Two women of color will make history as co-anchors of a brand new local news program set to roll out mid- to late-January at Tribune Broadcasting Co.’s New York flagship station.
African-American Brenda Blackmon, a multiple Emmy winner who spent 23 years as a news anchor at WWOR-TV, and Asian-American WPIX veteran Kaity Tong, who anchored the Emmy Award-winning “PIX11 News” for 23 years, will be the faces of PIX11’s new 6:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. weekday newscast, the only local news airing in the market at that time.
“It is phenomenal. It is history making. It really is. You turn on the evening news and whom do you see? Really, whom do you see? So this is wonderful.” Blackmon said in an exclusive interview with The Network Journal, alluding to what the NAACP has condemned as a “virtual whiteout” in broadcast TV.
Blackmon has made history before. In 1973, after six years as a reporter, she became the first African-American news anchor in her hometown of Columbus, Ga. This time, ethnicity is combining with gender, age, and a groundbreaking program to make history in New York’s broadcast news market.
“We’re not 21. PIX11 is a station that is known for being a part of New York history for decades. And now it is making new history and breaking new ground for two women recognized for their experience. Tribune is investing in that,” Blackmon said.
She’s not worried, she added, that the new show will be competing against “NBC Nightly News,” ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the “CBS Evening News.”
“We know we’re going up against the big guns, but we know we’re going to be number one. We’re going to do something more. We’re not just some youngsters thrown in there who work for cheap. We’ve been on the battleground for a long time and Tribune has recognized that. We know news and we can be trusted. That still matters to people. We believe that trust matters to people,” Blackmon said.
For Rich Graziano, PIX11’s president and general manager, the combined experience of Blackmon and Tong is worth the investment in the two women. “We are thrilled to pair New York news icons Brenda and Kaity at the anchor desk of PIX11’s newest newscast. With such a rich history in the market, Brenda and Kaity will be a powerhouse anchor duo at 6:30 p.m.,” he said.
A 2006 TNJ “25 Most Influential Black Women in Business” honoree, Blackmon is the founder of Brenda Blackmon Communications Inc., a comprehensive communications strategy firm. In addition to Emmy awards for her work, she is the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Broadcast Excellence, the Shirley Chisholm Award for public service, and more than a dozen Associated Press Awards. Queens Courier News named her “Woman of the Year” in 2010.
The assignment with Tribune comes at the perfect time, Blackmon said.
“This is something we’ve been working on for more than a year. It didn’t just pop up now. It’s God’s timing, not mine,” she said. “For anyone who follows me on Facebook and Instagram, my messages are always about positive growth and experiences in life. Sometimes you have to stop and be still and listen and you have to grow personally before you can grow professionally. You have to weed out those people who you think are there for you, but who are not. For me, it was all about God’s timing.”
When WWOR in 2013 eliminated its 10:00 p.m. newscast that Blackmon anchored, Blackmon moved to the south, where she turned her attention to her communications company and to the non-profit, The Kelly Fund for Lupus, which she founded in 2008 after her daughter, Kelly, was diagnosed with lupus. Her daughter, Kelly, now runs the organization and Blackmon is ready to devote her time to PIX11.
“Now I just want to work at Tribune for a while. That is what I want to do. I’ve turned the reins over to Kelly, who is now president,” she said. “So I am full time working with Kaity Tong on a historical news broadcast; working with a professional who I know and respect and trust; working with a girlfriend.”
Asked if she had to think long and hard about returning to New York after her WWOR program was jettisoned, Blackmon was unequivocal. “Oh no! NO! Are you serious? All of that’s a journey” she exclaimed.
She likens that journey to creating a beautiful fabric where “each and every stitch” is important and cannot be done “fast.” If there is a break, she said, “you just have to slowly stitch your way back. Each thread matters. It has to be done in an exact way and done correctly.”
At this point in her journey, she is looking forward to “being a part of New York, being fully entrenched” in the city she loves. “Before, I lived in New Jersey and I worked in New York. Now I’m living and working in New York and just loving it. New York is still the greatest city in the world. You know what they say, ‘New York, New York, so nice they had to name it twice.’ It’s true. That’s real.”
Her return to New York also is an opportunity to help others, said Blackmon, who has always been active in her community, not only through The Kelly Fund, but also as a volunteer with the SHARE food program and the Volunteer Center of Bergen County in New Jersey.
“It’s not about me. That is the most beautiful part. It is about this place that God has put me in for now, and what I can do for other people. It’s never been about me.”
Blackmon graduated magna cum laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she later taught as an adjunct professor and served on the Board of Trustees. Blackmon also holds a master’s degree in public administration and has received three honorary doctorates.