Elon alumna named Florida Times-Union editor

Mary Kelli Palka ’95 began leading the editorial staff and newsroom of the Jacksonville, Florida, daily newspaper on Jan. 1.

Mary Kelli Palka, a 1995 graduate of Elon University, has been promoted to the editor position of her hometown paper, The Florida Times-Union. The former Pendulum staff member and Jacksonville, Florida, native will lead the daily newspaper’s newsroom and report directly to the media outlet’s president, Mark Nusbaum.

Since arriving at The Florida Times-Union in 2003, Mary Kelli Palka ’95 has handled a variety of roles at the Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper and was recently named its editor. Photo courtesy of The Florida Times-Union
Previously, Palka served as the Times-Union’s managing editor, a role she held since 2014, overseeing the paper’s news coverage as well as its copy desk, sports, photo, graphics and digital departments. She’s held a variety of roles since joining the paper in 2003, including the titles of local editor, interim metro editor, investigative editor and reporter.

In a Dec. 31 column, Palka detailed the paper’s top priorities entering 2017, emphasizing the publication’s need to provide investigative reporting and in-depth storytelling on local topics. “Investigative reporting is among the most time-consuming and taxing work we do at the Times-Union,” she wrote. “It’s worth it.”

After citing the paper’s fruitful investigation of a local politician, Palka also noted the Times-Union’s desire to present comprehensive news coverage, not just the “community’s troubles.”

“I love our stories about the good in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, about the successes, virtues and strength of the people who live here, and about the trends and issues facing our community,” she wrote.

Less than a week into her new role, Palka explained the paper’s renewed emphasis on in-depth reporting – a trend she played a prominent role initiating.

“We’ve really ramped up the investigative reporting and more in-depth narrative writing in the last few years by reprioritizing what we do. The investigative reporting is what I love to do and the narrative writing is what I also love to read,” Palka said. “As managing editor, I reduced some of the daily stories that didn’t move the needle in favor of telling the more in-depth stories that set us apart and that readers want to see. I want to continue with that focus in mind as I take on this new role.”

​Palka embraces the opportunity to cover Jacksonville, having grown up in the region before she relocated in middle school. As she prepares for her new role, she said she’ll lean on her experiences working at The Pendulum, as well as the Burlington Times-News and later in Southwest Florida.

“It’s a huge responsibility to work as a journalist in any community because of the level of trust needed to write about what’s happening and hold public officials accountable,” she said. “It’s an absolute honor to now serve as editor of my hometown newspaper. And the response from the community has been great. I think many people are excited about the idea of a hometown person holding this position.”

In the release noting Palka’s promotion, Nusbaum championed the new editor’s readiness to lead the publication, stressing her journalistic chops and sincere interest in community news.

“She is a proven editor, who knows the X’s and O’s of investigative and enterprise journalism as well as any editor I have ever worked with,” said Nusbaum in the release. “She also cares very, very deeply about Jacksonville.’’

While it’s been two-plus decades since she graduated from Elon, Palka said the lessons learned on campus and in the classroom endure. Most importantly, she came to understand the fundamentals of reporting and the importance of journalism in society. 

Additionally, Palka fondly recalled her time working on The Pendulum – calling it the place where she “fell in love with chasing a story and sharing it with readers,” she said. This passion and the lifelong friendships she formed at the student paper have persisted.

“I can’t stress enough how important my education at Elon has been to my success as a journalist,” Palka said. “We did important journalism that made a difference, and I was proud to be a part of that publication.”