Our recent post about the exit of weekend anchor TaRhonda Thomas from 9News noted the current shortage of black TV journalists in Denver, with just four African-American reporters in relatively low-profile positions (one is anchoring a Saturday morning newscast) at four stations.
This situation comes as no surprise to veteran TV and radio personality Gloria Neal, who's returned to Denver following a stint at a major station in Atlanta that ended prematurely and is likely to spawn a lawsuit. In her view, a de facto quota system is in place that only allows African-American journalists to maintain a token presence.
"We as African-Americans should have more than a weekend shift or one in, one out," she says.
For many years, Neal has been a familiar presence on the Denver media scene; she's worked at several major radio stations, including KOA, AM-760, Jammin' 101.5 and more, as well as television outlets Fox31 and CBS4. (She wrote blog posts for the Denver Post's Politics West website for a time, too.) But in 2015, she relocated to Atlanta to anchor for CBS46, a major network affiliate. That job disappeared in December 2016.
"I didn't leave the station," Neal emphasizes. "It was a forced resignation" about which she declines to elaborate because of the proposed suit; she is currently represented by counsel and is "following the procedures set forth in accordance with the laws in that state." She's also thinking about writing a book about her experiences, but that project is still in its early stages.
She subsequently moved back to Denver after her husband, radio veteran Amani Ali, landed a gig as chief transformation officer for Triunity Engineering & Management. Right now, she's working as a consultant and emcee for events here and in Atlanta under the auspices of her company, GloKnows Unlimited, LLC. But she hasn't gotten any bites from local media outlets.
"I do believe that because I have pending litigation, stations are not as welcoming," she says. "I've been told that when you stand up, you should be prepared for that blackball thing — that nobody is going to give you a shot. But I have no regrets about what I had to do by standing up. I'm not an individual who's going to let you mistreat me, period."
In addition, Neal believes opportunities for black TV and radio specialists in general are shrinking. She recently attended the National Association of Black Journalists in Detroit, "and the individuals who crunched the numbers found that black journalists have lost tremendous ground in the media whether you're talking about on-air, producing or management."
That's happening here as well, Neal believes. "Denver is becoming more diverse, but that is not reflected on TV and in our TV news departments in front of the camera — and perception is reality."
Neal doesn't single out anyone for criticism, and she makes a point to compliment Tim Wieland, the news director at CBS4. But she's heard plenty of excuses for the dearth of hires from assorted executives. "News directors and general managers say, 'We have interviewed black people from all over the country, and it's very hard for us to compete with the Chicagos and the New Yorks and the L.A.s and the Atlantas.' And that is a challenge. But at the same time, I think they need to recruit more than one in, one out."
The problem isn't a shortage of talent, she argues. "I've heard this about newsrooms all over the country. It could be Detroit or Iowa or Nebraska. People are saying, 'We are not getting the opportunities. We're there. We apply. But we're not selected.' That's why we need to have a concerted effort from the top to say, 'We want these individuals to be at our station, and I'm not taking no for an answer. Let's get them up to speed. If they're not ready to produce, make them an assistant producer. But let's give them a chance to show what they can do.'"
If that happens, Neal says, stations will become more welcoming places for viewers of every background and description. "I believe newsrooms should be reflective of communities they serve. And diversity doesn't mean all black, and it doesn't mean all white. There should be a good cross-section of people represented on air and off, in all areas. And if a manager doesn't see that, there should be a concerted effort to make that change."
Once such people are brought aboard, Neal says, TV station execs need to do a better job of hanging on to them. "People don't want to be on the weekends in perpetuity," she says. "They don't want to work odd hours forever. And if they don't get the chance to do more, they'll leave when the bigger markets come calling. I heard that a lot at the convention. It seemed like 80 percent of the journalists were experiencing the same things: They'd say, 'If I feel I don't have an outlet that really supports me, or it's not worth the battle, I'm just going to leave.'"
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To Neal, "It's not enough to just get them. In order to keep them, managers need to foster a relationship of inclusivity and understanding of a different culture, and have the station feel welcoming — not have an atmosphere that seems a little taboo, where they don't really talk to you, they talk around you. Those things become very important in keeping the talent that you recruit."
Once upon a time, the situation was different in Denver, as Neal knows. She notes that anchors such as Reynelda Muse and Bertha Lynn had major roles at their respective stations — "but now, when I come back here and only see one or two black people on the air, and none of them in a prominent role, I have to ask, 'Why?'"
In Neal's opinion, TV news consumers can help shift the situation for the better, by letting stations know that they want to see a greater variety of people on local newscasts. In the meantime, she says, "I'm continuing to push forward and stay positive. I'm always a glass-half-full girl. I have way too many things to do instead of waiting for my phone to ring. If the right thing comes along, I will look at it, and I'll still commute. But I'm not permanently moving again. I'm done."
She adds that "when people experience the kinds of things I experienced down in Atlanta, they become very negative and live in that space. I am not that person; I am upbeat. But that doesn't mean I'm unaware about what's taking place — and someone needs to speak up and say, 'This isn't acceptable.' We've lost ground in this market and every market, and viewers, and especially viewers of color, shouldn't accept that."