Central Florida News
2023 Women’s History Month: Florida National News Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 500 (2016-2023)
- DAYTONA Supercross (2017-2023)
- DAYTONA 200 (2017-2023)
- Coke Zero Sugar 400 (2019-2022, Daytona International Speedway)
- Inaugural Daytona Soccer Fest (2022)
- 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 (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
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.)
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
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.
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.
As of 2023, Mellissa has also begun building relations with the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando and the organizations connected to it.
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.
After Morales was elected state representative, she file 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 in June 25, 2021, for which Mellissa emceed. The even 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
J. Willie David, III is the Publisher of Florida National News and the FNN News Network. | email@example.com
Central Florida News
State Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis’s Safety Standards for Amusement Rides Bill Passed First Committee
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – This week, Representative LaVon Bracy Davis’s (D-Ocoee) HB 1241 Safety Standards for Amusement Rides, also known as the Tyre Sampson Act, passed its first committee. Tyre Sampson was a promising young man who visited Orlando almost exactly one year ago for spring break and fell 400 feet from the Free Fall ride when his harness failed. Tragically, Tyre died on impact. This bill creates more safety precautions and inspections for amusement park rides including stricter safety standards, more signage, and further inspections.
“On behalf of the Sampson family, we are incredibly grateful to Senator Thompson and Representative Bracy Davis for their dedication to The Sampson family and the safety of all Floridians. We are also grateful to the bipartisan unanimous group of Senators and Representatives who have voted to move this good bill forward. Tyre Sampson was a 14-year-old son, star student, and star athlete who lost his life in a tragic and preventable accident that was the direct result of unthinkable negligence. This bill ensures that Tyre’s legacy will be to make sure that an incident like this never happens to anyone else’s child,” stated Todd Michaels and Michael Haggard, attorneys from The Haggard Law Firm who represent Sampson’s mother.
Representative Bracy Davis stated, “Tyre Sampson was a smart, athletic, and kind boy with big dreams that he will never be able to accomplish. What happened to Tyre was devastating, leaving a hole in his family that will never be filled. Visitors from out of state, like Tyre, as well as Floridians, should be able to trust that we do our due diligence to keep them safe when they come to enjoy the many attractions Florida offers. This bill will do that, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill to the floor.”
Central Florida News
Sheriff’s Office investigating fatal shooting at Aqua Vista Drive in Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – On March 28, 2023 at 11:53 p.m., Orange County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the 4300 block of Aqua Vista Drive for a shooting call and found a man in his 30s in the parking lot who had been shot. He was pronounced dead on scene.
The Sheriff’s office said, it’s very early in the investigation and we have no suspect information at this time.
Central Florida News
Senator Linda Stewart joins Senator Jason Brodeur in co-introducing SB 880: Biosolids
Tallahassee, FL – Senator Linda Stewart (D – Orange County) joins Senator Jason Brodeur (R – Seminole County) in co-introducing SB 880: Biosolids.
This bill establishes a grant program within the Department of Environmental Protection for municipalities seeking to convert wastewater into useable biosolids. Wastewater treatment processes separate liquids and solids in order to create a nutrient rich earth like matter known as biosolds. In order to create the highest quality of biosolids, known as Class A, the separated solid waste must be treated in a manner that eliminates pathogens before its distribution to users.
“Our state has long been affected by its lack of wide-spread sewer systems, and has been in desperate need of proper funding to modernize and expand the systems we currently have. By creating this grant program we will remove the harmful nutrients that continue to overload our waterways and lead to dangerous events such as algae blooms,” said Stewart.
Class A biosolids have many important applications in place of chemical fertilizers. With their high standards for treatment of pathogens, they are able to be used as both agricultural and at home alternates to chemical fertilizers that leach into nearby water supplies, resulting in the death of native species and reducing human use of waterways.
“It’s time we utilize our wastewater to its fullest potential, and through treating our wastewater and producing biosolids we have a win-win-win situation. We upgrade our water treatment infrastructure that stops sewage seepage into water sources, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels that degrade our environment, and produce a useable product that’s superior to our synthetic versions on the market today,” said Stewart
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