Thanks to Jerry Barnash for this piece in FishbowlNY that ran on August 3rd.
Former Longtime WNBC Anchor Carol Jenkins Says TV News Industry Going ‘Right Direction’ for Women, Blacks
Carol Jenkins was a top-notch broadcast journalist for several decades in New York. She is most remembered for her nearly quarter-century at WNBC as an anchor and reporter.
Since leaving the business a decade ago, Jenkins wrote a book and started formulating a second one.
“I thought I was going to have this grand producing career,” Jenkins admits. “My timing wasn’t [good]. I started trying to do documentaries just as reality television [took off].”
But her pet project was being a founding president of the Women’s Media Center.
Always an advocate for more women in newsrooms, Jenkins had the perfect forum for her cause.
“When we started there were no [female] anchors,” Jenkins says. “We didn’t have Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer. Candy Crowley, [or] Rachel Maddow. We waged a quite a persistent campaign, both online and meeting with big executives at all the networks.”
When it comes to women, Jenkins is happy with the industry today.
“Absolutely we’re moving in the right direction, but you have these high-profile exceptions –almost,” Jenkins says.
The media fervor surrounding Couric’s move to the CBS Evening News from NBC’s Today Show lingers with Jenkins. She recalls an exchange with a reporter.
“The first question out of the reporter’s mouth—‘What did you think about her legs?’”
“I said, ‘I beg your pardon.’”
The reporter persisted, “Don’t you think she was showing too much leg?”
“We were still focused then on the wrong kinds of things,” Jenkins tells FishbowlNY.
But, Jenkins does see drastic changes for the better.
“Diane Sawyer made a seamless entry behind the anchor desk [at ABC],” Jenkins says.
Crowley with CNN’s State of the Union and ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour are Sunday political shows that traditionally were hosted by men.
“We really went through a seismic upheaval when women were put in those positions,” Jenkins admits.
While the New York based-Women’s Media Center, founded in 2004, isn’t done promoting women in television news, Jenkins says the next major focus is finding people of color.
“There’s been a huge loss of representation in newsrooms and people of color,” Jenkins says. “There’s a lot of work still left to be done.”
Jenkins says the TV news “Ol’ Boys Network” instilled decades earlier is hard to shake.
“This news was once something,” Jenkins admits. “That something really was white male representation. It really didn’t include, for years and years and years, any women or any people of color.
“I think it’s taken a gigantic effort to adjust to that transition,” Jenkins says.
However, Jenkins cautions that any positives should be taken with a grain of salt.
“The higher you go, the thinner the air gets for women and people of color,” Jenkins says. “I think the figure that we used when we started the Women’s Media Center is essentially the same–3 percent of women hold those top positions.”
She says women are just beginning to puncture the glass ceiling, but “it’s still a rarity.”
Jenkins’ ultimate goal is seeing a woman of color get a high-profile gig. She would have been delighted if Couric’s replacement at CBS (instead of longtime correspondent Scott Pelley) were a black female.
“That would be sensational, That would be fabulous,” Jenkins says. “I think Soledad O’Brien could do it.”
Part of the reason for a lack of black anchors in top notch positions, Jenkins intimates, is because the “benches are so weak.”
She says the networks are to blame for not building their talent pool with African-Americans.
“I would be the last one to say, just because someone is a person of color or a woman, that they should [be promoted] without the experience,” Jenkins says.
The Emmy Award winning anchor/reporter certainly had the experience, and gladly wears the badge “trailblazer” proudly.
“There were people ahead of me, like Norma Quarles [former NBC News reporter] who was already at the network…I can’t quite claim first generation,” Jenkins says. “But that next generation, and the fact that I managed to have a long career of 30 years was trailblazing in that regard.”
When Jenkins stepped away from the TV news business (including her own daytime show on WNYW/Channel 5), her “to-do list” was complete.
“I had done everything that I could do,” Jenkins says. “There really wasn’t anything left on the horizon. Once, in fact, I had gone to South Africa to cover Nelson Mandela’s release [in 1990], every other story after that was boring.”
Boring is usually not a word to describe local news. Jenkins also has strong opinions about the overall coverage.
“After I’ve watched a heavy dose of local news, with a certain kind of story, I feel ill,” Jenkins admits.
Therefore, Jenkins, associated with many years of political reporting, finds most of her news via the Internet.
The WNBC veteran recently visited her old 30 Rock digs and saw the political reporter-emeritus—Gabe Pressman.
“[He] was still sitting at his desk working away,” Jenkins says. “He is a true, dedicated newsman.”
Another of Jenkins’ longtime colleagues is the legendary anchor team Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons.
“I say to Sue, ‘Haven’t you guys made enough money yet?’ Jenkins laughs. “I think the answer is probably no.”
Jenkins, as many have been forced to do thanks to the economy, reinvented herself online. She has embraced social media.
“I started blogging, I have a blog now,” Jenkins jokes. “I think I was the last person not blogging.”
She regularly blogs at her carol jenkins: media site.
Jenkins is also active on Facebook.
“It doesn’t come naturally, so it’s this uphill climb,” Jenkins says.
As documented, the uphill climb is what women and blacks face getting face time. Even though Jenkins doesn’t have as much daily involvement, her passion remains the Women’s Media Center.
“That’s the legacy, if we’re able to put ourselves out of business, where one day the Women’s Media Center would not be necessary,” Jenkins says.