Award recipients tied together by same television station

Producer Darius “Doc” Baker (right) and Live Communications manager Taralisha Sanders (second right) and company owner Rev. RB Holmes (center) flank African Americans in Media honorees. Brian Jackson, a Future Leader in Media honoree, isn’t in the photo. Photo by Vaughn Wilson

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Six days after being honored at the African Americans in Media Awards, Lanetra Bennett was promoted to morning anchor and the mid-day co-anchor at WCTV.

Ironically three other Black women, who left their mark on the way the CBS affiliate delivers the news, were also among the honorees. They represent an era from Gayle Andrews to Bennett, bookending Carmen Cummings and Shonda Knight.

Six other people in local media also were honored at the inaugural AAIM Awards that was presented by Hallelujah 95.3FM, the Capital Outlook Newspaper in conjunction with The Pavilion. Bennett received the Future Leader in Media Award, while Andrews was presented the Thelma Gorham Legacy Award named for the former longtime FAMU journalism professor.

Brian Jackson received the Future Leader in Media Award. Photo by Vaughn Wilson

The event was the brainchild of Darius “Doc” Baker, who brought it to Rev. RB Holmes, owner of the Outlook and Hallelujah 95.3. Baker joined forces with Taralisha Sanders, manager of Live Communications, to put on his first major production since recently joining the company.

“To see decades of greatness in the same room at the same time was indeed heartwarming,” Baker said. “You felt the love and admiration for each honoree in the room throughout the night.”

Especially among the four women with ties to WCTV. Each of them also had their formative training as students at FAMU.

However, the lineage from Andrews, the first Black woman to work in the press corps at the Capitol, to Bennett is an obvious significance. The path blazed by Andrews, whose grandfather, Blythe Andrews, started the first and largest Black-owned newspaper in Florida, wasn’t lost on Bennett.

“It’s just great that there are wonderful Black women in this field,” Bennett said after the AAIM Awards. “There are more African Americans in the profession but I think it still means something to see a Black person on television. 

“Whatever Gayle went through, the door is opened now so people like me can come in and be taken seriously as a journalist. That does mean a lot. I feel like I am a part of history and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Andrews actually mentored Cummings during an internship and later when she was a news anchor at Channel 6. Cumming spent 18 years at the station before becoming senior executive director of university engagement and alumni affairs at FAMU.

 Bennett’s announcement of her promotion drew reaction on social media within minutes. While she was explaining that it will be about a month before she curtail her role as a reporter, Knight, who currently work as director of community and media relations for the Leon County Sheriff, added more irony in a Facebook post.

 “Three years today, I obeyed God and left my comfort zone,” she wrote. “I can honestly say I have no regrets. It’s been a wonderful ride! I can’t wait to see what the next three years and beyond will bring.”

The lineage of Shonda Knight (left) Lanetra Bennett, Carmen Cummings and Gayle Andrews runs through Channel 6. Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Bennett is now in the same role that Knight had as a morning anchor. Her first morning show gig was last Dec. 15.

“It’s a whole new world,” she said. “There are certain things you never realize you have to think about rather than sitting there reading a teleprompter.”

Bennett is in her 19th year at the station, where she began as a part-time assistant producer. Two years later, she was given the task of covering Suwannee, Lafayette and Taylor counties.

She eventually settled into being a multi-beat reporter, who covered the courts, education and whatever else might be newsworthy on a given day.

She delved in with the same passion she had the day she covered her first story.

“That was amazing to finally get the opportunity,” she said. “I just felt like it was a dream comes true. I was just ready to take that opportunity and run with it.” 

That she has done. She found her niche, too, deciding to stay at home.

“Whether it was naïve or just that country girl in me,” she said, I just wanted to be home.”

She became a trusted reporter, but never losing sight of the fact that she has a responsibility that can’t be compromised, she said.

“Most of the people that I deal with understand the job,” she said. “Even the people that I meet that may feel like we are friends, still know that if something happens, I have to cover a news story.

“They trust me. I’m not just some aggressive reporter coming into their face and trying to tear them down. They don’t see me as that. They see me as, ‘this is Lanetra; she has a job to do.’ ”

Decades earlier, viewers established a similar relationship with Andrews, who covered primarily political news for the station when she wasn’t anchoring. Being a prominent Black reporter wasn’t something that she took for granted, Andrews said.

“I was always aware of my presence in the community,” she said. “I tried to uphold everybody’s high regards for what I was doing.”

Not just at WCTV. It was the same when she worked with Public television, then with WMSE in Orlando and eventually at Channel 6, where she also did feeds for CBS Newsnet.

While she was known for her in-depth political stories, she’d stepped out of the box a few times. Once she covered a Klu Klux Klan rally in Ray City, Ga., in 1982. The following year, she covered the execution of Anthony Anton.

Covering the Klan rally was a lot easier than expected. Andrews, the daughter of a Native American mother and an African American father, suggested it was because of her skin complexion. But she had learned the significance of her role as a Black journalist from Gorham when she was a student at FAMU during the late 1970’s, Andrews said.

During the height of her career, Andrews, who has settled into a consulting career, said her race was a topic of discussion more than a few times when she covered state government.

“I was reminded of it every day,” she said, “but I was very proud of my reputation as a tough reporter and someone people would look forward to hearing from.”

List of Honorees

The Roosevelt Wilson “Voice of Courage” Award – Mr. Joe Bullard

The Thelma Gorham Legacy Award – Ms. Gayle Andrews

The Cathy Hughes Media Mogul Award – Ms. Dot Ealy

The Oprah Winfrey Trailblazer Award – Ms. Shonda Knight

The Sheila Jackson Trailblazer Award – Ms. Carmen Cummings

Media Pioneer of the Year Award – Mr. Alvin Hollins

Innovator of the Year Award – Mr. Keith Miles

Future Leader in Media Award – Ms. Lanetra Bennett

Future Leader in Media Award – Mr. Brian Jackson

The Robert Abbott Media Award – Mr. St. Clair Murraine