For WBAV & WPEG’s Beatrice Thompson, a significant moment from her childhood propelled her into the broadcast industry. “It was the 1960s, and I remember walking home from school and seeing a sign on the door of our house saying we had 30 days to move with no explanation. We then moved to a neighborhood where we were only the second black family,” Thompson recalls. “We had no information about why we had to move, and since then, I think people are misused when knowledge and information aren’t passed on to them. I guess you could say I got into radio to make sure people get the information they need.”
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Thompson has spent her professional career working at different radio and television stations in the area. “It was the fall of 1979, I was working at WBT-TV and my news director at the time approached me to ask if I’d be interested in an anchoring job.” With that offer, Thompson became the first African-American woman television news anchor. “I broke the barrier for African-American women to start anchoring. The station had to force me to go on the air,” Thompson says.
When asked whether she prefers the style of radio reporting to the style of TV reporting, Thompson says radio has given her more autonomy in the types of stories she can report on. “With radio, your audience is more targeted. You don’t have to try and cover everything, and I can focus on the types of stories that my audience will relate to,” she explains. Thompson also comments on how the length of newscasts has changed. “With a live TV story, we used to have two to three minutes; now that’s cut down to about a minute and 45 seconds.”
When reporting, Thompson makes an effort to keep her personal feelings out of the stories she is presenting. “I think journalists should try and remain as neutral as possible in their reporting. For example, I was reporting on a story about funding for Planned Parenthood in the 80s. I made sure to talk to an equal number of people who were for funding and against funding,” she explains. Thompson also marvels about how much people are willing to share with journalists. “People trust reporters. We should really value that. I’ve had guests tell me certain things that they haven’t shared with their families or friends.”
Unlike many other reporters, Thompson does not use Twitter or Facebook that often. “I find that the 140 characters are not enough for me to give all the information I’d like to about a story. I can see how Twitter makes sense if you’re reporting on breaking news, or giving a small piece of information, like the verdict from a trial.”
The one piece of advice that Thompson would give to young journalists starting out in the industry is to be voracious in gathering information. “You never know what you’re going to be reporting on, so you want to be increasing your knowledge and be vigilant in your observance of things.”