TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Television viewers across Florida will soon be losing a very familiar face who has been a broadcasting institution in the state.
Mike Vasilinda is retiring.
Vasilinda runs the Capitol News Service which currently distributes daily stories from the state capitol to TV stations all over Florida, including News4JAX.
Congratulations on a lifetime of service in journalism @mikevasilinda Cheers!— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 4, 2022
How it all started
Vasilinda has been a fixture in journalism in Tallahassee for around 49 years following his graduation from Florida State University in 1973.
Vasilinda told News4JAX he originally wanted to be a lawyer and didn’t plan to stay in Tallahassee more than a couple of years after graduating, but that obviously didn’t happen.
Vasilinda said he took his first television job after he saw an ad in the campus newspaper.
BY THE NUMBERS: Click here for an interactive look at Mike’s career
“They wanted to hire someone to become a producer of a weekly show that would air in Tallahassee and Tampa and Miami and recap the week in review of the legislature. Fast forward 40 years and it’s now a nightly show called ‘Today in the Legislature,’” said Vasilinda.
He eventually took out a loan for around $55,000, bought a film camera and eventually started his own video production company. Currently, he owns Mike Vasilinda productions in Tallahassee which distributes daily news from the State Capitol on what’s going on in the Legislature for the Capitol News Service. TV stations across Florida have purchased his stories for decades because it’s a way to have a dedicated journalist in the state’s capital every day.
10,000 stories, 50,000 interviews
Along the way, Vasilinda has accumulated more knowledge in state government than maybe anybody in history, spending an estimated 3,700 to 4,000 days in legislative hearings, or 10 years of his life.
Vasilinda turns 73 this year.
Beyond that, Vasilinda estimates he’s produced around 10,000 TV news stories and conducted well over 50,000 interviews. He also has a tape and film library of Tallahassee news stories with around 10,000 tapes.
“I’ve worked very hard to try and turn this business over to another employee who couldn’t convince his fiancé to live in Tallahassee,” Vasilinda said.
So, now he plans to close his business. News stations around Florida will now have to find companies to replace the hole he leaves in coverage.
Askew, Bundy and Bush v. Gore
Vasilinda has been there for literally every political fight in the state capital for nearly 50 years. That includes covering 10 governors from Reubin Askew in the 1970s to Gov. Ron DeSantis today.
Vasilinda said one of his most difficult interviews was with Governor Askew in the 70s.
“I asked governor Askew a very probing question out of the clear blue. He yelled at me. First time I’ve ever talked to a governor,” said Vasilinda.
He said that interview concerned whether there should be a special session called of the state legislature over an oil crisis. It was a crisis he said was worse than what the country is facing today.
“It was much worse back then. Cities were turning off street lights. Children were standing in the dark waiting for school busses and they were getting hurt,” said Vasilinda.
Beyond politics, Vasilinda has covered countless other stories.
Perhaps the highest profile was his coverage of serial killer Ted Bundy throughout the late 70s and 80s.
Vasilinda said his phone started ringing off the hook the night of the Super Bowl in 1978 when Bundy broke into the Chi Omega sorority on the FSU campus, killed two women and injured three more. Following Bundy’s arrest in Florida, Vasilinda said he was in the same room with the serial killer several times. He said Bundy went from a suave talker with the media before he was indicted and then shifted to a scary individual.
“I will tell you there was a particular time when he was read the indictment, I was one of the few people inside the room with him. We were part of the pool crew. And there’s a pretty famous shot when he raises his hand and said ‘I plead right now, I did not do it,’” said Vasilinda. “Scary. And his eyes were dark. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the evil that was in his eyes. You could see it, you could feel it. He was not the charming guy we met on the street who was telling us he was innocent, he needed a good lawyer.”
Vasilinda said there were so many huge stories he’s been a part of it’s hard to keep track.
Some of them included the debate over Terri Schiavo, a woman left in a vegetative state and there were legislative debates over her care. Another one was the 2000 presidential election involving George W. Bush and Al Gore where Vasilinda said he was constantly working as the debate swirled over Florida’s election results.
“We worked from about 5 in the morning until well after midnight every night for 36-37 days when that took place,” he said.
What’s changed and what’s next
Vasilinda said something he has seen change dramatically in state politics over the years is access to politicians. He said access is a lot less than it has been in years and decades past as many politicians have started relying on written statements and public relations professionals.
“I think people have started to rely on PR professionals to advise them than just respecting what we do and giving a straight answer,” he said.
Vasilinda said he plans to keep a close eye on state politics and do some consulting but has no plans to return to the Capitol building on a regular basis. His wife, Michelle, is a college professor and former State Representative and plans to partner with him in his new ventures.