Since the first humans walked the earth, telling stories has been an important part of our culture. From ancient Greek drama to today’s reality shows, stories show us new ways of thinking and feeling. Stories teach us about each other and why we do the things we do. Stories bring us closer together.
Back in the day, sharing stories and news was an oral tradition. Today TV, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, and online websites keep us informed. Whether we follow election results, local traffic, weather, or world events, we turn to media to provide information and connect us through shared human experiences. Since the 1970s more women have chosen media as a profession, yet women today write only a third of the stories we read and hear. Let’s meet three women in local media who help bring news and information to our region and find out why they have a passion for what they do.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Barbara Hamm Lee, executive producer and host of the local radio show Another View, now calls Norfolk her adopted home. She’s lived here on and off since the 90s and raised her daughter as a single mother while working in broadcasting, mostly behind the scenes. You could say she was married to her job—that is until she met her soul mate at age 50. Now she’s happily married and loves being behind the microphone.
Another View is celebrating its fifth year on 89.5 WHRV-FM, where you can hear it on Fridays from noon-1 p.m. It’s a call-in radio talk show that covers today’s topics from an African American perspective. It began as a half-hour TV show in 2008, which Barbara planned to produce. When she took a list of potential anchors to her CEO, he suggested Barbara host the show. “Being on air is very different than producing,” explained Barbara. “I was used to coaching others.” But she jumped in and has stayed with it, even through the transition to a radio show five years ago.
“The premise of Another View is to show the African American community another view of itself,” Barbara said, “and to show the larger community another view of the African American community.” Barbara believes the show is making a difference in Hampton Roads and beyond. “For that I am grateful,” she said.
Another View covers issues that affect the whole community. “It’s of interest to everybody because we all live here together,” she explained. In fact, that’s why journalism is so important, she continued. “We still need to care about what’s happening in our communities. In national news, people need to think about how it relates to our day-to-day lives.”
She’s troubled by the fact that much of today’s youth relies on social media for news. “Online information cannot be your sole source of news,” Barbara said. “That’s not a well-rounded view.”
A struggle has evolved between instant news and the yearning for good, solid journalism, she said. “You’re always going to have the tabloid storytelling,” Barbara explained. “Helping younger people differentiate between that and real news is a major charge of journalism schools today. I think the media still wants to tell the truth and share as many sides to the story as they can. I think they care about their communities and making sure that the right information is given.”
Barbara would like to see more diversity in the newsroom. “Until we get enough women and people of color to go into news management, the tone and perspective won’t change,” Barbara said. “That’s where the true decision making is done. When I talk with college students who are interning with us, I try to encourage them to think about those management positions and the fact they that are so critical to the storytelling.”
A TASTY JOB
Print journalist Lorraine Eaton, 54, said she likes to write in “a quiet, pretty place.” Usually that’s in her living room, she said, not her “chalk-colored, windowless office” at The Virginian-Pilot,where she’s been staff epicure (aka food writer) since 2008. But at least there are some perks at work, like the intriguing samples she gets in her mail nearly every day.
“I’m so fortunate to have a job that I love so much,” Lorraine said.
Apologizing for the cliché, Lorraine says being a journalist is like having a front row seat in life. “It’s great,” she said. If she sees a weird food at the market, she just asks about it. If she has questions about a particular food, she just calls an expert on it. She’s “on” all the time.
But being the food writer for a major newspaper can be challenging sometimes. On Monday mornings especially, her Pilot voice mailbox is always at capacity, often with marketing calls and even a few from subscribers who haven’t received their newspapers yet.
Though she’s had other beats as a reporter, food writing is her passion. “I was extremely honored to be included in Best Food Writing 2012, an annual anthology of America’s best articles and essays about food,” Lorraine said. She’s also the author of a cookbook, Tidewater Table, co-author of Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia, and is finishing up a new book, Tidewater Tailgating, due out this fall.
The newspaper industry is going through a transformation, Lorraine says. In almost three decades of working at The Pilot, she’s seen the newsroom change from a bustling, congested, noisy place to a much calmer setting with a different look and vibe. “I used a set of ear plugs back then,” she said.
Today more people are getting their news from PilotOnline. Lorraine says she used to be frustrated by the thought of transitioning to online news. “Now I have a new optimism,” she said. “It’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to.”
“It’s exciting to take a story and learn how to present it online. It’s fun,” she explained.
With limitless space online, a reporter can add content that wouldn’t fit in print, Lorraine said. For instance, for the recent Clean the Bay Day, she was able to include a list of “all the weird stuff they found in 27 years [of clean-up]” in her online story. And she shot her own live video of the cleanup. “The technology makes it so easy,” she said. “I love doing it.”
A graduate of Churchland High School and Old Dominion University, Lorraine now lives in Virginia Beach, where she occasionally tries to get her daughter, Peyton, 17, to lend a hand in the kitchen. While Lorraine’s love of writing was passed on to her from her grandfather, her passion for food and cooking hasn’t caught on with her daughter. “I’ve gotten her to do a little baking under mild to extreme protest,” Lorraine said. “She still thinks my best dish is toast.”
“I’m lucky enough to love to write,” she said. “So as much as I like being in the field, I enjoy being in my living room with my grandfather’s thesaurus.”
THE CUTTING EDGE
ABC 13News Now anchor, Sandra Parker, 47, is also a hometown gal, a graduate of Cox High School and VCU. She’s been with WVEC for 25 years and has anchored “just about every newscast,” said Sandra, earning several regional Emmy awards along the way. Though she’s worked in other cities, she’s never left the state. “I love being able to work in my hometown,” said Sandra, who lives with her husband John Sancilio, and their 8-year-old son, Parker, in Virginia Beach.
Sandra is thrilled to be in broadcasting. “I work with some of the best people in Hampton Roads, and I get to do amazing things, things that people only dream about,” Sandra said. “I’ve flown with the Thunderbirds, watched Mr. Smith goes to Washington with Jimmy Stewart and To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck.”
“It’s all wonderful, but for me one of the things I like most is the people I get to tell stories about,” Sandra said. “The people who hide in the cracks are really the most interesting people—people who make things happen. I’ve been given a great opportunity to tell some amazing stories.”
Sandra went with our local FEMA team to the Oklahoma City bombing and 9-11 Pentagon sites. “It was emotional and physically draining,” she said. “The stories do affect us, so you have to keep a perspective. Having a child definitely changed me and the way I view news.”
Sandra is the breaking news anchor for 13News Now at Daybreak and 13News Now at Noon. Since she has to be at work so early, she and her son have the same bedtime. He attends school in Norfolk, which makes it easy for her to “pop in for events,” Sandra said. He doesn’t watch the news, but several years ago, Sandra’s nieces and nephews wondered how she “got into the TV box.”
“Social media has impacted journalism and changed it so much,” Sandra said. “The Internet has opened up a whole world.” Now her stories also appear on the web, and she uses a variety of platforms to get her stories out there: “TV, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s a lot more involved now than when I started,” Sandra said. “The technology is challenging, and we have to be on the cutting edge.”
The equipment has changed, too. “Some of the things we shoot now can be done on my phone,” Sandra said. “We’re a visual society. Now some things we do are only for our website.”
Sandra cautioned that people shouldn’t only rely on social media as their sole source for news. “Social media should be used as another way to get it,” she said. “Its relevance is that it helps get more eyes on the story.” Journalists need to know how to attract people so they can tell their stories, Sandra says, and they need to be comfortable with multimedia platforms.
Even in today’s modern society, telling stories remains an important part of how we define ourselves. What’s different is how we tell our stories. These three local women are doing their best to tell stories in vibrant, new ways while holding true to the standards of good journalism. We look forward to hearing their stories for many years to come.
Lorraine Eaton ~ 757-446-2697
Sandra Parker ~ 757-628-6238
Barbara Hamm Lee ~ 757-889-9437
Mary Ellen Miles is a freelance writer who lives in Virginia Beach.