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

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

February 05, 2019

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

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.”