Home Interviews Exclusive Interview with the Emmy Winning Anchor/Reporter: Sherrie Johnson
Exclusive Interview with the Emmy Winning Anchor/Reporter: Sherrie Johnson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier   
Tuesday, 02 July 2013 19:53


Ms. Johnson was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her father's military career took her around the world at an early age, exposing her to multiple cultures and experiences. Ms. Sherrie Johnson is an Emmy Award winning Reporter/Anchor based in Baltimore, Maryland with over 19 years of experience. She obtained her BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1994. She also has a minor in German.

Since 2003, she has served as the Morning Reporter and fill-in Anchor at WMAR-TV ABC2News in Baltimore, Maryland. Moreover, Sherrie Johnson also covers the Education beat for ABC2News with her "Making a Difference" reports. As a Reporter/Anchor, Johnson has worked in five television markets (including local and national TV affiliates), hosted shows and served as Mistress of Ceremony for multiple events. More precisely, Sherrie Johnson started her television career in Washington, North Carolina, and has worked at stations in Asheville, North Carolina, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.  Hence, her experience took her from her home state of North Carolina, where she began her career in little Washington, and brought her to Asheville before going to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. She did freelancing work in Washington, D.C. at WTTG Fox 5 and Fox News Channel. Then, she continued in Baltimore. She has been featured in Ebony and Heart & Soul magazines. Her contribution was sanctioned with an Emmy Award in 2004 for Best Feature for Lauren’s Story.

As a Motivational Speaker, Johnson is often seen as interactive, engaging, deep, generous with her knowledge, and inspiring words. Thus, on the Speaking Circuit, Sherrie Johnson spoke at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School’s Think Big Speaker Series (Baltimore High School for inner city youth), Black Girls Ignite Africa (Motivational Speaker for young women), Mercy High School (all-girl high school motivational speech), It Takes A Village Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala and the 2nd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration for Wilkes University in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

Overall, Ms. Johnson wears several hats: Host/Motivational Speaker/Consultant/Reporter/Anchor. Moreover, she is the President and CEO of her own company, SAJ Media LLC. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (www.nabj.org), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and the Great Black Speakers’ Bureau (www.greatblackspeakers.com). She has held a seat as a member of the Board of Governors for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter for two years. Johnson served on the board of the University of North Carolina Journalism Alumni and Friends Association. In addition, she volunteers for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Literacy Projects. She has also served on panels including Women in Film, educating audiences on TV News.

Ms. Johnson began her Broadcasting career at WIDU Radio in Fayetteville, North Carolina where she was News Director on the Morning Show. She also worked at WITN-TV in Washington, North Carolina, as a General Assignment Reporter and Weekend Anchor. Her broadcast career took her to WLOS in Asheville, North Carolina where she was a General Assignment Reporter. She also worked at WBRE in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania as a Morning Anchor/Reporter. As mentioned, she is currently at WMAR-TV ABC2News where she serves as a Reporter and fill-in Anchor. Throughout her career, she covered numerous stories, including: Presidential Elections, Inaugurations, Student Stem Programs, Childhood Obesity, etc. She interviewed top news makers including: Mr. President Barack Obama, Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice, Monique, Oprah, and former Editress-in-Chief of Essence magazine Susan Taylor.

In the following interview, Ms. Johnson talks chiefly about her professional path in journalism. We spoke to her last winter. It is her first Canadian interview conducted by the Editress-in-Chief Patricia Turnier, LL.M (Master’s degree in Law).

P.T. When did you know that journalism was the professional path to follow? When you were younger, who inspired you to become a journalist and why?

S.J. When I was in college, I always thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. At that time, I was at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I studied political science as a major. I started on the pre-law track, but I was not that interested in the classes.

I think that I was more in love with the idea of being a lawyer [laughs] than anything else. I saw my guidance counsellor, who asked me questions about my interests. I let him know that I enjoy writing and talking to people. He asked me if I had ever thought about journalism. I replied that I had thought about it in high school, since I have always liked writing.

P.T. Were you part of a student newspaper?

S.J. I wasn’t part of the School Newspaper in high school. I didn’t get involved in journalism at that point. However, my counselor’s suggestion gave me something to consider. In this regard, I decided to take an internship at a public television station in Raleigh, North Carolina. I enjoyed writing and being in a television setting. I decided to change my major to journalism with a concentration on Broadcasting and my grades improved! It became clearer to me that this was the professional path to embrace. Once I graduated, I got my first job at WITN-TV in Washington, North Carolina. It was a great way for me to begin my career because I could learn about the Television Reporting. This experience represented an amazing training ground for me.

Carol Simpson, a correspondent for ABC News, was influential to me when I was younger. I saw her on the weekends as an anchor and I wanted to do the same. She represented an important inspiration to me to become a broadcasting journalist.

P.T. Did you have the chance to meet her later?

S.J. I didn’t, but I am hoping that I will meet her very soon. I am working on that.

P.T. Good luck on that!

P.T. Your father's military career took you around the world at an early age, exposing you to diverse cultures and experiences. How did this experience prepare and shape you in your journalistic journey?

S.J. My father served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years. He was a First Sergeant. We travelled the world. We lived in Germany for eight years. I also visited France, England, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria. It was wonderful, I would not change my childhood for anything. I strongly believe that growing up in different countries, speaking different languages, and learning other customs definitely broadened my horizons and helped me later on with my career in journalism. I have no problem in approaching strangers and communicating with them. As the daughter of a military service member who moved so often, I had to learn adaptation skills and that definitely was useful for my career. My past experiences inspired my love of travelling. I enjoy discovering what else is going on around the world.

P.T. In the future, would you be interested in becoming a foreign correspondent?

S.J. When I was younger, I used to think that I would be interested in doing this, but now I see things differently. I enjoy being in my home, sleeping in my bed with my puppy, being close to my family. I don’t mind travelling a little bit, but not on a long-term basis.

P.T. What does it mean to you to win an Emmy Award for journalism?

S.J. It is an amazing experience because your peers look into your stories and your work. It is their way to let you know that you are doing a great job. It is really gratifying. Many times, in the workforce people are busy and they don’t necessarily have the time to look at your work. Sometimes, they will comment when they think it is bad. It is really nice to get an award of this nature from your peers. It is a great honor.

P.T. You won your Emmy Award in 2004 for a story about a 13-year-old girl who had a brain tumor. Share with our worldwide readers what that was about.

S.J. [Silence]. In October 2003, I covered the story of a young lady, Lauren Murphy, who was about 13. She had a brain tumor. Her prognostic was very weak. I met her through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Her wish was to meet John Ritter. Unfortunately, he had passed away a few days before she was supposed to see him. His team gave her autographed pictures of him. She received the material in the mail. My boss suggested that I cover the story on this girl. I accepted, and I interviewed her with my photographer. We put a microphone on her and let her talk. She was wonderful! I thought that she was very articulate and brilliant. She was bald and had a hat on. She was very small and frail. We sat and talked. She was amazing. She had a lot to say and never accepted the fact that she was terminal. She had goals and shared them; for example, she envisioned becoming an actress. She was full of life and, eventually, she won her battle with cancer. When she was 13, doctors did not expect her to make it to 16. She invited me to her 16th birthday party and I went. Now, she has graduated from college and is working. She is a real heroine and her story shows the power of determination. As a journalist, every day I learn something new. I learn so much from the people that I interview, they inspire me. Lauren inspired me. This is one of the greatest rewards in my field.

P.T. Can you describe for us a typical day at work as a TV-anchor, and the process to prepare a story?

S.J. Basically, I am one of the Morning Reporters. I also serve as an Education Reporter. So, I wear two hats. I start at 3AM in the morning. I talk to my producers to find out about the latest news for the day. Afterward, I check the background of the stories by doing research from diverse sources like the Associated Press, etc. Sometimes, we have to call the police department or the public information officers to verify the data and get the latest news. After that, I go to the location with the photographers. We are live with the story beginning at 4:30AM on ABC2News. We have multiple live shots on different stories from 4:30 to 7AM. Then, I go back to the station, grab my camera to go to a local school and I shoot another story for the 5PM news cast. I return to the station to edit it and put everything together. I leave at around 11:30AM.

Overall, as you can see, it is a team work with different people pitching in to help from producers, directors, photographers, editors (who put together videos and sounds that match with our stories), etc.

P.T. Talk to us about your company SAJ Media: the date of its inception, its mission, its services, etc.

S.J. SAJ Media is the company that I founded in 2011. It is my baby and it represents an exciting new journey. It focuses on Media Communication. It offers Media Training, Voiceover work, Crises Communication and Management, Consulting and Motivational Speaking Services.

I have nineteen years of experience in journalism. My company is a way to give knowledge back to the community. I enjoy offering my skills, which I have acquired in anchoring and reporting to people. For instance, some individuals need to be trained to give a great interview on camera. So, I give them tips to help them improve.

P.T. It would be interesting to expand your company and its website by making it bilingual, since you speak German. It would open more doors in Europe.

S.J. This is a great idea! I didn’t even think about that [laughs].

P.T. Education is very important to you. You volunteer with Project Literacy. You have Twice a week, an education segment called "Making a Difference” on WMAR-TV. Can you elaborate on this for our worldwide readers?

S.J. Education is very important to me. It is the key to success. I have been involved with literacy projects since college, where I used to volunteer. It was a great way for me to make a good use of my time. I read to children at local schools (in the surrounding Baltimore area) and helped them with literacy. I enjoyed going to different schools in the city and county. Consequently, as an Education Reporter, I have a segment called “Making a Difference” with ABC2News. It airs on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5PM on WMAR-TV. I find stories among teachers and students who are making a difference in education. I love it because I focus on the positive work that teachers and students are doing. I think it is great that ABC-2 News is dedicated to showcase the constructive work that schools are doing. This idea came from my boss, and I am happy to see that the viewers are responding positively to it. Many interesting stories have come to us and I am booked months in advance!

P.T. I think it would be important to cover positive stories (related to education) in Detroit because I have recently read about a grave statistic. Only 15% of Black boys there graduate from high school. Programs need to be implemented there in order for the situation to be improved, or the ones which are making a difference should be known to the public.

S.J. The statistic you have just mentioned is really sad. You know, I have just covered a story recently in Howard County where they have a program called, “Boys, Books and Basketball”. At the school, they observed that the males were not at the same reading level as the females. The school created a program with the help of a reading specialist where the boys read the books and host discussions. They do this for a week, and the next week they play basketball. It is obvious that the physical activity is vital for them, so the fun activity has to be part of the program. It becomes an incentive for them to maintain intellectual activities. With time, they develop an interest in reading. When I interviewed these students, I could tell that they loved what they were reading. It is a great program. The creators found an innovative way to make education fun. They understood that, to succeed, they had to encourage reading among male students. The kids learn that it is cool to read books, to expand their mind and be intellectually challenged. So, the issue that you raised is very important and I can see in some of our local schools that boys are struggling.

P.T. I think that teachers should make the youths read authors who are about their age, such as Ann Frank, because this allows them to relate more to these writers. In addition, bringing authors to schools asking them to talk about their books would be really interesting for students. It creates more dynamism and it is stimulating because it gives opportunities to students to ask questions to writers.

S.J. It is funny that you are saying this because today, at 5PM, we will showcase a local pediatrician, Dr. Teresa Fuller. She spoke to students at a school about her book on weight loss and eating healthy for disease prevention. The purpose is to adopt healthy eating habits in order to increase life expectancy. The physician is a mother and she spoke to the students of her son’s school about eating healthy and exercising. Child obesity is a problem that many schools are trying to address. Our First Lady Michelle Obama is conducting her own campaign about this issue.

P.T. You have a minor in German. Do you think that it is a great asset for aspiring journalists to master more than one language?

S.J. Absolutely! It makes you more versatile and it is a great tool to expand knowledge by retrieving information in different languages. I often thought about this in the past. For instance, if I work for CNN in the future, I could function at their bureau in Germany. I learned the German language when I lived there as a child. I would definitely recommend up and coming journalists to learn at least an additional language because it can give them more options. It also provides another understanding of the world; it broadens your horizons (with access to diverse information) and your ability to analyse different stories. In other words, you have a look through the world through different lenses.

P.T. What are the main misconceptions regarding television journalism?

S.J. People have the tendency to think that they can’t trust reporters. This is one of the big misconceptions I have observed. If one bad apple messed up an interview, people will have a negative perception of our profession as a whole (we should be judged on our performance on an individual basis instead). On television, the impact is exponential. This situation makes it harder for reporters. Sometimes, I go to events with friends or acquaintances and I hear someone say, as a joke, “be careful or quiet, a journalist is in the room” [laughs]. I have to remind them that I am not working at that moment.

P.T. Can you give advice to our worldwide readers about how to break into television reporting?

S.J. If you are in college, I would definitely suggest you get an internship. It will help you make valuable contacts for future jobs. Always cultivate and nurture your networking skills. Once you graduate, reach out to the people who know you and worked with you. It is also easier to start at a small station than a larger one. You can work on moving up the ladder to end up later in a bigger station.

P.T. I think it will be really interesting if in the future you write a book to transmit your knowledge about TV reporting.

S.J. You are full of great ideas [laughs]. I might think about that. You are absolutely right.

P.T. Do you believe in this maxim: "Sometimes adversity is what you need to face to become successful"?

S.J. I totally agree with that. It is like having a fire under you [chuckles], and in these circumstances you don’t really have a choice: you have to be determined if you want to change your conditions. Sometimes, adversity is not a bad thing because it challenges you and it can make you stronger to pursue what you want.

P.T. Many people aspire to a career in television. There are some who do not give themselves permission to pursue this dream. What advice do you have for them?

S.J. I think it is important to follow your passion, whatever it is. If you love what you do, you won’t feel that you are working. I love to meet people, communicate with them, share positive stories with my education segment. You must have specific goals with deadlines, otherwise it will remain only a dream. You also need to have a realistic view of the profession. It is not always glamorous. Sometimes, we have to cover difficult events such as tornadoes, murders and fires. When you enjoy your work, it helps you get through the bad days.

Overall, I love what I do and people should pursue a career that they love and enjoy. I would encourage anyone to do what will make them happy. It can be a gradual process, you might start doing it part time for instance and drop your main job when your new career takes off for good.

A career in television is very competitive, but if this is what you really want to pursue, do not allow naysayers to deter you from your dream. As mentioned, I really enjoy what I do and again it is important to like your work since that you spend so much time there.

P.T. Can you share your future projects with our readers?

S.J. There are so many things that I want to do [laughs]. I would like to grow my communication business with SAJ Media. I am very excited to be a motivational speaker with the Great Black Speakers (GBS) Bureau. I would love to increase my speaking engagements across the country and overseas. I would be excited if I could host my own talk-show in the future.

P.T. Who knows, maybe I am speaking to the next Oprah!

S.J. [Laughs out loud]. She is definitely a trailblazer chiefly as a TV Host and an entrepreneur. Generally, I really feel blessed with all my accomplishments and I think I am very fortunate with everything that I do. Moreover, I am eager to embrace other projects such as GBS.

P.T. Thanks Ms. Johnson for being as generous as to share your professional path and expertise. It was a real pleasure to speak with you and I wish you a lot more success!

Sherrie Johson's official website:  www.sajmedia.net

Follow Sherrie Johnson on Twitter @SherrieNews


Sherrie Johnson @SherrieNews.