From the Echo to ABC—and Beyond

Alumni6 MIN READ

After a long career in journalism, T.J. Winick ’94 uses his expertise to help companies avoid damaging their reputation

Colby alumnus and former ABC News correspondent turned media and crisis communications strategist T.J. Winick '94 in Woburn, Mass.
By Bob KeyesPhotography by Joel Page
July 1, 2024

During his senior year at Colby, T.J. Winick ’94 landed a Jan Plan internship that changed the direction of his life. He went to New York to work alongside multiple Emmy Award-winning producer Curt Gowdy Jr. ’75 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the weekly sports anthology TV show.

Winick advanced from writing sports columns for the Echo to working on a national network sports show helmed by a Colby alumnus, who is widely recognized as being one of the best in the business. In addition to his work on Wide World of Sports, Gowdy also produced Olympics, World Series, Triple Crown horse races, and Super Bowl pre- and post-game shows.

“That five-week internship launched my career,” said Winick, who leveraged his Jan Plan experience into a job as a production assistant at ESPN after graduation. He expanded his expertise and moved from covering sports to news. He worked as a TV news reporter and anchor in Fort Myers, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Boston before becoming a correspondent and anchor for ABC News in New York and Washington, D.C., where he covered political campaigns, financial crises, and breaking news around the country.

Winick now operates Essex Strategies, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm that specializes in strategic communications and crisis management. In the latest chapter of his career, he is using his news and broadcast expertise and deep media contacts to assist large companies, small businesses, nonprofits, colleges, universities, and other organizations define and defend their reputations. He began Essex Strategies in January after spending a decade with Boston-based consultants Solomon McCown & Co., where he worked as senior vice president. 

“I like to call myself an English-to-English translator,” he said. “That is what I did as a journalist and that’s what I do in my current profession. I take complex subject matter and make it easy for people to understand.” 

Winick wrote a book about his career, Reputation Capital: How to Navigate Crises and Protect Your Greatest Asset, published by Berrett-Koehler and winner of a 2023 Independent Publisher Book Award. In the book, he includes stories about his experiences, his universal dos and don’ts—always respond rapidly, always tell the truth, and don’t overcomplicate things—and the characteristics of a good response: authenticity, empathy, and transparency among them. He also offers case studies of companies that suffered harm to their reputations by making mistakes in their crisis communication, including recent high-profile examples from United Airlines and Starbucks.

In the 2017 United Airlines case, the flight crew instructed a 69-year-old passenger, who had already been seated on the plane, to give up his seat because the flight was oversold. The passenger was a doctor who was flying to meet a patient the next morning. He refused to deplane, and aviation security officers physically removed him from the jet. Videos of the incident went viral.

“Regardless of how it responds, United has a major crisis on its hands,” Winick writes, faulting the flight crew for escalating the situation and forcing a physical confrontation with a paying passenger. A series of communication missteps by United management compounded the crisis, including an initial response that Winick deemed tone-deaf and lacking accountability.

White, middle-aged man leaning against a pillar to pose for a portrait, hands in his pockets.
Colby alumnus and former ABC News correspondent turned media and crisis communications strategist TJ Winick.

With Starbucks, the 2018 crisis began when a store manager in Philadelphia called 911 and reported feeling threatened by two men who “are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” The men, who were African American, were arrested, and someone captured it on video. The men were waiting for a business associate, who was late for a meeting, and authorities in Philadelphia began investigating if racial bias was at play.

Winick credits Starbucks for apologizing, but criticizes the company for an apology that was slow to come, generic, and off-point.

Both sides of the coin

In his current job, he advises clients how to avoid those crises and how to handle them when they happen. He’s gone from reporting about companies in turmoil to helping them navigate that turmoil.

“Having covered brands in crisis for 20 years and defended them for the past 10, I have seen both sides of the coin,” he said. “I wrote the book for everyone, from CEOs to interns, so they can understand and make sense of what is necessary to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate a reputation threat.”

His move from news to public relations stemmed from a variety of factors. Winick became less enamored of traveling around the country to cover breaking news stories, and he wanted to spend more time with his family. His final news story was covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. “As a new father, I no longer had the stomach to cover some of the more horrific stories that need to be covered,” he said.

“There is a lot of passion for journalism at Colby, a passion for the truth, and a passion for providing this public service of informing and educating the public. It is really strong and deep.”

T.J. Winick ’94

Another factor in his decision was the proliferation of social media. Companies began using social platforms for public relations purposes, and they risked suffering reputationally when people posting on those platforms criticized them.

Winick saw an opportunity. 

The move to this new phase of his career came naturally. “Because I was a general assignment reporter and I enjoyed a variety of subjects and bouncing from one to the next, I knew that crisis communications would mimic the pace of breaking news and the thrill one gets from having to respond quickly when the stakes are high,” he said.

“Like reporting, what I do now involves a lot of writing, being creative, and being intellectually curious. I have to ask a lot of questions, just as I did as a reporter. The difference is, being a reporter required me to be a jack of all trades. Now my work demands that I have more depth of expertise around details and the nuances of certain subject matters and issues.”

The Colby experience

Winick began his higher education experience at Boston College, where he briefly studied business before transferring to Colby before the end of his first year. When he arrived on Mayflower Hill, he declared as a government major but focused his attention on writing. 

He joined the Echo staff right away, which immersed him in the Colby community. He became sports editor and wrote a regular column. Having an outlet for his writing inspired him and led to his desire to take his skills to the national level. “I loved to write, and I started to think about how I could parlay my love of writing into an actual career.”

The key to making that happen was the internship at Wide World of Sports. 

As his career progressed and he worked his way into the news business, he realized that he is part of a journalism legacy at Colby that extends to Elijah Parish Lovejoy, the 1826 graduate and newspaper editor who was murdered by a mob in 1837 for publishing abolitionist editorials. Over the years, many other Colby graduates had high-impact careers in the field, including Gowdy, Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64, Amy Walter ’91, and many others across the country and around the world.

He attributes Colby’s success in preparing distinguished journalists to the values of a liberal arts education, which exposes students to many subjects and prepares them to thrive in a fast-paced, always-changing, dynamic world.

“There is a lot of passion for journalism at Colby, a passion for the truth, and a passion for providing this public service of informing and educating the public. It is really strong and deep,” Winick said. “I am a small piece of that legacy, but for two decades I was fueled by chasing the story.”