The newsroom used to be a gaggle of men who typed up the script that was delivered by men’s voices. It was populated by men who took pictures of people, places, and events. Typically, these men were White, because they were male, the voices were deep and conveyed authority. We were subconsciously conditioned to believe that they were the only ones qualified to provide us with the information about us and our world – whether any of it matched our current existence or not. If women were involved in any of the production of the news, their names were suppressed, changed to merely non-gender revealing initials, or simply not provided. It was a time and an industry for men – White men. Asians, Latinos, Negroes were not seen on the television screen nor heard in the background.
But change is inevitable. The news desk that used to be populated by White or Latino faces began to have Black ones, although they were typically the weather prognosticators. To give credit, there was a smattering of Asian faces that finally began to spread before us so that an awareness that the world is more than White and Black began to press on our senses. All hard-won inroads.
Let us return our attention to the inroads of Black journalists. Max Robinson and Ed Bradley were national newscasters of note, as were many other men of color who began to be part of the on-screen presence. Jim Hill remains one of the first Black sports casters, even before retired football and basketball players became pre-game and post-game commentators. Now we have the likes of Lester Holt and Pierre Thomas who will probably become the national news anchor for his station.
Make Room, the Women Are Here
And then it happened. Women were not only on the screen but Black women were there – and the stations admitted to their presence. There was the first woman reporter, Nelly Bly, as well as the first 24 women reporters allowed to join the Press Club. Did that then obviate the need for the women’s press conference started by Eleanor Roosevelt? It isn’t clear. It’s meetings were weekly and its focus was on getting women hired to be in the newsroom. As time passed and acceptance grew, Gloria Steinem found herself holding the distinction of being the first woman to address the National Press Club. That event isn’t recorded on the NPC’s timeline. But what is recorded about their firsts are the first woman president of the organization on February 10, 1982, Vivian Vahlberg of the Daily Oklahoman, and 22 years later on January 21, 2004, Sheila Cherry was sworn in as the Club’s first African American president.
Still Moving the Ceiling
There was Nancy Hanschman Dickerson who moved the ceiling to become the first female reporter for CBS. Pam Moore continues as the evening anchor for San Francisco’s KRON (NBC) News while Belva Davis is a legend for her superb special reports and journalism firsts. I would be remiss if this piece had no reference to Paula Madison and acknowledgement of the award bestowed on her for her push for new excellence in reporting. Charlayne Hunter-Gault Who has a civil rights legacy among her accomplishments and Gwen Ifil are others among the industry minority icons and beacons of excellence. With those journalists came sporadic yet meaningful reports on more than just ethnic reporting. There came news about significant matters of national and international magnitude with incisive yet very understandable explanations of the complex. Unfortunately, NPR has grabbed those talents; fortunately, they still serve as examples of good, solid journalism and models for others, no matter what the race of the journalist.
Therein lies the basis for my excitement when on June 23, the CBS Morning News had a report delivered by a young Black journalist about a very complex issue affecting the American public. Her report was quite thorough and shed light on many aspects of the situation. On being questioned by the three anchors, she was quite adept at explaining for the layman’s understanding what was at issue and why. It was with that report, as well as the growing number of interviews of Black professionals, scientists, and corporate spokespersons selected to be interviewed on news analysis and social issues programs, because of the growing number of Black actors in commercials, and interracial groups and couples on the small screen, all (of necessity) articulate and representing the positive attributes of the race, that I exulted my joy at where we have come. I thank Tracie Powell and Richard Prince, both members of the National Association of Black Journalists for the articles they wrote in what appeared to be a response to the post regarding my epiphany. They brought out even more information that was proving too time consuming for me to cover alone. And their articles are testaments to the strength there is in working with commendable colleagues.
Where sports was definitely a man’s territory, the emergence of women started growing. KAVU’s first black female sports anchor/reporter is one example. Pushing the gates of news reporting and journalism for minorities continues its momentum. Acceptance is now taken for granted in many places.
It’s refreshing to see this phenomenon of acceptance and presence happening. These representatives (named and unnamed for the sake of space) are also role models for our youth. And they are positive racial and cultural models who negate the old stereotypes and bases for discrimination and exclusion. Is there a particular reason for this burgeoning presence or is it simply the evolution that has finally come of age?
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