Talented Young Black Professionals Bring Diversity, Sensitivity to Local Television News
By Nanette D. Massey
Many readers still remember when Max Robinson became the first African American broadcast network news anchor in the U.S., serving as part of a powerhouse trio on ABC World News Tonight starting in 1978.
Locally, John Winston of WKBW-Ch7 was the first Black news reporter in the Buffalo television market. From his background in medicine, he produced the documentary “Is There a Doctor In the Ghetto?” which addressed a subject still topical today; disparities between available medical care for differing populations. Chuck Lampkin, after retiring from music as a drummer for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie, became Buffalo’s first regular Black news anchor on WNED (precursor to WIVB-Ch4) in 1970.
Standing on the shoulders of these pioneers, is our current crop of Black television news professionals on today’s local airwaves. Easily the most recognizable of the group is Buffalo- bred Claudine Ewing of WGRZ. Ewing has been with Channel 2 since 1998.
“As a child, I always wanted to be a journalist,” said Ewing. She graduated from Performing Arts High, and took her affinity for writing on to Buff-State’s broadcast journalism program. She has a slew of awards and honorable mentions to her credit from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Associated Press, and the New York State Emmy Awards. One story that stands out in Ewing’s career is that of Madesen Grant, born premature at twenty-five weeks. Ewing covered the child’s thriving from an infant fitting in the palm of a hand, to an honors graduate with an acceptance letter to Spelman College in her own hand.
Fadia Patterson of Spectrum News-Buffalo counts Nashville newsman Chris Clark (who discovered Oprah Winfrey) among her mentors and confidantes. Patterson’s route began at an unlikely starting point. She was accepted to several music schools to study opera. “Between secondary jobs and constant auditions, I realized opera would have been a hard life.” With a Master’s in journalism, she’s been in the news business for eight years between Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and now Buffalo. Born in Brooklyn, her roots stretch back to Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Patterson added “everything down to dress, language, and music was of Latin influence, that is the home I grew up in.” Patterson recognizes there are stories that come her way specifically because of her multicultural background. “I’m an Afro-Latin journalist. I’m also the daughter of immigrants. It’s not unique that people tend to share with others who have similar backgrounds to themselves.” Patterson remembers most a story she brought to the forefront about a local war veteran’s family who’d been short changed on burial arrangements. “Through my reporting, the family was able to get everything they paid for,” she recalled. “The experience taught me why journalism is such a powerful tool.
Madison Carter, originally from the metro D.C. area, just joined WKBW-Ch 7 this past July. As a tot, Carter saw being a store cashier as the dream zenith of her career summit. With a matured perspective, “I found out they don’t pay much.” She set her sights higher and studied journalism at Syracuse University, making her no stranger to our climate upon her arrival. Her first job out of college at WVIR in Charlottesville, VA, had her working during the deadly 2017 Unite The Right rally. Carter said she knows two of the stories she’s done since being in Buffalo came specifically because she is African American. “People came directly to me, because they felt I could be trusted with their stories.” She chose Buffalo as her next career step, seeing here “a place where people young in the business can grow because we’re working side-by-side with so much established talent.
Kevin Jolly came to Spectrum News-Buffalo after doing a short stint at WKBW. With over twenty years in the business, Jolly has held positions as a reporter, anchor, and news director. He started as a production assistant in Asheville, NC, going out on assignments with reporters on his own time to hone his skills beyond what he’d studied at Howard University. Jolly warns there are a lot of “frustrated thespians” in the game today who just want to be seen on t.v. He came of age when film director Spike Lee was kicking down doors and making space for a new, undiluted Black presence in media. “I came to my career from a sense of a heightened awareness of my identity and a responsibility to serve the community I came from… ‘giving a voice to the voiceless’.
WIVB’s Shannon Smith knew journalism was for her while in high school, writing for a teen magazine based in her hometown, Chicago. She’s been on the air for six years, and was swayed to Buffalo in August, 2017 “I look for a newsroom with a good vibe, both for news and growth potential. People don’t realize that Buffalo is actually a really, really good news market. Somehow, Western New York ends up having a tie to everything. I mean, when Aretha Franklin died, part of the story was that she lived here for a while.” Smith is ever possessed with the awareness of her presence as an opportunity to “offer a voice in the newsroom that helps to dispel misconceptions about the Black community, how it’s often covered, and to educate those in my newsroom, including management, of the importance of how communities of color are represented.”
Jeff Preval arrived at WGRZ-Ch 2 in 2012. Originally from Arlington, MA, Preval imagined pro baseball in his future. His time at Hofstra University bent his interests toward broadcast journalism– and philosophy. He’s been around newsrooms for eleven years, nine of them in front of the camera. Covering the coach Sandusky-Penn State student sexual abuse scandal while working for WTAJ-TV in Pennsylvania became a definitive point in his career. “It was without a doubt, the most demanding, exhausting, emotional and dramatic news story that I’ve been involved in. With new twists and turns every day,” he said. “It strengthened my ability to perform as a reporter. It made me smarter, made me think in different ways, and it made me hungrier for the big story.” Preval has nominations and awards from the NABJ, and the Radio and Television News Directors Association. In Buffalo, Preval has interviewed Mayor Byron Brown regarding summer road paving, and also logged a series of stories about dangerous railroad tracks causing driving problems on Hyde Park Blvd. in Niagara Falls.
If the anchors and reporters make it all look effortless, congratulate a great producer quietly doing their job right behind the scenes. It is crucial to understand and value their role.
“A producer chooses the stories that go in the show and writes the scripts the anchors read,” said Cameron Owens who produces the 4pm news at WIVB. “It’s a heavy load at times, but knowing [my choices] can change lives is rewarding.” Owens is especially mindful as a Black producer that “minorities tend to all get painted with the same brush. I.E. we all live in poverty, high crime areas, low education. So when I have a chance to highlight positive stories about the Black experience, I take advantage of that. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to have diversity in the newsroom.”
“I bring the greatness of our culture. A lot of times our culture gets misunderstood and misrepresented in local news, I make sure that as a producer I represent the black culture in a positive manner and tell our stories correctly” said Angel Brock who came to Buffalo as a producer for Spectrum News. Originally from Washington D.C. Brock has been passionate about production since the 4th grade. She was presented with a the Jack Donaldson Memorial Scholarship at the 2012 White House Correspondents dinner by none other than President Barack Obama himself.
As the Executive Producer of the 10 and 11 pm news at WGRZ, Denisha Thomas also has the responsibility of determining the lead story, coordinating social media, and keeping everyone else on the team in the loop. “ Because I am a part of the decision making team I, for one, help my colleagues get a better understanding of issues that impact our community. I also am able to pitch stories and ideas that matter to our community and make sure that we aren’t perpetuating any stereotypes.”Thomas once produced a piece about two separate domestic violence fatalities within days of each other. It galvanized her “to always remember that in these instances of violence, while it can become like wallpaper to us, the victims are someone’s family and this is an issue that impacts everyone in our community. So I tell these stories with care and make sure to always advocate for the victims.”