By: Sydnie C.

Monica Kaufman Pearson is a television journalist, radio personality, and writer for the Southern Seasons Magazine. In 1975, she overcame racial barriers in the media industry when she became the first black woman to be an anchor on the six o’ clock news. I recently was afforded the opportunity to interview Ms. Pearson. We discussed her career, her inspirations, her advice for aspiring journalists and much more.

Lime Green Giraffe: Who or what inspired you to get involved in journalism?
Monica Kaufman Pearson: When I was in high school, I worked on my high school newspaper. I also worked for a newspaper called the Louisville Defender, which was a black newspaper. But, to be honest, I didn’t think about a job in communications because when I looked around at television and listened to radio, there were not many people that looked like me or sounded like me. My bachelor’s degree is in English and philosophy because I decided I was going to be a teacher.
At that time, Diane Sawyer, who used to be on ABC’s nightly news was a weather girl in Louisville, Kentucky, my home. At that point, women had not moved to the anchoring position yet. The best she could do was to be a weather girl. The times were a little different then what they are now.

LGG: Since you were the first African American female on the six o’ clock news, what are some examples of racist and sexist impediments that you had to face?
Pearson: The first was when you come into a newsroom and there were other people of color in the newsroom who felt that they should’ve had the opportunity for the job. There can be some jealousy, and there can be some meanness. Then you have to deal with an audience that is both black and white. There were black people who thought that I wasn’t black enough because I didn’t have a huge fro…that was a surprise. Then white people did not like me because they weren’t used to seeing a woman on the evening news. They weren’t used to seeing a woman of color on that show either. I wondered which was worse: the fact that I was woman or the fact that I was an African American. It was a combination of the two that was an affront to the many white people who watched. I remember one viewer saying that I was not “deferential” enough to men because I had reached over during a story and touched my white co-anchor. What I learned is that you can’t be all things to all people. You have to always be true to yourself, have a sense of value, have ethics that you live by.

LGG: What mistakes do you think you made when you were a novice in journalism?
Pearson: The first mistake I made and I’m glad I made it early in journalism, was never to say anything around a microphone you wouldn’t want your mother to hear. I was working in Louisville, Kentucky, and the weatherman, during a commercial break, made an obscene comment about Dolly Parton. Everyone in Louisville and southern Indiana heard me say the dirty word for feces on television during a commercial break. When we came back from the commercial break, I immediately apologized. After I got off the show, there were two calls. The first was my news director, who was laughing. The second call was my mother, who said, “Monica Rosie Lee Kaufman, why would you put something in your mouth you wouldn’t hold in your hand?” Then she slammed the phone down. That was the biggest and first mistake I ever made on the air. 

LGG: During my research, I read that you grew up in a family with a lot of strong women. How do you think your upbringing led you to develop the resilience you would need for this job?
Pearson: Faith. My mom says that if you really believe in your faith, and if you really believe in God, that if anything happens to you, just turn it over to Him. You do not allow the opinions of others to move you from your faith. My mother used to say to me all the time growing up, “It’s what you do, with what you have, that makes you what you are. That when we’re created, we were created with everything that we need to be successful.” Where we get hung up sometimes is we let other people’s opinions about us change what we know we should be doing.

LGG: How competitive is journalism?
Pearson: I think it’s very competitive now because you’re required to do what I did when I began. That’s being a one-man band. It means you shoot your story  yourself, you edit it yourself, write it, you produce it and you get it on the air. Today, you have to be a multi-platform journalist and that’s exciting because you not only do a piece for radio but you can do a piece for television or the newspaper, Snapchat, or Twitter. Multi-platform journalism is opening up more jobs. As a beginning reporter, you have to be able to do more than one thing.

LGG: What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?
Pearson: The first thing would be, research. Whenever you meet people, interview them. You always have to show people that you’re interested in them and that you’ve done your research. I hate when people aren’t prepared because it means that you really didn’t care about the person you’re interviewing. You should have a real love for people, curiosity, and be very good in your research.
In your questions, you should always try to ask things that no one has ever asked. If you’ve done your research, you’ll run up on something that you didn’t know before. There is no such thing as a dumb, stupid, silly, or embarrassing question. As long as it gets you information you didn’t have before, it’s a good question. Now, have your questions, but don’t be tied to them.

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