By Bob Rucker
The June 18 Diversity event was a remarkably comfortable and insightful interaction among a wide range of broadcast professionals who dared to ‘be real’ with one another, as part of a NATAS SF/NorCal Academy celebration of Gay Pride Month.
TV journalists took program viewers to new and unexplored levels of awareness about unique experiences as they shared personal and career joys and challenges in pursuit of their passion for storytelling, and offering timely and meaningful insights which resonate with all cultures in their communities. It was also exciting to finally have a safe venue where candid diversity discussions, made possible by the San Francisco chapter of the television academy, could shine a light on the existence of what we called the “invisible diversity” working in nearly every newsroom.
Shortly after taping this 90 minute special, one of the panelists announced he was leaving KPIX 5, and moving back east to be with his husband and family. During the program Len Kiese spoke about never revealing being gay before coming out West because of serious cultural and family concerns. Other panelists including Sergio Quintana from NBC Bay Area and Taylor Basacky from KRON 4, who spoke openly about how their loved ones learned about their orientation, and the loving support they received in many powerful ways. Every participant mentioned concerns about ‘coming out’ in smaller markets nationwide, and having to keep to themselves their sexual orientation out of fear it might hurt or end their careers. Drew Tuma from ABC 7 started out with that reality in the business, but described how he, and a gay news anchor at his station, now enthusiastically embrace being on-air LGBTQ role models in TV.
Will Thomas, a South Bay Area native and former TV news anchor in Washington, D.C., joined us and said widely-honored veteran newsman Hank Plante was a “childhood hero” for his genuine embrace and professionalism in covering the gay community in the Bay Area. Everyone shared gay news coverage experiences, and all were enamored and proud when Hank and Tony Russomano offered very moving testimonies about struggles encountered after the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots in New York, and during the 1980s horrifying AIDS epidemic when San Francisco became the ‘national epicenter’ for cases of that mysterious virus that killed thousands of gay men.
This “Diversity: Let’s REALLY TALK About It” episode, as the previous five, truly offered members of the academy and the public a front row seat to eye-opening and long overdue discussions about the multi-level value and impact of hiring people who represent and connect with cultures in their audiences. Diversity series producer Steve Shlisky says: “Bob has certainly created something rarely seen on broadcast – five ninety-minute programs devoted to the many shades of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am curios where the series will take us over the next year” In September, the series continues with a deep and thoughtful interaction among Latino and Hispanic broadcast journalists.
During the fall, we hope to engage in a candid conversation about people with disabilities working in our industry. By the end of our first year of hosting these diversity learning opportunities, broadcast executives will be invited to come together, and brainstorm how these revealing conversations can continue in their newsrooms, and how story production meetings in newsrooms can draw on these candid insights and energy to excite viewer understanding across cultures in their communities.