In the competitive, often cut throat local television news business, the stories makes the headlines but, the real connection of the audience to the newscast comes from the chemistry and likability of the anchors which translates into winning ratings for the station. While viewers usually only see a glimpse of the real life of the television news anchors they invite into their homes, WTSP 10News anchor Dion Lim, 31, is changing that tradition.
Dion is perky, relatable and brutally honest — from her savvy shopping tips for finding the best deal to a wardrobe of designer looking dresses each sewn by her mother, Lim reveals her personal confidence struggles both in front and behind the camera. When the camera is off, Lim pursues her entrepreneurial spirit in business and is a big believer in making your own opportunities in life.
Early in her career when she worked as an anchor in Charlotte, NC, she found a way to combine her love of food and social media. After finding success with the Cowfish restaurant (the chain named one of its signature dishes after her, the Neon Dion/OMG Dion sushi roll, and also features the menu item at its Universal CityWalk restaurant in Orlando), Lim is now taking the concept to the next level. This month she launched a social media campaign called #BigDealDion taco between the station and the mobile Taco Bus to raise funds to help hungry children in the area.
Lim’s path to success has been paved with struggles, and while many women are reticent to share details, Lim is vocal about her story.
Lim’s path to success has been paved with struggles, and while many women are reticent to share details, Lim is vocal about her story. Her message to the public is often inspirational with personal details about her struggles growing up Asian American and struggling to find her voice and identity in a business that judges women daily on their appearance. True to Lim’s nature of finding a way to make a difference, she’s channeling her struggles into a book, including positive messages and lessons learned from other female news anchors around the country.
She and her husband, Evan Panesis, a professional poker player, are the proud parents of a Yorkshire terrier named Georgie and a miniature dachshund named Frankie. Here in her own words, Lim shares her triumphs and struggles as a main television anchor, how she views success, and what she would like to accomplish next in her career.
Why did you decide to go into television and what were you first impressions?
Growing up in an Asian American household being an American-born Chinese – ABC as we like to call it – there’s a lot of pressure to be a doctor or lawyer or scientist. One of those tangible careers where your parents can measure and see it. My cousins were all Doogie Howsers and graduated law school at 18. I spent a lot of time learning English by listening to audio books and watching television. The program 20/20, Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters were a really big part of my childhood. I realized if I could do what they did, I could have my own voice and not have to live in this bubble of what I was supposed to be. I would have the flexibility and adventure I longed for.
You majored in journalism but have a concentration in science. Why?
(Laughs) My dad is a chemist. We played with super glue and dry ice all the time. When it came time to take science classes, I think my parents were very excited. I think they had lofty dreams that I would follow in his footsteps. Clearly that didn’t happen, and I had no skill or talent, but science was offered very randomly at Emerson. While everyone was taking musical theater, dancing and singing in the hallways – you could also take marine biology. I did it a little to appease my family, just in case, this career didn’t work out.
What was your first opportunity in broadcasting? Was it what you expected?
I realized very quickly that you can’t be in broadcasting for the sake of being on TV. It’s not about being pretty and having everyone look at you. It’s not about you at all! I realized early on that you make your own opportunity. It’s a very competitive business and everyone wants to do it. There’s one main anchor and only 3-4 television stations per market. You have to make your own opportunity and work your butt off.
What was the biggest investment you made in yourself?
The time and sacrifice I made, like most journalists do, and working in a bureau the size of a shoebox, reporting on every topic, moving around and doing whatever it takes. When I was a senior in college, I drove two hours from Boston to Western Massachusetts 3-4 days a week to work full-time as a reporter. I was broke and in debt up to my eyeballs, making $12/hour.
You worked in Kansas City and Charlotte before moving up to market 14 in Tampa. What lessons did you learn along the way?
I think it’s a complicated answer. Staying true to myself and kind of separating the public persona, what people see in the 16 x 9 window every night, and remembering that you are a person. If the audience doesn’t like you as a person, that’s not your problem. That is not something you need to change about yourself. That realization only comes with time, with experience. Being beat down by your management, your audience, your peers – for me really expressing what I am passionate about and passing on positivity and those lessons learned is what this business has been about for me. It’s not just about what you see on TV anymore. It’s about the journey and showing others what you’ve learned along the way.
There is a dark side of television and living in a fishbowl. How do you think the journalism industry lifts up and tears down women?
The day you stop listening to what’s coming out of here (points to head), that’s a problem.
On one side you have an opportunity to showcase the amazing things women do. It gives you a platform but, on the flip side it’s like you were in People magazine or one of those tabloids. I joke about it but you are constantly scrutinized about what you wear. I accept that because I am in the public eye. The day you stop listening to what’s coming out of here (points to head), that’s a problem.
How do you measure success?
I have not won a personal Emmy or an AP Award, but I have contributed to plenty of award-winning newscasts. For me, I am
For me, I think success is equal parts being accepted by the community and finding your own voice because, that was so difficult for me.
proud that every market I’ve worked in, the audience has voted me Best TV Personality or Best Morning Anchor —awards that have more substance come from the viewers. When I was 21 years old, I had a clear path in my mind. I was going to be a network correspondent. By the time I was 30, success to me was market size and money — the number of zeroes in my paycheck —and that was instilled in me coming from a culture where that’s how you measure it – the number of doctorates, the number of awards, or the amount of money you make. For me, I think success is equal parts being accepted by the community and finding your own voice because, that was so difficult for me.
Do you think women get in our own way of success?
Women in the workplace, no matter what you are doing are beta fish. Women are colorful, they want to be seen, they want to be heard, they are aggressive, they are type A, they want to work for the greater good. But you get them in a fishbowl where suddenly they have competition and there’s something threatening their time in the spotlight to shine, the result is often times ugly.
Women are colorful, they want to be seen, they want to be heard
When I worked in Charlotte, there was a main anchor whom I later replaced. She taught me a very important lesson. When I came to the station I expected her to not like me and give me the side eye. She pulled me aside and gave me a big hug. She told me every woman has her own purpose, her own strengths and her own value that she brings to the table and I needed to remember that. When I later took over the main anchor spot from her, she told me the same thing and gave me the same hug. I was crying and said, “Don’t you hate me? I stole your job.” She said “Dion, you didn’t steal my job. It’s your time to shine and show the audience what you are good at and your value. My time is in a different form now, always evolving and always changing.” That really resonated with me.
How did you start becoming a savvy shopper?
In Boston people were very fashion forward and I felt a lot of pressure to fit in. I had a Mark Jacobs obsession and it’s not cheap. I figured out a way to wear it by selling a few things on Craigslist, taking that money and investing it into more things on Craigslist and eBay. I found out trash day in the ritzy town and I would go through it. I realized I was making more money at eBay than my first TV job. I joke I was a hustler! I was peddling discount shoes from Filene’s Basement and that has translated over to what I do now. I still find the best deals on anything.
Your husband, a professional poker player, has a non-conventional career. How did you meet?
At first there was no attraction – just repulsion (laughs). He had missed class and was playing poker all night, so I thought he was a slacker in school. I think the number one strength that I love about our relationship is that we lift each other up every single day. His job is very stressful. Over the years, I have championed him and supported him. I didn’t understand how much money he was making until the third year we were together. It didn’t matter. For him there’s no handbook. There’s a lot of networking and long hours to his job. It’s about managing your money and bankroll.
Did you face criticism?
When he asked me to marry him he had to show my parents how much money he made and his bank statements. We always say “it’s your thing” if he’s on the table working and we have reservations or tickets to an event. He works 12 different tables at the same time. He does the same for me. In the middle of the night, he has printed out my resumes and brought them to me when I forgot them for a journalism conference.
I have noticed I am not like any anchor in this market. I think I am less afraid of putting myself out there.
Do you see motherhood as part of your future?
We talk about it on a daily basis. We have already named our soon-to-be children. My husband comes from a very large Greek family in Boston. It’s hard. I think about it every day. I would like to have a family but, I’ve got to do me first. I think it’s something a lot of women go through.
How you see your legacy?
I have noticed I am not like any anchor in this market. I think I am less afraid of putting myself out there. On my Facebook page I put a picture of myself in a mud mask. I think my legacy needs to be something fresh and different. I want it to be a little more forward thinking – that you don’t have to be perfect.
Connect with Dion
Facebook Facebook.com/Dion Lim