Name: John Stofflet
Title and Organization: Anchor/Reporter NBC15/WMTV Madison
Graduation Year and Degree: 1983 BA in Journalism
If you’ve watched the news in Madison over the last several decades, you probably recognize J-School alum John Stofflet (BA’83). After graduating, he spent time reporting in Madison and Seattle before joining NBC15 as their main evening co-anchor in 2005. During his time as a broadcast journalist, Stofflet has reported from across the globe and been recognized for his outstanding work. Now, after a four decade career, Stofflet has announced he will be retiring in June 2023. We caught up with him to hear about his career journey and advice he has for aspiring journalists.
When it comes to your career, what are some of the things you are most proud of?
The aspect of being a broadcast journalist that has brought me the most joy and pride has been helping those in the communities we serve. Our Share Your Holidays to Eliminate Hunger campaign for Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin has raised more than 63 million meals for families in need in South Central Wisconsin.
It has also been a privilege to serve our viewers in times when information is especially vital and potentially lifesaving — whether that is helping to make them aware of severe weather threats or during the earliest, darkest days of the pandemic when we were all concerned, frightened and in need of important information on how to stay safe.
On a personal level, it was quite an honor to be invited to the White House to interview a sitting president. In April of 2015, President Barack Obama selected me as one of five television anchors around the nation to do one-on-one interviews at the White House. While I don’t really know why I was selected, it was certainly every journalist’s dream to interview a president one-on-one, and an experience I’ll always remember.
Over the past four decades, it’s also been thrilling to be sent on assignment to cover stories on all seven continents, and more than 40 countries. I never dreamed journalism would open so many doors to adventures and assignments for me in many far-flung corners of the earth, including Antarctica. Doing a 10-part series in Antarctica for the National Geographic Channel and hearing the National Geographic theme music play before my stories aired was a particular thrill for me.
While I’ve had the opportunity to interview hundreds of celebrities — from George Clooney, to Julia Roberts, to Jeff Bezos, etc. — my favorite stories have always been those featuring so-called ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. Typewriter artist Paul Smith comes to mind. Despite severe cerebral palsy, he managed to create works of art using a typewriter. That story has been viewed more than 23 million times on YouTube. That’s because Paul’s perseverance and positive attitude in the face of adversity was just so inspiring.
It’s truly been a privilege to share the stories of so many people like Paul over the decades. I’ve been very fortunate.
What advice would you give to a J-Schooler who wants to do what you do?
Be curious. Take the time to ask people questions and to learn about the community around you. Senior citizens can be a wealth of information, for example. I had an aunt who used to say to me, “Ask me questions while the library is still open.” Great advice.
By reading, following the news, asking questions, and keeping our eyes and ears open, we are more likely to see or find stories that are right under our noses.
Also remember you can have a personal opinion on things but keep it to yourself. As a journalist, you need to think of yourself as an umpire or referee. Metaphorically, who would trust the calls I make on the field during a Packers-Bears game, if I’m a referee wearing a Packers sweatshirt during the game, or wearing a Bears shirt on my Instagram or Facebook page?
Get involved in a student newspaper or radio station. You’ll make friends for life and gain valuable experience.
What is your favorite J-School memory?
When I think of my years in the UW-Madison J-School, I can’t help but think of the fun, fantastic experience and lifelong friendships I made working as a reporter and editor-in-chief at The Badger Herald. My experience there reinforced in my heart and mind that telling stories and serving readers/viewers is what I wanted to do for a career.
I will also always be indebted to my broadcast news instructor Professor James Hoyt, who saw something in me that led him to recommend me for my first job in radio news, and soon after in television news. Without his support my career most likely would have taken a different direction.
My rewarding adventure of 40+ years in journalism would not have been possible without the foundation and experience I gained at Vilas Hall and UW-Madison in the early 1980s. Two words will always remain dear to my heart: On, Wisconsin!