Clerk Russell has also been installed as President of the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers (FCCC) Association 2024-2025 Board of Directors. Clerk Russell was also sworn in to serve another term on the Executive Council of the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation (CCOC) which is a statutory entity that oversees Florida clerks’ budgets.

“It is such an honor to serve my community and as President of the FCCC. One of my top priorities is to elevate the Clerk of Courts brand in order to amplify our statewide influence which in turn helps our local offices serve the local community. I will also focus on strengthening our posture as digital record keepers especially in a time when cyber security is a threat. I look forward to leading my local office and this great organization of elected Clerks and Comptrollers,” said Clerk Russell.

The FCCC is an association representing Florida’s 68 independently elected Clerks of Court and Comptrollers who provide critical public services that have a positive impact on public safety, commerce, and access to justice. Clerks and Comptrollers have over 1,000 statutory responsibilities in service to constituents, the court system, and justice partners.

Clerk Russell was sworn in by Judge Alicia Latimore, 9th Judicial Circuit on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, and her FCCC presiding term begins July 1, 2024. During the conference, Clerk Russell also announced her presidential theme which will guide initiatives during her tenure: “Let’s Change the Game Together.”

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