How UT Alumna Beverly White Became One of the Most Trusted Voices in News

Most television reporters in the 1970s didn’t look like Beverly White, an African-American teenager living in Killeen, Texas. Yet White and her family watched the news fervently. Her Army officer father had served in Vietnam and was stationed at Fort Hood before retiring nearby, where he raised his four children to be voracious readers and follow current events.

After graduating from Killeen’s only high school in 1977, White, BJ ’81, left for UT, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. Stints at NBC affiliate stations in Waco and San Antonio led her to anchoring the morning newscast at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati.

White quickly developed a style of direct, fast-talking reporting. Viewers learned to rely on White for the real scoop—hard facts and no nonsense.

By the time Hurricane Andrew slammed South Florida in August of 1992, White was working at NBC’s WTVJ in Miami. Her live dispatches from emergency shelters and battered coastal communities helped the station win a Peabody Award.

Two months later, White took a job with NBC4 Los Angeles, her home for the last 27 years. Her weeknight broadcasts cover breaking and local news, crime, and, occasionally, entertainment, like the Oscars. “I go where they send me,” she says. “That tends to be where things blow up and burn down.”

Monster storm, mass tragedy, or human triumph, White has always found the story. She’s interviewed civil rights activist Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth; feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem; filmmaker Ava DuVernay (who directed Selma); directors Bill Duke and Clint Eastwood; and actors like Cicely Tyson, George Clooney, and Danny Glover.

White’s coverage of national stories for NBC4 includes the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the Boston Marathon bombing, and wildfires and mudslides in Southern California.

During her nearly 40-year career she has collected numerous honors, including the 2018 National Association of Black Journalists Chuck Stone Lifetime Achievement Award. The Alcalde asked White how she got where she is today.

Chase What You Love
White entered UT as a business major but soon changed course. An economics professor noticed her interest in writing and current events and suggested she try marketing. “When I did, some of the marketing classes were held in the communications school, not the business school,” White says. “One thing led to another, and I officially changed my major to journalism in my junior year.”

Find Inspiration
White grew up admiring Texas-born journalism legends Sam Donaldson and Dan Rather. But it was Carole Simpson, the first African-American woman to anchor a major network newscast, and Iola Johnson, an African-American anchor for WFAA in Dallas, who ignited her imagination. “Iola Johnson was a pioneer,” White says. “She was smart, classy, and traveled. Journalism just looked like an amazing job to have, and for a change I saw someone who looked like me who had it.”

Put in the Work
The summer before she graduated from UT, White landed an internship with NBC affiliate KMOL in San Antonio. The station sent interns into the field with seasoned reporters and professional photographers, put them on air, assigned them feature stories, and paid them. It was a real chance to learn the industry. “That experience set the hook and reeled me in,” White says. “I was totally sold on television news as a career choice. It was the internship that changed my life.”

Be Persistent
White started looking for a job in broadcast journalism during winter break of her senior year. “I borrowed a car and drove around Texas peddling my videotapes that showed clips of what I had done in San Antonio the previous summer,” she says. White toured the state again over spring break in borrowed cars. In all, she visited more than 13 stations across Texas. “There was no internet back then. You had to physically present yourself or mail your tape and trust someone would mail it back.” White was broke and didn’t have many spares. She preferred to hand-deliver her tapes so she could tell news directors how much she loved the work, needed it, wanted to do it seriously, and that she’d be available in May. Finally, NBC affiliate KCEN-TV in Waco called a week before graduation. “I graduated on a Saturday and went to work in Waco on a Monday.”

Believe in Yourself
“When I finally got into the workplace and looked around, I realized these people aren’t any sharper or better than me,” she says. “They seized opportunities and were prepared. That was my motivation.”

Overcome Adversity
White says it can be tough for newscasters working in the trenches. “We’re blasted in the streets, being called fake and an enemy of the people,” she says. Yet she has hope for the future of journalism. “It’s uplifting to meet people who still believe in this industry, who believe that we still have standards and want to be equitable, fair, and inclusive. I’m a black woman from flyover country, the daughter of an Army veteran. I’d like to think I also represent many communities that were underrepresented and now have a stake,” she says. “This industry has room for me and for people who look like me.”

Give Back
White works Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. until midnight. The night shift leaves her time to lecture to journalism students at public high schools and colleges across Southern California, and volunteer at WriteGirl, a nonprofit that empowers girls through writing. She’s also a longtime member of the National Association of Black Journalists and served as the president of her local Los Angeles chapter three times. Helping other journalists keeps her humble and sharp. “When you meet a room full of folks who want your job, you’d be surprised how good an employee you’ll be when you return to work,” she jokes. Above all, White wants people to know this: “If you can master what makes you happy and turn it into a career, then you should walk away every day feeling blessed and grateful.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo courtesy NBCUniversal/NBC4

 
 
 

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