- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 04 November 2016
- Written by JAMILAH MCMILLAN | MANAGING & NEWS EDITOR
Toni Yates Visits The University
Toni Yates, a news reporter and anchorwoman for WABC - TV Eyewitness News, spoke to students at the University about the relationship between news media and the criminal justice system on Thursday, Oct. 27 in Pollak Theatre.
About 70 students from various departments (including communications and criminal justice) sat in the center seats of the theatre as Yates discussed her experiences in the field of news reporting. Yates said, “some of the news of the day that we cover sounds a lot like this: An amber alert is launched, because a kid was walking to school and all of a sudden he was snatched...or a cop pulls a driver over and things go absolutely horribly wrong and the driver ends up dead. Or an angry student who was expelled from college and they return weeks later with an AK-47, or a deadly carjacking at a mall across the country somewhere.”
Yates continued, “every day, so many journalists get up and there is not a day that goes by that we don’t have to go out and cover stories like that.”
Nicholas Sewitch, a specialist professor in the criminal justice department, asked Yates if she would speak to students at the University via email. “I’m teaching a first-year seminar class about the CSI effect in relationship to popular television shows and also news media and the criminal justice system, and so I wanted to bring down a news reporter,” said Sewitch.
Sewitch met Yates during his former career as a prosecutor. He worked on many homicide cases that Yates covered as a reporter. “I remember how fair, and honest she was, and how she never breached the line between journalism, and editorial commentary...and I really appreciated that. I thought that she would be a wonderful person to bring down, not just to learn about what she does, and the effect that media has on the criminal justice system, but as a role model for students,” Sewitch said. “She is a woman, she’s black, and she would be a role model for anyone no matter their gender or race, because she is inspirational and passionate about what she does.”
During her speech Yates touched upon the balancing act that journalists play in order to remain neutral in their work. She said, “As journalists we are always trying to keep our ethics and make sure that we are just giving the facts as much as we can. And a lot of the stories come from the people that we are interviewing, so we have to let them tell the story.”
With the assuredness of someone used to being in the public eye, Yates continued to share some of the things she had learned along her journey. Since she was a child Yates had known that she wanted to be on television. After graduating from Florida State University, she began her career at a news station in Georgia. Since then she has worked at stations in Pennsylvania, Florida, and now the metropolitan area. She is also an active member of the Association of Black Journalists.
Eleanor Novek, a professor of communication, felt that Yates’ speech covered interesting topics for students to hear. She said, “Toni Yates was a journalist with a wide range of experience. I was especially grateful that the students got to meet her because she gave us a good view of the ethical decisions that professional journalists deal with on a typical day.”
Novek brought her class from the communications department and it was very relevant to their course. She said, “As they begin to study the whys and wherefores of journalism, it is important for students to talk to people who are currently in the field. That way they can form a realistic idea about the profession.”
Despite having a background in communication, Patricia Toomey, a criminal justice student, still admired what Yates referred to as “fire in the belly.” Toomey said, “I found the most impressive quality about Toni was her fearlessness in pursuing her dreams. I was inspired by her gumption and her incredible determination. At the end of her presentation I had a little fire in my belly too. She made me think about the way I approach internships and jobs in my field and how we all should really just relentlessly pursue what we want like Toni did,” Toomey added.
After a while, Yates brought her stories to life by playing televised clips of recent reporting. Students watched a shot of her holding a microphone to a woman who had lost a loved one in a shooting, and listened to her voice-over on the arrest of the NJ bomber.
Following her speech Yates opened the floor to questions from the audience. Over a half a dozen students actively inquired, including a student who was interested in what advice she would give to aspiring journalists. Yates responded, “Know what’s going on in the world, and of course writing is really, really important as well. But most importantly you should always be curious.”
“I remember when I was an intern in my hometown in Jacksonville, FL there was a small plane crash. They were going to send out two reporters and I begged and begged for them to take me,” said Yates. “Eventually they let me go. I was wearing a linen dress, and heels but that didn’t stop me from jumping in the car and going to get that story.”
IMAGE TAKEN from FrostSnow
IMAGE TAKEN by Jamilah McMillan