When Joyce Brewer walked away from the news desk as lead anchor for WAPT-TV, in Jackson Mississippi, she was apprehensive on what the future held in store for her. Yet, in hindsight, if the Hofstra University grads decision to continue pursue the unknown in Atlanta, GA was to mirror the success of her past, then she had little to worry about.
The Emmy Award- Winning TV journalist, embodies the definition of jack of all trades. Brewer’s audacious nature for success has taken her from reporting and anchoring at TV stations in Columbia, Missouri; Youngstown, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri, Jackson, Mississippi, and Atlanta, Georgia. Her work has been featured on Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, and she was also a guest on, The View. In addition, her resume continues with teaching at the collegiate level, publishing an E-Book, digital media consultant, M.A. from the University of Missouri, and most recently the creator and host of an online parenting show, MommyTalkShow.
At BWIB, we were fascinated and enthralled by the journalist who has forged her own path by creating new avenues to fulfill her childhood desire for story-telling. Brewer’s story can serve as inspiration for emerging journalists who are attempting to find their footing in the journalism industry, as well as seasoned veterans who are seeking the encouragement to take a chance at new opportunities veering from the norm and straying from their comfort zone. Read more to find out on life after TV news and how Brewer is able to combine her role as a mother and wife with her passion for journalism.
Q.What influenced your desire to pursue journalism?
I pursued journalism because I’ve always been nosy, according to my parents. My parents are avid news hounds. We watched news magazines like 60 minutes every week and read several New York City newspapers.
Q. When you decided to go into broadcast were there any obstacles that you thought your would encounter? What made you decide to keep pushing forward?
When I started in TV in the 90′s there were a number of black women on local TV news, in New York so I had exposure to them. But you always kind of glamorize what you think the job will be like. I didn’t know what we were really dealing with until I got my own job and saw [what] could come along behind the glamor when the cameras are off. So the thing that was enlightening to me is that it was more when I got to grad school and that I started researching women who had been in journalism, like Ida B. Wells and Charlene Hunter- Gault, to see what they had gone through just to break stories and go to school. Charlene Hunter Gault integrated University of Georgia, but I didn’t hear about her when I was in high school or undergrad. I didn’t hear about these people until I went to graduate school.
Q. Were there any mentors who you were able to receive direction from?
In undergrad I definitely had to do it by myself it wasn’t until I got to [grad school]…I don’t think I even heard about National Association of Black Journalists until I went to graduate school and started doing some research and it helped that I had a local NABJ chapter. In undergrad I definitely did not have a mentor, so to speak, I belonged to one journalism association for students and we did a couple of things like trips and going to conferences. But, in terms of a woman that I could really ask questions about what my career path should be and what the possibilities were. I didn’t have that in journalism when I was in undergrad. More in grad school because I found out about NABJ, I had more black professors in journalism that could share things with me.
And just being surrounded by more black students who were more focused. Not to say that people are not focused in undergrad but when you make that commitment to go to grad school you are taking on something a lot more serious. So I was able to have that resource of being around people who were more focused.
Q. Your career took you from Missouri, Ohio, Kansas City, and Jackson Mississippi, can you talk about your memorable experiences what you thought you brought to the table as a black woman in those reporting situations?
Each of them was different, and when I was in Youngtown, even though the city was 70 percent black and 30 percent white, that was not necessarily reflected on air. I was one of two reporters at the NBC station and there was always this expectation that they always had to have two [black women]. So when I left they hired another black girl, it was almost like a quota system.
With that being my first job, I really didn’t shake things up too much or really focus on that much of African-American coverage maybe a little bit, but not as much as when I went to Missouri.
When I was there in Missouri, the first time for grad school, I did a graduate project on using minority sources in everyday news stories; not just stories that were about crime or sports. My graduate work my last 6 months of being there was focused on making sure we had a minority source list. Making sure we could we find an expert who was African-American, a female expert, a Latino expert, who is just as good but making sure minority voices were not just seen in stereotypical stories.
Then when I went back to teach at the University of Missouri, I was still reporting occasionally. At the same time I was teaching full- time but on weekends I would go to Kansas City and freelance.
One of the stories that I got an Associate Press award for in Missouri, was right after 9-11. I did a story about African-Americans and patriotism. There were so many people who had their flags, everything was, “Made in America.” And the African-Americans that I found were like, “Yes I’m patriotic, but my patriotism is in what I do not in what I wear.” I interviewed someone who was in the military and he was like, “Yea I’m patriotic but that’s in my service or I’m patriotic by volunteering or I’m patriotic by working in my community. Because all the flags you don’t see all of those things around now. That doesn’t last but the things that you’re doing that invest in your community really do.”
Now in Jackson, I was there 7 years and I was the main anchor but I definitely had developed my own voice and had a distinct idea of what I thought news was, but I was also in a state and in a city that was a hotbed for racial issues so anything could be spun into race unfortunately. I probably did one of the first local stories ever done about the “Down Low” and interviewed J.L. King before he was on Oprah and to do a story like that in Mississippi where everyone is sexually repressed to begin with even about hetero sex! Here I am talking about black men being bisexual, being secretive with it. Doing stories like that and doing stories about people being concerned that the red light cameras were designed to catch black people because they were in some of the well-traveled areas where black people were. So as my voice evolved a lot more I got more experience.
It’s hard to go in when you got your first job and say well we’re going to do a story about this and a story about that. You kind of got to sit and figure things out. I think I was still figuring out who I was by the time I was able to tell the stories, now what I do with MommyTalkShowit’s vastly different. I don’t even blog about being a black mom, I don’t talk about being a black mom my blog is not a black mom blog. I happen to be a black mom who blogs but I do not talk about those things or my feelings or being a black mom on my blog. I just haven’t approached that yet and I don’t know if I will or when I will.
Q. You transitioned from being the head anchor in Jackson Mississippi, how did you make that shift and why did you feel the need to make that switch?
When I left Jackson I was burned out and stressed out, my contract was up my then boyfriend had moved from Jackson, MS to Atlanta, GA. My husband is a promotions producer at a local station in Atlanta, so the timing was just right, my contract is up! my man is gone! so I moved here!
We got engaged married, and pregnant all within 3 months of 2009. So we got engaged in April, married in May, and by July I was pregnant. So I was here…I knew I didn’t want to go back to get a full-time job, but I was here and I was pregnant so nobody was going to hire me anyway. So when my son was about 9 months old. I had the idea for a couple of fun things, but what if I could do a talk show? What if I could answer the questions that new moms, especially new moms of Atlanta want to know? How can I find it? Where can I go? and then I wanted to monetize it with the videos, by telling businesses well you know I can bring moms here, we can do videos about you. We can talk about you. Things like that so that’s how I monetized it. And my goal was not to have to answer to anybody, and not to have to put my son in daycare full time. So I’m able to work from home, work when he’s sleep, or like tonight I went an event for a friend who had a book signing and I just had a sitter who stayed home with him for a little while. But those opportunities, appearances like that are infrequent they are not what they were when I was an anchoring, but I’m able to kind of do it all and balance things a little bit better with a 3 year old.
Q. What words of advice do you have for those who are new in the industry to get through that first job?
When people used to say, “Oh your first job is for making mistakes and doing this and doing that.” And I’d say really making mistakes? But you are going to make a TON of mistakes in your first job and hopefully it will be in a market and you will be surrounded by people who will allow you to grow into those mistakes. Your boss and your supervisor will have higher expectations for you as you go along in your career. So think about the kid who was in North Dakota who just dropped a curse word. I’ve never done anything like that, but unfortunately that’s what happens in your first job. You may get someone’s name wrong or call someone or make an error or a mistake and unfortunately that does happen in first jobs.
Q. What’s a way to avoid newsroom politics and make sure you stay grounded and focused.
I think having friends outside of news whether you’re in TV, radio or newspaper having friends who do not work in the industry is one of the ways that helped me stay grounded. When you’re in the newsroom that’s all you talk about is work work work work, and you need other friends that you can talk to them about other things that are not related to news.
Q. What’s been the highlight of your career thus far?
Writing my E-Book, was telling the stories of moms who started businesses. I think it was just something that I was proud of. When I started my blog I never had the intention of writing a book, but I found that when people keep asking you the same questions that’s a great opportunity to create an informational product. I didn’t need to go to a publisher, I didn’t need to have anyone approve me, I didn’t have to do all these things. I was able to do it on my on and giving a voice to those moms and giving a voice to so many women who are looking for solutions. Looking for flexibility in their lives. Maybe they don’t want to put their child in daycare – or maybe they have a child with a learning disability and they need to be there for them more. So giving a voice to that, giving a voice to moms who are looking for those solutions. Writing that book has been the highlight for me over the last almost 3 years.
Q. You’ve broken the rules in your career and its paid off, what advice would you give to journalists who are told to stick to one straight path?
With the internet no one is tied to any one thing anymore. You have newspaper reporters who do podcast, and you have radio journalists who do video it all just melts in together now. Everything is about information and being accessible. People can download people can access. So if you look at the average newspaper they’re putting video on their website, they are trying to do what TV is doing. I think that its going to be harder and harder to distinguish one form of media over the others. So if anything being well versed in everything is going to make you more marketable.
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By: Brittany Vickers