TAMPA — News anchor Jennifer Leigh will take over the 11 p.m. broadcast at WFLA-Ch. 8 for veteran Gayle Sierens beginning Jan. 1, the television station announced Thursday.
Sierens, with the station since 1977, said in June she would step down as anchor of the 11 p.m. show at year's end and retire from the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts in May 2015. However, Leigh unofficially took over as anchor of the 11 p.m. broadcast Thursday because Sierens is on vacation through the rest of the year.
"It's still pretty surreal," Leigh, 42, said. "I'm just really, really honored."
For the past two and a half years, Leigh has anchored WFLA-Ch. 8's 7 p.m. news show. She began her career with WFLA in 1993. A fifth-generation Floridian, she grew up in Lakeland and studied mass communications at the University of South Florida.
She said taking over for her mentor is a dream come true.
"It's not all about me getting a promotion I've dreamed of, but filling the shoes of someone that is so beloved in this community," Leigh said. "The magnitude of that is not lost on me."
Sierens worked first as a sports reporter and anchor before moving to news in 1985. She has won Florida Emmys in both genres.
WFLA vice president of news Bill Berra said the station is happy to see Leigh grow into Sierens' former post.
"She connects with the audience in a way that we think is outstanding," Berra said.