Lesli Foster – WUSA9’s Anchor in a Consumer Storm
By Charlene Giannetti
Lesli Foster, WUSA9’s news anchor and consumer reporter, recently took a vacation day, but there was no time to relax. Up at six, she got her daughter, Jordan, 7, off to school. By 8:30 a.m., she was in her car being interviewed for this article. Her college sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, was turning 100 years-old and the celebration was attracting women from all over the country. Lesli planned to pick up her registration pack at the Convention Center, then head over to her alma mater, Howard University, to be the emcee for two events, one at eleven, the other at noon. From one to two, she would be on a panel talking to middle school students about achieving their dreams, followed by another campus event from two to three. By late afternoon, she hoped to be heading home to meet Jordan and go shopping for a ballet outfit since her daughter’s lessons began on Saturday. Friday is always pizza night in the Foster-Mathewson household, so the last stop would be to pick up dinner.
She laughs. “I’m not physically working, but I’m working,” she says.
Welcome to Lesli’s world, a non-stop marathon balancing her job as a top TV anchor and reporter in Washington, being a wife and mother, speaking at events throughout the metropolitan area, and devoting time to charity work, including her newly launched Girlfriends Give Back.
Lesli’s work schedule is particularly hectic right now because her TV newscast is being rebranded. “We used to be called 9News or 9News Now,” she explains. “Starting next Thursday (January 17), we’re going to be WUSA9. That’s a big change—it’s a shift in how we refer to ourselves, it’s a shift in how we look on the air. All of the graphics, all the things that are on the station will change as well. This is all happening just ahead of the inauguration.”
WUSA9‘s consumer team, which Lesli heads up, will change, too, reflecting a new partnership with Call For Action, a non-profit, pro-consumer organization with volunteers all over the country. “Call For Action is an incredible engine staffed totally by volunteers,” Lesli says. “They are able to make a difference with a group of dedicated people whose only focus is to help consumers get their problems solved. And they help businesses that have been scammed or defrauded.”
In 2012, the station’s Consumer Team received an Edward R. Murrow Award for a story on stray voltage, electricity that is present on the outside of a structures like manhole covers, bus shelters, parking meters, even crossing light signs around D.C. “What we found affected change,” Lesli says. The city now makes routine checks to protect public safety.
Lesli also anchors the station’s weekly evening newscasts at five and six. “I’m pretty pliable,” Lesli says. “While consumer is my beat, the community is what I cover. I like telling stories about people. I like big interviews with controversial figures, people you may not have known the full story about.”
She profiled Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker who divides his time between governing a county of 900,000 and taking care of his wife with early onset Alzheimer’s. The interview was emotional for Baker as he described watching his life partner and biggest fan forget basic things, like the ages of their children.
One of Lesli’s big “gets” was an interview with Steve Basu, whose wife, Pam, was killed on September 8, 1992, in a case that would receive national attention and coin the term “carjacking.” On that fateful morning, Pam was driving their daughter Sarina to her first day of preschool. Basu was filming Pam and Sarina getting into the car and inadvertently caught on camera the two men who would commit the brutal crime. Steve had never spoken about his wife’s death until, 20 years later; he agreed to speak with Lesli and her producer, Stephanie Wilson, at WUSA.
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Lesli grew up in Detroit, graduated from Howard and returned to her home state to begin her TV career. “The station in Flint was literally in the middle of a corn field,” she says. “I was making no money so lived at home and drove more than an hour each day to work.” During a particularly bad snow storm, Lesli’s car ended up in a ditch and she was rescued by a “wonderful, angelic man driving a tow truck.” Yet because she was doing what she loved, she had no complaints. “I knew it wasn’t something that would pay big dividends in the beginning, but that I would have the opportunity to make an impact,” she says. “That was the biggest thing.”
From Flint, Lesli went to WBAL, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore. “I loved it!” she says. “This great blue collar town, where people are really down to earth. I thought, wow! I’m home, big hair, big clothes, this reminds me of Detroit.”
In Baltimore, Lesli worked the night shift, beginning in the early afternoon and working through until after the 11 p.m. newscast. Lesli often found herself reporting on homicides and that focus began to take its toll. “I was covering stories on young lives that were knocked out so soon for ridiculous reasons,” she says. What she found particularly disturbing was the circus atmosphere that often surrounded the murder scenes. “Moms were coming down with their babies, walking to the scene to say, `what happened?’” she recalls, feeling that these crimes were somehow being “glamorized.” She adds: “It got to be too much for me.”
After eight months in Baltimore, she was tapped for a news job at WUSA9. She joined the station in 2001, asking to be assigned to the least popular shift. “I wanted to earn the right to be there and I wanted to earn the respect of my colleagues who had been there for years and who were iconic,” she says. “I was so honored to learn from them, to be in their sphere.” Lesli got her wish, reporting for work at 3:30 a.m.
Lesli met her husband, John Mathewson, through a mutual friend, and they have been married for eight years. Mathewson works for the HSC Foundation, a non profit dedicated to helping individuals who face social and health care barriers because of disability, chronic illness, or other circumstances. “My husband John and I are a great team and he’s a huge part of why I’m able to do all that I do,” Lesli says. She also credits her producer, Stephanie Wilson, for her “incredible, sometimes unconventional, support.”
Lesli’s role model is her mother, Gail Foster-Dorsey. “My mom was a teacher for many, many years,” she says. “She was also one of two African-American students who integrated John Glenn High School, in Westland, Michigan back in 1963.” Her mother was never allowed on the bus with white students, so she and her classmate ended up walking a mile each way, to and from school, everyday. No adult in her school, besides the teachers, ever acknowledged her. “She believes this prepared her for life and she went on to become an inspirational educator,” Lesli says. “Tells you something about who she is … and why she will always be the standard bearer for me.”
One of Lesli’s pet projects is Girlfriends Give Back, “not an organization, just an event,” where women can get together to support a specific charity. “So often you go to events in D.C. where tickets prices are $200, $300,” she says. “My idea was to show you could give what you spend on lunch and make an incredible difference.” She hopes to hold the event once a year (the first one was held on October 26) showcasing a different charity each time.
Although Lesli says that it’s rare that she gets a call from her daughter’s school with an emergency, those few instances present challenges. “The calls, when they come always occur when it’s really, really hard to toss the ball in the air,” she says. “In general that’s what is a little more challenging for those in this industry. We don’t have the ability like a government worker for flex time or the ability to work from home for a couple of days a week, or dial down the schedule a bit. That is the greatest challenge for me and for those of us who are on the air.”
She laughs. “I’m waiting for the day they can beam us up on the set and I can be in my bathrobe and they can do my hair and do my makeup and somehow park me right next to my co-anchors without my actually being on the set.”
In the end, Lesli says that she accepts that she can’t do it all. “I’m not always going to be the best mother, I’m not always going to be the best wife, I’m not always going to be the best friend, I’m not always going to be the best employee,” she says. “But I’m going to be the very best that I can be in those roles everyday.”
Charlene Giannetti is the Editor of Woman Around Town, an online resource for women in the Washington D.C. and New York Metropolitan areas, where this article also appears. www.womanaroundtown.com
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