Trailblazing Janice Edwards talks about getting it done right
Her Corner of the Sky
Westminster alum Janice Edwards is an award-winning talk show host and community leader, an Emmy- nominated television producer, a co-author of the international best seller Step Into Your Brilliance and of the book Quality Angles, an in-demand Mistress of Ceremony and since the pandemic, she has added media coach and entrepreneur to her credits. Her show Janice Edwards TV Bay Area Vista is now in its 20th year on air.
While a freshman at Westminster, Janice was elected the first Black class
president; that same year, she was also elected president of Methodist Youth
Fellowship at her church pastored by Dr. Joseph E. Lowery. Throughout high school,
she received honors at Westminster and local acclaim for her performance in “The
Member of the Wedding” directed by Westminster’s acting instructor Durwood “Mr.
Doubletalk” Fincher, (the inventor of Toe Floss). Janice also won first place in national and local Spanish contests,
After graduating with honors from both Westminster and from Harvard, Janice headed west to the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism before beginning her television career at local NBC, CBS, and other San Francisco Bay Area stations. https://youtu.be/M82RtlKaruI In addition to conducting over 1400 interviews with luminaries and community leaders, Janice portrayed Mrs. Coretta Scott King in a play produced by Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, an initiative of The King Center in Atlanta.
2019, Janice was inducted into the Black Legends Silicon Valley Hall of Fame in the Alexander-Green News and Documentary category. In the clip below, she references a seminal trip to California at the age of 14. https://youtu.be/TSc7zo9wS5o (I can provide clip for embedding if desired for inclusion)
In the Westminster yearbook her senior year, Janice shared a lyric from “Corner of the Sky” sung in the musical “Pippin” (and by The Jackson Five)-“got to find my corner in the sky!” For her, that corner has been in northern California. And it was just east of San Francisco, through social media that she discovered that WAM’s Malcolm Ryder was also working and enjoying life in the Bay Area. That discovery was the genesis of this interview.
I remember when you first called me a couple of years ago. And how interesting it was to hear from you. We were only a few years separated in classes, and what struck me the most afterwards was how could I not know about this person after all this time? It only takes a few years to put such a huge distance between somebody like you and somebody like me who came from the same place. That's sort of the paradox of media in some ways, certainly now -- there are so many different venues, you know, a million channels and thousands of devices and so on, and, yet someone can be extremely well known in one place and not known at all someplace else.
Well, it it's so true. That's so funny because, you know, in terms of distance, as a seventh grader, when you see a senior, that's like the holy grail. I will say at times when I was on the air, especially I think when I was doing update anchoring at KRON’s Bay TV [hosting “Black Renaissance”] and at NBC Bay Area, I was in people's living rooms regularly. With updates, I was on for thirty minutes to eight hours at a time. Then I’d run into someone sometimes in real life and if they didn’t make the tv connection, they'd ask, did we go to high school together? [ Of course, I didn’t grow up in the Bay Area, but they knew they recognized me from somewhere.]
Especially with NBC bay area, where I was out in the community and doing six events a month, as well as setting up other things. I was on Sunday afternoons and then also on Saturday and Sunday mornings. So, there was a lot of visibility for years.
When I started producing independently, I was seen in the Bay Area and Sacramento, [on ION, KCSM and CreaTV] but at that same time, something that speaks to what you were mentioning is that in 2008, the news director called us into a meeting and said, “I've seen the future folks. It ain't pretty. And it doesn't include us. He was referring to how social media was about to upend traditional media, appointment tv and advertising models.
He was a Texan, Jim Sanders, bless his heart, God rest his soul. And he was so funny in his colloquialisms in speaking, but what he said was so true because at that time, YouTube was starting to come out and citizen journalism was exploding.
What happened is that people who were previously disenfranchised now had a voice. It was amazing. But the other side of it was that the advertising and the ways that people typically received news and information changed also - an explosion of channels, an explosion of choices.
I think that might have been the last time that people were saying to themselves, let me make sure I watch this show at a particular time, you know... appointment viewing. Because now, choices could be made at any time. That changed a lot of things.
I had a kind of a second line of thought about this. I'll just bring it up. Now I'm a transfer from Manhattan. In my time in California, I've worked in Mountain View, I've pitched to VCs on Sand Hill Road. I live in Oakland, and I used to live in San Francisco. I shop here, and there. My mental picture of the so-called Bay Area is not a uniform region at all. It's almost, to me more like Europe, a lot of distinct and smaller places packed tightly together. So when I think, how can I describe the Bay Area to other people, well, where do I start? What does that even mean now?
For someone like you, in your work, I think the magic is the way that you kind of weave this stuff together. Does that make sense as a description of your accomplishment?
It does. And thank you. And it's interesting because I know it at one point, some people kindly said, oh, Janice, you're like the Oprah of Silicon Valley. Such a huge compliment in terms of talk shows and featuring people from all over.
Because that was part of the goal – for seven years I was hosting and executive producing both “Signature Silicon Valley”, which was principally seen only in Silicon Valley -- and simultaneously hosting and executive producing “Bay Area Vista”, which involved people from all over the world in a different way. [ Janice Edwards TV: Bay Area Vista has been reaching an international audience since 2002. ]
Now that anybody can be a producer with these affordable phones, it changes that sense of who's creating what and whose voice is having a say -- where visibility comes in, where voice and impact come in. I think that it is true that a lot of people are very invested in their communities, more so now since the pandemic than before where I think there was just more movement overall.
But what you're observing is this: if you're outside of media, you may not necessarily be familiar with what's going on, people in media, or now when you choose to curate your news from just certain sources. It's changed the way that that sense of community is perceived. And sometimes that's detrimental to the sense of people being able to look at each other with that sense of compassionate humanity.
The conversation that I keep having with people is about whether “social” media is on balance, a good thing or a bad thing. I don't actually think there's a correct answer to that, but, the way that it runs through my mind is that it's, it's paradoxical. Social media is the thing that lets any individual know so much more about everybody and every place else. But it's also the thing that's most likely to fortify the concentration on the self and what's immediately surrounding.
So on the one hand, you have this kind of democratic influence, if you want to call it that, but then you have the kind of infamous silo or bubble effect on the other.
For somebody like yourself. Does, do you think that there is in the near future, more likely, a lean towards one side than the other?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
I think that first of all, there are some great things about social media but at the same time, some of the awful things are the trolls, the bullies, the way that people feel comfortable at times just attacking others.
I think that the focus on self, starting with the selfie and everything that's attendant with that, has both positive and negative connotations. A focus on self is something that is paramount for understanding and empowerment in life. At the same time, the influencers and the incredible amounts of money that influencers can make is something that begs the question again, where's the truth, where is the integrity in communication and what matters most to us?
Especially when you think about millennials and others who have grown up with this whole explosion, that is something that, on my website, [thejaniceedwards.com] I focus on - I call The Five Keys to being the Star in the Reality Show of Your Own Life.
I say prep for your inner closeup because that's where you're telling yourself the truth about what is important, what you need, what matters, and showing up in a way that reinforces your ability to look at yourself in the mirror and feel like you are in integrity, and you are at peace.
So, in terms of what change may come, one of the silver linings in this very dark pandemic is that people have spent more time, many have spent more time with themselves and with a smaller group of people.
And through technology, there's been the ability to impact and reach many more, but there's also been the sense of charting one's own path.
Speaking Truth to Power
That's what is linked to the Great Resignation that you're hearing about .I think that there's something that speaks to rebellion against things that feel like social engineering - and hunger for not just my side or your side, but the truth.
One of the things that's gotten way out of balance is even reporting “both sides”.
I think that as we are fighting for democracy, fighting for personal autonomy, and having difficult conversations, then part of the outcome ultimately will be, ideally, a sense of commitment to truth that looks at the rights of everybody not just a polarized few through the negative “-isms” that we've seen throughout our lives -- that impact accessibility, mobility, resources, and ultimately, success in life.
I want to ask you, what’s your take on how media and politics work together now?
I'll confess that I think it's an unholy Alliance, but <laugh>, but that's because I think it's all about power.
It seems like the advances that technology has brought to media have actually kind of pushed everything towards one end or the other.
One of the ends is a small number of people with just an absurd amount of power to influence continually. And then the other end is, you know, an extremely large number of people who individually can influence now and then, perhaps unexpectedly, but collectively aren't counterbalancing.
Yes. Well, it's interesting. I remember when I was first starting in media and doing stories, after graduate school in journalism and taking classes on the FCC, there's a law class that you had to take. and others as well. Just studying how the deregulation that started with the FCC and Ronald Reagan has continued to erode the standards that are required of reporting.
There was more transparency in the sense that when it comes to political reporting, there's the fairness doctrine. And, I believe that still if one candidate is allowed airtime, then other candidates have the right for that equal amount of airtime.
But what used to be a time-honored tradition was fact checking and making sure that it was part of the story. And of course, especially with the last administration, the idea of poisoning people against real journalism was part of the strategy for making sure that truly fake news was reported as though it was not.
So the lines that were blurring before have now become more polarizing...
Truth or Consequences
And it's one thing to have talk radio where you expect opinions, but what you see many times on stations, on both sides of the political aisle, are discussions and reporting about something that doesn't really take into account both sides of an issue. That's something that is problematic.
Then, there’s hypocrisy, or really, just lying. One of the reasons I got into journalism years ago, instead of going into law, was because of something that happened before my senior year at Harvard. I was in Spain. When I’d stand in a store, I noticed that people were saying things not knowing that I was fluent in Spanish. And they were saying things about African Americans, and about other people and Americans in general. And then I'd say something in Spanish. Then they'd say, “Hey, you know, I didn't mean that!” and everything. But I would sometimes say, “ Well, I kind of think you did!”
So, the whole idea is that journalism and media with images, leads perception that leads to laws and change. And then the law follows.
My goal and my decision to become involved was I wanted to especially make sure that balanced, positive portrayals of African Americans and others who were not represented equally at times in the news were there.
But now what's happened is that if certain companies have purchased time, something just goes right on the air. It might not be revealed in a commercial, and in newspapers it used to have to be an Op Ed piece.
Instead, today, just like that, it's something that becomes woven into conversations and the news. I think that is dangerous, because people may not really know exactly who's behind something, but they’ll act on it. And as actions lead toward certain outcomes, it becomes clear that there's social engineering happening.
I enjoy all sorts of media and television, but I say, a lot of times, that what happened was when we elevated watching reality stars to a main form of first of all, escapism, but also influence, then it became a smoke and mirrors game. While we're over here watching this, what's actually happening in the back rooms? What’s happening to certain laws?
You can see it… that when you talk about voting rights and other issues, that there was a focus put on keeping certain kinds of things out front. But meanwhile, there are other things, different ones, that are being put in place. And even the professional reporting on those things sometimes doesn't necessarily take into account the in-depth information that's needed. Because what will happen, whether it's ad space online, even for a written article or on air, whether that's broadcast, cable, or radio, they may say, oh, well, there's not enough paid time to get into all of that.
But there has to be, there needs to be time; because people need to be able to understand with critical thinking. They need to be able to understand that when something is said, there needs to be time to check those facts, and ideally check them before they're put on air or they're put in print.
That has been just eliminated -- in so many areas. That is part of the danger.
And the revisioning of certain historical events -- look back to the January 6th, 2021 insurrection, the reports that are coming out, the revisionist history!
Like I said, it can be polarizing to have it come from, it seems like there's a left leaning here or a right leaning there -- but there's still something about truth that needs to be valued, protected, and really brought forth in a way that, when it comes to a lot of media, I don't think most of us are seeing these days.
One thing I've really admired that distinguishes what you've done is the time that you've spent focusing media on what people do with other people in a positive way.
Thank you. That's the, the part of the goal <laugh>.
So to me, you know, that makes you an Influencer, makes you a role model, but it also makes you an advocate, a community advocate.
I think of what you've made and presented, you know, over these years as exactly the kind of counter programming we need against this increasing, very cynical myth making that, you know, we are just swamped in these days. Thank you.
There are not enough people doing what you do. There might be lots of them, but it's still not enough. That makes me ask also about your predecessors Who were the women who were mentors or role models for you in your work?
Well, first of all, thank you so much for what you said.
I feel blessed to have been able to contribute to those positive conversations. I remember years ago, Ted Turner tried to start the good news station and was told, well, people don't want to watch that.
I think that with decision making on how to navigate this, I remember looking at Oprah and understanding that there's a place for someone who would cry when she was reporting news stories.
I remember sitting, watching the news as a teenager feeling, just afraid. And like, I wanted to pull my covers over my head… I thought, how do you tell stories where people are left feeling empowered afterwards, that they see someone in a situation like theirs and they think I can go on because of that person?
So being almost motivational in that way has been part of it. And in that, Oprah obviously wasn't a close mentor but certainly a trail blazer that I looked to.
I remember when I interviewed her and at one point she said, that's really good question. And I thought, oh my gosh, yes! <laugh>. As you know, when you're interviewing someone and they pause and they think about it, it takes them out of whatever path they were going in terms of maybe more prepared information. It's like that that's, that's a great one. <laugh>
I had an interview with Belva Davis, who was the first African American female reporter in the bay area on air. I was an intern for her show Weekend, Extra when I was at KRON. [https://youtu.be/lu_Po3xNl2c?t=745]
I've been blessed, even though it's been a challenge to even keep things going. Like, I look at the fact that Bay Area Vista, which I launched on NBC Bay Area is now in its 20th year, even with the different places, and stations where it's been produced and seen. That's a reality.
Seeing people who talked about owning their own show, even when Tyler Perry started putting his name above his work, it spoke to me about being not just host an executive producer, but a creator and owning your content.
My father had a dream of us one day owning a TV station together. He shared when I was 23 (because he'd been an attorney), that he gave up law because he was disillusioned with it as a vehicle for change. And that spoke to a vision of something greater. But sadly, just a couple of years after my father shared that he passed away. So that never came to fruition.
My mother was an incredible role model. She was someone who went back to school and got her masters and her Ph.D. She was the one who insisted on my going to Trinity and later Westminster. And even when I was the first African American class president at Westminster, I'd wanted to switch to go to Northside high that year because they had the school of performing arts -- she helped me see the importance of building a path where I was and completing things in that way.
She supported that in so many ways; she made sure that I had a chance to visit different schools. For some reason, Massachusetts was always calling to me, but on my first trip to go see colleges, I went to see Brandeis, Mt. Holyoke and Wellesley, and never went to Harvard. Then later, I heard about Harvard. So, she allowed me to go back for a second trip to visit. And that was the campus where I could see myself growing.
Being Up Front
The other question that I wanted to ask you about, because of the amazing people that you've worked with, is this: what do you think leadership needs to be today?
Hmm, that's a great question.
The most incredible leaders are those who are very much in tune with both their
strengths and their weaknesses, their desires and their needs, and who really have a
heart for people.
It doesn't necessarily mean that everyone who has a heart for people is a people person. There are some people who are doing things in the background, but they're leading because they are your geniuses in tech or science or medicine. But ultimately, the leaders that I respect are those who wanted to make the world a better place, not autocrats and dictators who many people admire because they were able to squash others with their power.
One of the interviews that I did last year, which was shortly after the insurrection, [https://youtu.be/d4A6_ZI23jU?t=305] was with two retired colonels who were among several co-authors of a book called Paradoxes of Power. The subtitle deals with failed leadership and real leadership. It is connected to seeing the talents and the strengths of others, and working in a way that does not exploit that but instead highlights achievement and inspires collaboration and not competition.
Also, I think that it is important to have self-discipline as a leader and acknowledge the areas that need shoring up.
I certainly learned along the way -- I learned this from just being prepared to be on air -- because I was both host and producer behind the scenes… that to have everything locked in, I had to put things together. And then, I had to be in a certain mindset and frame of mind in order to be present and connect on camera.
It’s understanding the different strengths and weaknesses that we have so that we can go forth with support and not have to feel that we have to be a genius in 14 areas.
You know that saying about if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room! I think it's important to continue to grow, learn, and, and be open to expansion, because that's where impact comes in. If our zone of genius is in five [areas], look at those five, learn from others as well, and then move forward with greater impact.
And to tell the truth.
From having acted in plays and movies and along in television, I know that that there's a way of showing up that is just performance based. -- that you can show up and act, but not be connected to your core, to the things that are most important. You may have to get it done many times, and that's one way of just getting it done. But when I coach people in media, I, one of the things I say many times is that our production company helps people stop hiding in plain sight. Being both introvert and extrovert myself, I know what that's about…
The Necessity of Invention
On that note, let’s rewind a bit to what you brought up earlier, which is the Great Resignation. When I hear that term, and I've seen some of it too, it always makes me think of another idea that I'm fond of, which is this: I wonder if the world as we know it, at least within the borders of the USA, is getting very close to the point where it almost makes more sense to start a business than it does to get hired.
Well, I called myself the reluctant entrepreneur. One of the challenges that I learned,
when I realized that it was going to be part of my path is that there is a lot of value in
being able to slot in somewhere and produce is something that there's a lot of value in. And certainly, when working at different stations, that was part of what I saw. But I think that, again, it comes back to integrity and truth, and being able to live life in a way where you feel that you are valued.
I think that what's behind a lot of it – the resignation -- is the horrific losses that many of us have experienced, something that informs the choices of life -- whether it's a loss of mobility, or loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of a sense of freedom. In comparison, the opportunity to chart one's own course leads to thinking, well, if I don't say yes to what I have now, what else can I do?
Disruption that comes from telling a truth that cannot be ignored personally is something that does lead to entrepreneurship. I think when that occurs, it makes a difference. I wrote about that in the book that I co-authored, Step Into Your Brilliance. You have a destiny. It's like I say with my business, you are here for a purpose. And we are here to let the world know.
As a person whose faith informs her life, I see in the great resignation people saying whatever I'm called to do, let me try to answer that call and not take for granted what we often have to do in terms of just making life work.
How do we balance all of that? Well, I, I think one of the things that happens is it becomes a re-imagining of our lives.
So another influence is this… people are needed for this service and that service.
Many times, the, the thought is, oh, well, I'll start my own business. And it sounds like, you just answer the call, solve these people's problems. There, you have income. And for some people it works that way for others, it may not.
But the whole idea is that there's a point of pain and then there are answers to alleviate that pain. And if a person is considering entrepreneurship and says, I have an answer for that; I have an invention for that. I have a way of making that easier for someone else, because I learned it the hard way, or I know this, or I want to make money doing this instead of feeling like my contributions are possibly not valued at a particular position, then I think that all feeds into the ground swell of entrepreneurship in your fields.
Well, Janice, there are still more questions I'd love to ask, but we’re out of time…. You’re actually a WAM team member, so you know the drill.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to talk and connect with other members of WAM and Westminster. And connecting with you has really helped me remember things about my high school experience. And reaching out to people and integrating that experience in a way that was separate for me for most of my life … I'm grateful for that.
There were some challenging times and some brutal lessons regarding racism that I learned at Westminster. And at the same time, there were amazing lessons about leadership, about community, about people who saw beyond skin color and saw personhood and reinforced that as well. So I'm thankful for the opportunity to share, and thank you for being interested in this part of my life as well.