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Groundbreaking anchor Simpson honored at UNITY

Talia Whyte | 7/30/2008, 5:26 a.m.
Carole Simpson was all smiles as she accepted an honor from the International Women’s Media Foundation at this...
Carole Simpson was all smiles as she accepted an honor from the International Women’s Media Foundation at this year’s UNITY convention, held last week. A former television anchor who now teaches at Emerson College, Simpson was recognized as a pioneer who broke new ground for female journalists of color. Talia Whyte

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Carole Simpson was all smiles as she accepted an honor from the International Women’s Media Foundation at this year’s UNITY convention, held last week. A former television anchor who now teaches at Emerson College, Simpson was recognized as a pioneer who broke new ground for female journalists of color.

CHICAGO — Former television anchor Carole Simpson was honored last week by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) for her pioneering career and support of women journalists worldwide.

The ceremony was part of the annual UNITY: Journalists of Color convention. More than 6,000 journalists attended the convention to discuss ways to increase diversity in the newsroom.

Maureen Bunyan is a founding member of both the IWMF and the National Association of Black Journalists, one of the four associations that make up UNITY. She started her broadcast career in Boston at WGBH in 1970. She said she has been inspired over the years by Simpson’s work.

“She is the reason we are all here,” Bunyan said. “She has put herself on the line to fight for women in the newsroom.”

Simpson spent her broadcast career breaking down both racial and gender barriers in the industry. When she took over hosting duties on the Sunday edition of ABC’s “World News Tonight” in 1988, she became the first black woman to anchor a national news program.

During her time at ABC, Simpson co-anchored ABC’s live coverage of Nelson Mandela’s release from his 27-year imprisonment and moderated the second presidential debate between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Today, she teaches journalism at Emerson College and also runs the Carole Simpson Leadership Institute at the African Women’s Media Center in Senegal. She created in the institute in 1998 to help African women journalists gain the necessary skills to stay competitive in the media world.

“I am so touched by the African women,” Simpson said after receiving her honor. “We talk about satellites here, but some of them don’t even have typewriters, and yet they do such incredible work.”

Simpson has also set up several high school and college scholarships for women and minorities pursuing careers in broadcast journalism.

Simpson’s career has opened doors for other well-known journalists of color, including CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien, who was also present at the ceremony.

O’Brien, a Harvard graduate who started her broadcast career as a news writer for WBZ-TV, said she works tirelessly to bring more diverse programming to the cable news network.

During a diversity workshop for CNN employees last year, O’Brien said she was disturbed that all the panelists were white men. After the workshop, she had many discussions with CNN executives about how to increase the network’s diversity, both in front of and behind the camera.

Those discussions led to the highly publicized four-hour documentary series “Black in America,” a look at multiple aspects of contemporary African American life that premiered last week. O’Brien said “Black in America” is the highest-rated documentary series in CNN’s history, and there is potential to produce more programs in the series.

“You have to have good grounding in this business,” O’Brien said. “We have to take every opportunity to make sure everyone’s voice is being represented.”

While many of the ceremony’s attendees were excited to talk to O’Brien about the series and her career, the focus remained on Simpson. Many said they were inspired by her call to help all women journalists, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

“We need to work for women all over the world,” Simpson said. “There is much more work to be done, and I am happy to lead women in the future.”