It seems like she just got here, but now she’s getting ready to leave us.
WISC-TV anchor Michelle Li will be on the move almost exactly three years to the day that she arrived in Madison. That is often the life of a TV journalist — just when you’re getting settled in, it’s suddenly time to move along to that next great opportunity. Still, that’s no comfort for the people of Madison who were getting extremely comfortable with Li, a talented, funny, and personable multimedia journalist, who will start her new job as anchorperson for KING-TV in Seattle later this month. Her last day on air at News 3 is this Friday.
“Three years isn’t a long time, but I felt like I made lifelong friends here in Madison and planted lifelong roots here,” Li tells Madison365. “There weren’t many places that we would leave Madison for … my husband and I are so happy here. I’m heartbroken that we are leaving. This community is so special. We are really in debt to Madisonians and, really, everybody in the state. We really feel like we are Wisconsinites. We’ll always be Badger fans and Packer fans.
“This is the first time that we’ve lived in a city that would be categorized as ‘progressive.’ We really love the people of this city,” Li adds. “For us, it’s the biggest and most diverse place we’ve lived. I really love this community. It’s a very intelligent and motivated and progressive community. Everyone is very accepting … they have been to me, and I appreciate that.”
Li grew up in rural Kansas City and studied journalism at the University of Kansas before becoming a reporter in Springfield, Missouri. She was an evening anchor in Wilmington, North Carolina, prior to arriving in Madison.
Soon Li will be trading in one UW (University of Wisconsin) for another UW (University of Washington). Following her career trajectory, Li also addressed the awkward question of whether she is or is not indeed stalking former UW and current Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson. “Haha. I do feel like I am following him because he was in North Carolina two years before I moved there and then he was in Madison right before I got there and now he’s in Seattle,” Li laughs. “But it’s not intentional!”
Seattle will be an exciting new life and career adventure for Li, just as Madison once was.
“A lot of people call Seattle a bigger version of Madison. I’ve heard that other than Madison, it’s the only other city on an isthmus, too,” Li smiles. “So, that’s exciting. It’s just a beautiful city … another intelligent, progressive city. The station I’m working for [KING-TV] is another version of WISC-TV … very thoughtful and well acclaimed.
“I think Madison made me a smarter journalist and I’m hoping that Seattle makes be a better journalist, too,” she adds. “I’m excited. I can’t believe it. Madison was such a shock to the system in a good way and that’s how I feel about Seattle. I’m shocked and happy and elated … and nervous.”
Li has already had a pretty distinguished career. She has received eight regional EMMYs, including four consecutive ones for Interactivity in the Chicago and Nashville markets. She’s received multiple EMMY nominations and awards for her reports on synthetic marijuana, deadly tornadoes, foster care concerns, women’s reproductive health, national scams and distracted driving. In 2012, she was named “Anchor of the Year for the Carolinas” by the State Broadcasting Association. On top of this, she’s earned three Edward R. Murrow awards — two for writing and one for feature reporting.
Li, a Korean adoptee who spent many summers volunteering with adoptive families and in orphanages in Seoul, has been a tremendous inspiration to young people of Asian heritage – especially girls – who simply do not see themselves much on TV.
“I have a different background because I was raised with a certain amount of privilege … I was adopted and my parents were white. When I became a part of news and television, that’s when I realized it didn’t matter that my parents were white and I grew up in a rural setting,” she says. “Working in Missouri and North Carolina, I’m sure a lot of people just saw an Asian face and I’ve learned about how people perceive me and what kind of impact I could potentially have on other people. So, I’ve always tried to be a good person, in general. I know that people look up to me.
“All I had when I was a kid was [Olympic Gold Medal Champion] Kristi Yamaguchi and [CBS Evening News Co-Anchor] Connie Chung,” she adds. “I didn’t realize I was missing out until I saw these women and then I was like, ‘Oh, my God! There’s somebody out there like me!’ So I try to be there for people if they want me there. It’s really powerful and sometimes you don’t even realize it.”
Li also prides herself on being a modern digital-first television journalist who is known for her interactivity work. Google often showcases her unique live streams in newsrooms across the country. Li is always up technology and on the many ways that people are getting their news nowadays.
“For many years, the news was all about ‘Tune in at six!’,” Li says. “Unfortunately, with the way news works today, by the time you see the tease, you already know the whole story. Some people say, ‘people are not watching the news as much anymore.’ Well, they may not be watching on television as much but there is still a hunger and need for information and I’ve made it a point to be on as many platforms as people themselves were on.
“I don’t do anything fancy, I just try to maximize the technology that’s available and what technology we can use for free,” she continues. “I really believe that you have to be up on how people are getting news. If you yourself are not getting news in the traditional way, chances are other people aren’t either.
“We have a very large television audience still, but, personally, I’m always on my phone. I wake up with my phone and I go to bed with my phone,” Li adds. “There’s little time in my day for television and here I am working in television. So, I just try to be as available on all platforms that I can.”
Television reporters often struggle with coming off as natural with their reporting because, after all, they are oftentimes reading you the news from a prompter. Not so with Li, whose genuineness and unique sense of humor comes across effortlessly in her work.
“Aw, shucks. I really appreciate that. It’s something I strive for,” Li says. “There will be days where there are all kinds of things going on in the newsroom or I’m having a bad day, but I feel like I’ve always tried to be the most genuine part of myself I can be for the time that I’m on TV. I watch a lot of news … I consume way too much news. I watch the news in other cities … and I think: who are we kidding? We’re just people. Let’s just be people and as natural as we can be.”
Li says she hopes that the people of Madison remember her as the “next and now type of journalist.”
“I tried very hard to always be honest and genuine — all of the things we learned in journalism school about just being yourself on TV,” Li says. “I hope I’m remembered for quality journalism and smart journalism.”
Li has left her mark on Madison and is now moving on to bigger and better things. The question is: Will she forget about us?
“Oh, my God. C’mon. Are you kidding? Madison is so important to me. It was a life changer for my husband and I. It helped us achieve our dreams and realize that we could continue dreaming,” she says. “Madison will always be very special to us. People might forget about us, but we’ll never forget about Madison.”