By the time she reached high school, Daryl Kirkland- Morgan had set her aspirations on becoming a broadcast journalist. And why not? Growing up in Detroit Michigan, when Daryl flipped on her local news she was able to see a diverse array of journalists, including many that looked like her. This exposure to black women in broadcast sparked her desire to one day also fill that anchor seat.
Hard work, perseverance, and a passion for news were all key ingredients, which helped the University of Missouri graduate, land her first position in Elmira, New York at WENY-TV News. In that position she did everything from anchoring and producing the 11 o’clock newscast, to reporting daily stories and even filling in on the weather desk. That position helped her to become a jack of all trades in the newsroom, giving her the opportunity to refine her skills and grow as a journalist. Kirkland-Morgan currently resides in Toledo, Ohio as a reporter and assignment desk editor for 13abc. Although she had the key ingredients which have helped her launch her career, she credits a conversation with legendary WXYZ anchor, Diana Lewis, which gave her the confidence to catapult her desire for success in the broadcast industry, and turn her dreams into reality.
BWIB was delighted to speak with the up-and-coming journalist who has already solidified herself in the Toledo community as a journalist who believes in being fair and balanced to the people and places she covers. Read more to find out about the conversation that changed her life, and what keeps her going as a Black Woman in Broadcast.
Growing up you had a passion for storytelling.. how did those experiences lead you to pursue journalism as opposed to another field like writing or communications?
Journalism really captivated me…I wasn’t exposed to other fields as early as I was with journalism. When I was in 8th grade, I took my first journalism course and I went down to the newspaper and I went down to see my to my local TV station and I just thought it was the coolest thing. I wasn’t sure at the time which one I wanted to do and the more I went on. The more I got fielded into television news. So I think for me it was exposure. I was exposed to journalism much more earlier than PR [public relations] people or marketing or any other publicity or writing job. I just thought, “Wow those people look really professional, they are doing a service to the community.” That’s basically what I have had in my head since I was 13 years old.
Growing up did you have anchors or local black reporters who you were able to look up to and say this is what I want to do?
There was actually one woman and her name is Dianna Lewis, she is an anchor and she’s been there for over 30 years, at Channel 7 WXYZ, Detroit. I was very fortunate coming from Detroit that there were a lot of faces that looked like mine on television a lot of places you come from that’s not the situation. But in a major market like Detroit, you’re going to see some men and women who are brown and just different colors.
I was fortunate to be able to meet her when I was about 15 or 16. I went to her station one day, and she was there and of course you have the celebrity feeling and you’re like, “Ooooo!” So the woman who was there who I also looked up to, was the news director at the time, who was also another African American female. She brought me in and introduced me, and when I got to meet Diane Lewis, I was a little nervous and I was only 15 and I told her, “My name is Daryl, and I’ve been interested in this since high school and I really really wanted to do this.”
She looked at me and said, “You’re going to do it! I see something special in you. I don’t say this to everyone but I really do believe you have a gift..and I’ll be sitting at home one day in my nursing home and I’ll see you on TV”
I started crying and I couldn’t believe it. She had just met me for 5 minutes and she was speaking so much vision into my life and I got home and wrote her a letter and saying thank you for saying these things. I really appreciate it. She called me the next day at my house, we were having dinner and she called me…and she said, “Now remember what I said Daryl you’re going to do this. You gotta stick with it.” So whenever I feel like I can’t do it… I remember that moment at 15 and it was only 2 or 3 minutes, but it made a lifetime of difference.
Mentoring and accessibility to mentors can have a profound impact. Talk about the effect that mentors had on you in your career.
A. Mentors were very important to me… I had one who really sticks out. She was Crystal Hillard, she was from Michigan and I actually met her in Michigan before I met her at the University of Missouri. Crystal, just whatever she did she took me along with her, if I asked her or if I didn’t ask her. She really had that mentality of helping someone else out. I went with her when she was just a PA [production assistant] at KOMU, [NBC affiliate in Columbia, Missouri]…she would prompt, turn video, the PA job that is essential to every news station. She also wanted to do reporting but she had not gotten there yet. But, that kind of showed me what you needed to do.
I’ve never been unrealistic with my goals. I meet so many people who really just want to go straight to “Good Morning America” and they are not willing to be a PA somewhere or run a live shot in a small market. But in another look you might be that one who goes straight to the top! I’m not saying it won’t happen but if you’re not willing to do the work before you get there. It has nothing to do with talent or hard work its just the way the industry is… so she kind of revealed to me that side. That you don’t just walk in on camera…you work your way up she took me through her life held my hand and she was a black woman to look up to.
What made you decide to go the University of Missouri to study journalism?
When we were on family vacations over the summer while we were there we would see a college or a university every vacation since I was about 10 years old. It could be an Ivy league, a Historically Black College/University, a state school we were somewhere they exposed us to different colleges. So I knew when I was very young that I wanted to go away to school that was important to me. It didn’t matter to me where it was, but even though it was in a small community I knew I wanted to be an AKA. There are different things that led [me] to Mizzou (University of Missouri) besides the journalism school. I met someone in my community before I went to Mizzou, he was a reporter and he said, “Look if you want to be a journalist you have to go to Mizzou.” I was looking at several schools I was looking at Northwestern, Howard, University of Miami, Ohio State several places that were known for having a decent broadcast program. And he said, “If you get in you have to go.” So I got in I got a great scholarship so it really was a no- brainer.
When you first began reporting did you have any preconceived notions on what your experience would be like as a Black female reporter?
I think with every minority reporter or producer, any one probably most work places…I’ve just worked in newsrooms so that’s all I know. But I think that there is something that we are taught…you work harder. I can’t say that in any of my newsrooms I felt targeted because I was black. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I’ve been fortunate to work in just two so far. I’m still young in my career where I really don’t feel different because of my skin color.
What I will say is…pay attention to the stories that you cover a lot of times in news they will cover a lot of crime and a lot of it are people of color that are apart of these crime stories. In a larger city there’s a larger urban core, there’s more black people in the city and there’s more crime in the city. So there are a lot of people that talk about being in urban Toledo, and how bad things are. You kind of get into the defense mode and even though I don’t live in that community and I’m not even from that community I see faces that look like mine in the community, and automatically I kind of defend them. I say look you can’t paint everyone with such a broad brush.
People live in different communities yes there are bad apples wherever you go I don’t care if its urban or rural and sometimes I make those connections for people because a lot of times people in big cities. Because I worked in a smaller place before I came to Toledo, I’ve seen a lot of the same things to happen in what people consider the ghetto that happens in the country. Drugs are a problem in rural communities, hunger is a problem in rural communities and housing is a problem in rural communities. Because a lot of people are not exposed to that they only assume that these are things minorities deal with these are things that they deal with in bigger cities. No, they are things that poor people deal with and that’s different.
So I think that’s been the hardest thing not so much coming into the newsroom and feeling like I’m targeted or I’m any different than anyone else…Its about paying attention to the story you cover trying to find different kind of stories in different areas. If its an area that’s always getting just crime crime crime crime I really try my hardest to find something positive there. Every community I don’t care where you are there are positive and negative stories your job as a journalist is to find them. Whether or not my pitch is accepted is a different thing, but at least I can try to throw it out there and say look, “Lets look at both sides lets not paint this community with one broad brush,” but I think that’s been the hardest thing to try to deal with that as an African American female not so much being in the newsroom but watching what kind of stories you cover.
You recently transitioned from markets from Elmira, NY to Toledo Ohio, and in an article discussing your arrival there were several welcoming comments. One person commented, ”I like the new reporter…and another added on… ”I do to just something about her makes news worth watching.” What’s that feeling like for you to be a newcomer and already have an audience that’s excited and ready to receive you in their community.
A. Obviously it makes me feel extremely blessed it puts a smile on my face, I was very fortunate. The next thing is, with a sorority you get kind of tapped early on. For me being a member of AKA has allowed me to step into a community and already have friends, already have a support base. As soon as I got here I was fortunate to have another soror in my newsroom. She sent out emails and literally within 5 minutes she had written on her Facebook wall, “This is a new reporter to the area…go like her personality page on Facebook and just welcome her.” I think I had a hundred people at least that day who was added, just because she said it and she holds so much weight in the community. So it means a lot however, I try not to take it too much because inevitably I’m going to do something that people don’t like and you have to really have your own compass. Don’t get me wrong when I read it, I love it! It makes me feel good! Gives me a warm fuzzy feelings. But I try not to rely on it because there is going to on the flip side, if I do a story one day that people are not going to like. They’re not going to think I did a great job or they are not going to be in my corner. So for me you have to really, face your core when you’re in this industry especially television because if you really start to let other people define you it will get completely out of control. I’ve seen it in a lot of situations, but I’m glad to have it I appreciate it, but I don’t dwell on that at the end of the day. I have to keep it up. I still have to know who I am and what my job is.
You were the only black female at your previous station…what effect do you think that had on the community?
A. At the time I was there I was [the only] black , female reporter, and there was another one who was on the competitor station, Brittany Smallwood, and she anchored the morning and I anchored the night. People would stop me on the street, they would say you don’t know what you’re doing for our little girls because we don’t usually have black reporters, black anchors on our station. My market was very small, so the people didn’t stay there very long, it’s a starter market once you got your experience you moved on and they were used to that. But there weren’t that many African American faces that came on the air even though African Americans made up a lot of the population in Elmira. So they said, “Its positive for our young ladies to see someone professional, speaking correct English, just someone who looks like them.”
So I don’t think I truly understood the impact that it made, not that I was there for 20 years I just think its exposure. If someone sees me doing it they say, “I can do it,” because that’s what happened to me. I saw Dianna Lewis doing it, I saw Belinda Lewis doing it, I saw the news director, Andrea Taylor doing it. I saw all these women who looked like me doing their job. It wasn’t so much that they did anything special it was just you could relate to what you see. So I hope more than anything some girl might see me and its not so much that she wants to be a journalist or anything else but it opened another door where she thought, “Hey if she can do it I can do it.” Because that’s how I’m here, I’m standing on the shoulders of other women. Its nothing, and not that I’m downing myself, but its nothing inherently special about me it’s the fact that I saw someone else doing it, people helped me along the way, and I worked extremely hard and I don’t really give up. I think between those three things, it opened a lot of doors and that’s why I am where I am. So that’s what I’m hoping that maybe some girl saw me, and says, “Wow! That never occurred to me, but she’s my complexion, she kinda looks like me that might be something I could do one day.“
What words of advice would you give to young journalists considering pursuing this industry?
A. I would definitely tell them don’t be afraid to be the only black person in the newsroom. They need us in the newsroom, just like they need Native American journalists, they need more Latina journalists, more Asian journalists they need more everything. So don’t be afraid to be that only person.
To every young journalists… I started off somewhere small it was a year and a half of my life and it was so much that I wouldn’t have learned somewhere else bigger. I was anchoring 5 days a week, which is rare, I did reporting 4 days a week, I produced one day a week, I shot my own stories, and I was fill in meteorologist. If something ever happens I always joke and say, “Look if all the meteorologists even though my station has 7 so this would never happen. But if all 7 got stuck somewhere I could put the weather cast on the air!”
Don’t be scared to start small. Don’t compare yourself to other people don’t sit there and say what market he’s in compared to yours, what they’re doing, what they look like. You are running your own race, you will get better as you get better.
[End of Q and A]