HuSTLe: How I earned a spot on TV in my hometown
I earned my Masters from Arkansas State where I learned about the glass ceiling theory. “The unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.” I have proved this theory to be true over and over again.
Landing my internship. I began my career working an unpaid internship in my hometown. The mid-west is well known for our journalism programs so I knew that I would need to be the best reporter in my small Mass Communication Department at Alcorn State University to even be considered for an internship. I reached out to a Dad of a classmate in my first-grade class. At the time, he was the a main anchor at KSDK in St. Louis. He wrote me a recommendation letter that left me in tears and sure enough, thanks to him, I got a call to interview for the 2008 Summer Internship Program. I didn’t get the job. KSDK sent a letter to my dorm in Mississippi suggesting I try to apply the following year, but I was out of time. I was too embarrassed to tell my mentor that I failed. My mentor had been on air in St. Louis for decades. He called me and said he had just turned in a producer for emailing racially insensitive stuff. He said he warned the producer he would turn him in and I’m told the harassment never stopped and the producer eventually got fired. “I can get you the internship, but is this what you want,” he asked me. I knew this business would be a dog eat dog world, so I told him, yes, and soon there was a sudden change in the program.
The road was not paved with gold. My mentor warned me I would have a difficult road ahead just because I was connected to him. “Good talent will never go unnoticed,” he said and reminded me to work hard, be kind and talk to everyone in the building to learn more about their position. I soon found out that my mentor was right, I would not be treated like the other interns. I tried to ignore that I was the only intern to work weekends. I also noticed the others got opportunities to shadow reporters but my requests were often denied. You can watch my reel from that summer. Most of my stories came from working with the weekend reporter because our internship coordinator was not there to say no. The late John King was still a video editor at KSDK in 2008. He was black and he took me under his wing. I remember sneaking him video of my version of the stories the paid journalists aired on TV and he would edit it to form a video resume. I vividly remember trying to hide my work from our internship coordinator for fear that she would stop me from trying to make a resume tape. The full-time internship was unpaid so I picked up shifts as a server at Applebees to pay for gas, parking and lunch. Many of my co-workers had never been to college and didn’t plan on it, still, they supported my dream of becoming a tv news anchor in St. Louis. “You can do it! My co-workers would tell me.”
The job search. I graduated from Alcorn State University in May of 2009. The stock market crashed and TV stations across the country were getting rid of experienced reporters. Each day I picked a state and emailed a links to my reel. Only a few people responded, but no real leads. I finally got my first TV news offer, likely because I shadowed my sorority sister who worked at WXVT. They offered me the gig that she once worked. A part-time, minimum wage position, to anchor the weekend show in Greenville, Mississippi. My mom refused to even let me consider that job. News stations are hardly impressed by a masters degree, but I chose to attend Arkansas State University so that I could work to improve my craft. This provided me a little more time to break into the biz. There is only one TV station in Jonesboro. I was certain, if I couldn’t break into that shop then I shouldn’t be in TV news. I applied to KAIT to work as a reporter. I interviewed with them and didn’t get the job. Then I interviewed to be a producer. I even applied to work as a graphics director. I was secretly willing to scrub the toilets and bathroom floors. When I finally broke down to tell my mentor from KSDK that I couldn’t get a job in Jonesboro, he suggested I start applying for gigs in Memphis. When I told the News director at KAIT that I would begin applying for jobs in a bigger market, he almost immediately offered me a morning camera operator job. I willingly took it even though it was a part-time job with terrible hours. My shift started about 4:30 am and I would get off around 9 am so that I could take a 2-hour break before returning for the noon show. This was Raycom’s way of making sure they didn’t have to foot my insurance bill. My checks were about 300 dollars every two weeks. Thankfully I had a job on campus at ASU to help me survive. I somehow balanced my two jobs and classes but I did not have health care. At KAIT, I was responsible for setting up the mics, running the studio cameras and even changing the studio lights. I was horrible at my job. All I could think about was being a reporter. I often forgot to cue the talent to let them know they were on TV. I still don’t know how to change studio lights, plus I ran the big studio cameras with heels on, dress for the job you want right? Fail. It’s hard to admit my biggest failure in my career, but I can’t throw everyone else under the boat without owning up to my own mistakes. While working at KAIT, my now ex-husband and I took a break. He had just crossed his fraternity. I was in school, working two jobs and I never slept. I was crabby and impatient. We broke up, but I so badly wanted to be with him. He was set to graduate one Friday in May. That’s sweeps. News people cannot take off in sweeps because it’s the rating period. In order to win the book, its all hands on deck, even if you are the only news station in a tiny market. I asked my boss if I could take off. He said no. So I called in sick and drove home to St. Louis. It was a horrible decision. I thought Mike would love the fact that I came to support him. He didn’t care at all. I don’t think he even wanted to take a picture. I felt stupid, not to mention I went back to work on Monday and was immediately called into the office. By the grace of God and the sweet communion of his spirit, I was actually sick that day, and my story added up. I didn’t get fired but that should have been the end of my TV news career. I was young and dumb. Maybe this is the reason that I watched a less experienced white woman who worked as an evening camera operator get opportunities to be on air. As for me, I was still shadowing reporters.
My co-workers helped me reach my goal. I became very close with my morning team. The all white on-air crew, was incredibly open to answering my many questions about TV news. Bob Snell taught me how to write in active voice and how to tease a story. Even though many news anchors refuse to pick up a camera, Bob continued to perfect his craft. He is still one of the best backpack journalists that I’ve ever worked with. His co-anchor Kristina was literally an angel sent from God. This Florida born surfer girl found herself in Jonesboro, Arkansas. You could feel Kristina’s sweet spirit throughout the newsroom. She would often bring in baked goodies and I even went to church with her. I did ruffle some feathers when I finally told Kristina all the terrible things the director said about her in my earpiece while she was anchoring the news. One of the lessons that I’ve learned from Kristina is that stuff doesn’t matter. She loved her goodwill clothes and shoes because well none of us made any real money. Kristina gifted me with suits. She helped me understand that it was much more cost effective to buy a second outfit and tailor it. Kristina and the meteorologist taught me how to wear makeup for TV. I remember going to them with my TV makeup on and they said: “oh it looks great, now let’s go work on it.” All I can remember is puffs of makeup and me screaming “black people don’t wear makeup like this,” but they do, and thanks to them I landed my first on-air job in just 8 months of working at KAIT.
I know you are the boss, but don’t tell me what God can’t do. I was preparing a new resume reel for the 2010 NABJ convention. I was one of only 3 soon to be TV reporters chosen for an all expense paid trip to California to cover the national convention. My news director seemed to be in shock when I showed him my new reel. He told me that I was certainly good enough to be on air but I shouldn’t expect a spot on his roster. At the time, the only on-air person of color was the sports guy. He was so helpful to me. He would come in on the weekends to work on my “news voice.” My boss suggested I make a list of the stations that I wanted to apply to and he would help make the connections for me. I wrote out a list of nearby TV stations with job openings. In a literal act of God, Bob overheard the ND telling me about an anchoring job that I could never get. “ I just talked to that news director about you.” “What!! I responded- please do not play with me.” “We worked together in Tupelo. He’s really interested in you.” Robert Davidson, the same man that called Bob to ask about me, actually hired me for my first on-air TV job about 2 weeks later. However my KAIT ND was right, I didn’t get the morning anchor job. Robert considered me and a white girl for the position. He was very honest in saying we had the same amount of experience but her dad was a prominent businessman in the area and that’s why he chose her. That didn’t break me. It forced me to work harder and I enjoyed the TV normal weekday shift . I began my day searching for news stories as early in the morning. We would be forced to sit in the newsroom until we found a story good enough for air. You wanted to get started as soon as possible so that you could meet the 5 pm deadline. I would pitch my story, set up the interviews, shoot the story with gear that weighed more than 50 pounds and even edited it on tape to tape. I hadn’t even heard of non-digital editing in college. It was a whole lot of work for very little money. If my math is correct, employees at McDonald’s made money than me. I loved working at WBBJ, I learned so much about what it takes to be a successful reporter. I thought I knew what I was doing but I often failed. Still my executive producer pushed me. Kelly McAllister is the reason I know how to dig for exclusive story ideas today. Under her guidance, I learned how to make connections in the community, and properly write web scripts. Every day she told me good luck and when I came back with a story less than par, she let me know. Her genuine honesty is what I cherished the most. I pushed through my time at WBBJ and a year and a day after signing my contract I left for a new job thanks to my new agent.
The cost of being a TV news reporter. I hired an agent because I was still finishing up my masters from afar and working in news. I didn’t have the time to also apply for jobs so I hired someone to help me out. Little did I know, that man would own me. For the rest of my career, I would pay him 10 percent of everything I made even though the only thing he ever did for me was land me a job in Flint, Michigan where I made about 27,500 a year. With that money, I paid for expensive hair extensions, my makeup and clothes plus the cost of living. My TV station paid for my white co-workers to get their hair done with an advertising trade, however, the stylists couldn’t take care of my “ethnic hair.”
My time as a Flintstone. I told my agent I wanted a photographer for my next job, constant live shots and anchoring opportunities and that’s exactly what I got. My new boss at WEYI in the Flint/Saginaw/ Bay City market hired me without ever meeting me. As I was blindly looking for a place to live and she suggested I reach out to her new sports hire Earl Arms. We ended up living in the same apartment complex, in fact, we were so close I could steal his wifi but it was hell when we got to work. We heard the stories almost immediately when we got in the newsroom. Our boss had just been hired and wanted to clean out the shop. We heard she walked into a post-show meeting and pointed to the talent. “White, white, white, white, white” we need some color in here. Soon, the old sports guy was fired, Earl was hired and then she brought me on to report in the morning. Thankful for a job, I worked as hard as I could with one goal in mind. I wanted to move back home to St. Louis so that I could reunite with my long-distance boyfriend, Mike Jones and I wanted my sick grandmother to see me on TV. My job responsibilities were suddenly changing at WEYI. They eventually took my photographer away, so I had to run my own camera and they wanted me to even run my own live shot. I stayed committed to my goal of moving back home. I watched the St. Louis newscasts every day and tried my best to emulate their look and sound to match what news stations in the 314 were looking for. It was in Saginaw that I covered my first officer involved shooting. A homeless man named Milton Hall, allegedly lunged towards police with a knife in his hand. A team of officers executed him on the parking lot of a shopping center. Neighbors say Hall was well known in the area and wouldn’t try to hurt anyone. Even though the community threatened to riot if the officers didn’t get indicted, people soon forgot about him and the officers continued their lives as normal.
How I landed back in my hometown. I continued to send my tape back to my old internship director at KSDK hoping I could slide in with a paid job get a job like the other interns, but I was always told I wasn’t good enough. Still, I combed through the station websites every day for job openings. I soon noticed a part-time reporter opening at KMOV and suggested my agent send my work to the news director. The next day my agent told me KMOV wanted to talk, as God would have it, I had a flight scheduled to St. Louis that day. Next thing I knew, I was buying a new dress on the way to catch my plane and straightening my hair in the airport bathroom for my interview at the CBS TV station. This was not my first time interacting with Sean McLaughlin. I would often send my newsreels to all the news stations in St. Louis just to let them know I was in the industry and dreamed of working in my hometown. Oddly enough, my interview at KMOV wasn’t about my work. It was all about who I was as a person. Jasmine Huda worked for him at the time. I interned under her at KSDK. “How would Jasmine describe your work ethic,” he asked. I will never forget shadowing Jasmine on an exclusive story about an at home daycare worker that she dug up through court documents. I told Sean how I sent Jasmine my own script just to test my speed to make sure I could handle the job- even as an intern. I told him how I pitched stories at KSDK and always worked with a smile on my face. I guess Jasmine signed off because I would soon be sitting right next to her in the KMOV newsroom. The following workday I was offered the job. It was a dream come true. KMOV would pay me 10 grand more for half the amount of work I put in at WEYI. I paid a few thousand dollars to get out of my contract in Michigan and even though my news director was initially upset, I have always had her support. WEYI is the only news station that ever gave me the opportunity to tell my viewers thank you and goodbye. It pains me that I could not say farewell to my audience in St. Louis and especially Jackson, Mississippi.