Monica Pearson emceed the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame luncheon in January 2019.

Monica Pearson previews themes for Holmes-Hunter Lecture, gives advice for young journalists

Editor’s note: this is the first in a series of Grady College alumni profiles celebrating Black History Month. Monica Pearson can be seen delivering the Holmes-Hunter Lecture on Feb. 7, 2019, at 2 p.m. at the UGA Chapel.

Her face, along with her voice, is one of the most recognized in Atlanta.

When Monica Pearson (MA ’14) retired in 2012, she had been on the air on WSB-TV for 37 years and had been a trailblazer for journalism…for female journalists…and, for African-American journalists, serving as the first African-American female to anchor the evening news in Atlanta.

This award-winning journalist who has been an inspiration to countless students and one of the most trusted journalists in Atlanta, is about to add another honor to her resumé—that of keynote speaker for the University of Georgia’s Holmes-Hunter Lecture.

“This is profound,” Pearson said about the invitation to deliver the lecture named after her family friend Hamilton Holmes and fellow Grady College alumna Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63).

In an interview two weeks prior to the lecture, Pearson admitted that the weight of delivering a message that reaches all ages and sends a clear, yet hopeful, message, is not lost on her.

“One of the messages I want to get across is to question how we still have racism front and center in everything we do and everything we see,” Pearson said citing examples of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and insensitive pictures young people take. “I am fascinated about why that hasn’t changed.”

Despite examples of continued racism, she remains positive about steps being made. For example, Pearson reflected on meeting three students recently who had won an essay competition on the subject of race relations. While two of the essay winners were African-Americans, the third was Caucasian. She was struck by the home experiences of all the winners, but especially the fact that the Caucasian student spoke of valuing people for who they are and not how they look.

“They see the humanity first. They see the sameness rather than the things that distinguish us as being different,” Pearson said, reflecting on another theme she plans to share during her talk.

Pearson continued with another theme she has considered talking about: “When you hear someone say ‘I don’t see color, I’m color blind,’ that’s an insult to me, because if you can’t see my color and you can’t begin to think of what I might have been through as a person of color, then you are denying me my right, my humanity. So, I want you to see me with my color and understand what I might have been through, or, at least ask, rather than assuming certain things about me. It’s simply a point of respect.”

Monica Pearson shares her key advice for young journalists.

She will have to make time to work on her talk because her schedule has not slowed down since her retirement. Pearson returned to school and earned her master’s degree in journalism from Grady College. She has maintained an aggressive schedule of public appearances, and she can still be heard on the airwaves through her weekly radio show on KISS 104.1, and seen on her newest show, “A Seat at the Table,” a Georgia Public Broadcast production.

Pearson’s passion for journalism continues to shine through and she is always happy to offer advice to journalists.

“Be inquisitive and read, read, read,” is the first piece of advice she offers young journalists. “And, don’t be afraid to ask the question that your mother told you never to ask,” Pearson said, further explaining that reporters are there to represent the viewer, the reader, the listener. She also advises young journalists to listen and not just go through the list of questions they prepared ahead of the interview. “If you are really listening, it can take you into a different realm and give you a much better story.”

Finally, she advises that journalists should focus on reporting, not just anchoring.

“Sure, the anchor is the face, but the reporting is the bread and butter. If you are a good storyteller…a good interviewer…you will have a job forever.”

In addition to her other responsibilities, this is the time of year that Pearson’s job as a member of the Board of Jurors for the Peabody Awards steps up with evaluating entries.

“Peabody has been the hardest job I have every loved,” Pearson said with a smile on her face. “I have seen some amazing reports. I’m talking about life-changing, world-changing reports.”

Each judge studies countless hours of programming of reporting series, and unlike other awards, Peabody judges come to a unanimous vote on the final winners.

“The unanimous vote is what makes the Peabody special, and the Peabody is the most prestigious award in journalism to me. When you see the quality of work that we have to review, it’s hard.”

Date: February 5, 2019
Author:  Sarah Freeman,