Barbara Ciara, a longtime television news anchor in Norfolk, Virginia, was elected president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in 2007. Her new role enabled her to serve as a spokesperson for the thirty-three-hundred-member group on issues concerning diversity and fairness in the U.S. media. For example, just two months into the job she objected to rumors that the radio shock jock Don Imus would return to the airwaves after he had been fired by CBS Radio for a racial slur. According to a report that appeared in Editor & Publisher, Ciara declared on behalf of the NABJ that any media outlet that planned to bring Imus back "makes light of his serious and offensive racial remarks that are still ringing in the ears of people all over this country."
On a more personal level, Ciara has spoken publicly on the need for support for General Educational Development (GED) classes, which are offered by many public school systems to help high school dropouts earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. In recounting her own story, she admits that she dropped out of school in the ninth grade and ran away from home to escape the violence of a public-housing project. In New York City she waited tables to support herself, but soon learned that most decent-paying jobs required at least a high school diploma.
After obtaining her own GED, Ciara moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she attended Pima Community College and then won a scholarship to the University of Arizona. While at Pima, Ciara had worked on the school newspaper and decided she would earn a degree with a focus on print journalism. Those plans changed when she was hired as a production assistant at KZAZ-TV, a local independent television station. The part-time job as an audio and technical assistant led to a full-time offer and the promise of an on-air position. Ciara rose rapidly at KZAZ from reporter to assignment editor, producer, and then noon anchor. In 1978 she was promoted to news director, which made her the first African American to hold the management title not only at the station but also at any commercial broadcasting outlet in the American Southwest.
Ciara was asked by Holly Witte of PlanetBlacksburg.com if she encountered racism on the job during the early years of her career. She replied that any bias was primarily gender related, because even in the late 1970s there was the prejudice "that women really weren't credible journalists on the air. So there was a level of difficulty … because there were very few women in the industry, and those who were in the industry were very often relegated to doing feature reporting and that kind of thing."
In 1983 Ciara was hired by WAVY-TV, the NBC affiliate in the Norfolk, Virginia, metropolitan area, and spent five years there as a coanchor. In 1988 she left to join the local ABC affiliate, WVEC-TV, where she coanchored the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts for the next twelve years. In the late 1990s she was also involved in a side project called Local News on Cable. This was a partnership between the Virginian-Pilot newspaper and WVEC to create a twenty-four-hour news channel for the Norfolk market and was available to Cox Communications cable-television subscribers.
Ciara's departure from WVEC in the summer of 2000 caused a bit of a stir in the local media. She jumped ship to WTKR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Norfolk, to serve as the evening anchor of its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts and managing editor of its news department. However, her WVEC contract had a so-called noncompete clause that barred her from appearing on local newscasts for a minimum of one year. As a result, Ciara spent twelve months working behind the scenes at WTKR in her role as managing editor. As her air-debut date neared, the station could not even legally use her name in promotional teasers, so it was forced to hint that "one of Hampton Roads' most popular journalists" would be appearing soon, according to Virginian-Pilot television writer Larry Bonko. She admitted in the interview with Bonko that she was fortunate. "Not many people in this industry have the opportunity to work at three network affiliates without changing zip codes," she noted. "I consider myself blessed to have had a challenging career without moving."
WTKR, which was in third place in the local newscast ratings behind Ciara's current and previous employers, WAVY and WVEC, reportedly lured the high-profile broadcaster with a seven-figure salary. Some media analysts thought $1 million was perhaps a little high for a local news anchor, but Ciara was anchoring the 5:30 p.m. newscast on her own, plus co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. All required preparation, and she was also serving as managing editor for the news team. Her performance in both roles was rewarded with a contract extension in 2006.
Ciara finally earned her college degree in 2000, when she graduated summa cum laude from Hampton University. Her characteristic perseverance was an asset to her campaign for the presidency of the NABJ, and she was elected to a two-year term as its president in August of 2007, which required her to cut back on her evening newscast schedule at WTKR. During her first year in office as NABJ president, she fought a rule change by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that permitted corporate ownership of both newspapers and television stations in the same media market. The NABJ sent a letter from her office to the FCC commissioner in which she pointed out that African Americans own just eighteen television stations, or 1 percent of all outlets, in the United States and urged the FCC to "address the current lack of diversity in broadcast media ownership" in part by establishing "a bipartisan, independent minority ownership task force."
Ciara still found time to advocate for GED programs by appearing as the guest speaker for the GED ceremony for inmates at the Newport News City Jail in early 2008. When Witte asked if she could offer any advice to aspiring journalists, Ciara replied that "you have to learn how to knock on doors where you don't know who's behind it. You know so you have to be brave…. But you are going to learn something from them, and they are going to learn something from you, and each story is a growth spurt."
At a Glance …
Born 195(?); married for the second time, 2000(?). Education: Attended Pima Community College and the University of Arizona, early 1970s; Hampton University, bachelor's degree, 2000 (summa cum laude).
Career: KZAZ-TV, Tucson, AZ, audio and technical assistant, 1976, became reporter, assignment editor, producer, and noon anchor before being named news director, 1978-83; WAVY-TV, Norfolk, VA, coanchor, 1983-88; WVEC-TV, Norfolk, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscast coanchor, 1988-2000; WTKR-TV, Norfolk, managing editor, 2000—, 5:30 p.m. newscast anchor, and 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscast coanchor, 2001—.
Memberships: National Association of Black Journalists, president, 2007-09.
Awards: Local Emmy Award, 2000, for "Guilty til Proven Innocent"
Addresses: Office—WTKR-TV, 720 Boush St., Norfolk, VA 23510.
Editor & Publisher, October 9, 2007.
Virginian-Pilot, July 8, 2001, p. E1; July 25, 2001, p. E1.
"The Bio of Barbara Ciara," Official Web Site of Barbara Ciara, http://www.barbaraciara.com/bio.html (accessed June 5, 2008).
"Letter to the FCC on Minority Media Ownership," National Association of Black Journalists, http://www.nabj.org/pdf/336-07NABJ_FCC_ltr.pdf (accessed June 5, 2008).
Witte, Holly, "Norfolk Newscaster Barbara Ciara a News Junkie," Planet Blacksburg, http://www.planetblacksburg.com/interview/holly-witte-041806.html (accessed June 5, 2008).
"Barbara Ciara's Personal Story," YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G-hZJprH-g.
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