Monica Pearson no longer graces metro Atlanta’s TV screens nightly, but she remains a significant presence on the local landscape. Pearson arrived in Atlanta after TV and newspaper reporting jobs in her native Louisville and became the first African American and the first woman to anchor a major Atlanta evening newscast, at WSB-TV in 1975. After a 37-year career, countless major stories and a veritable truckload of awards, she stepped away in 2012.
Nowadays, she keeps busy doing radio endorsements, accepting some — but not all — speaking engagements, handling voice acting for various clients from her own home studio and exercising religiously.
She still moves at a rapid pace, but slowed down long enough to chat recently with Atlanta Senior Life contributor Mark Woolsey.
Q: What are you doing these days as a retired person?
A: I am not retired, I’m rewired. I call what I do “rewirement” and here’s the reason: I have to stay active to keep my mind sharp. In my rewirement, I’m doing things I want to do versus things I have to do, meaning I will say no to some organizations [who want her to get involved with or speak to their memberships]. I’m doing things I couldn’t do as a journalist — endorsing companies and places, things like Stone Mountain, which is somewhat controversial at times, but they’re also companies I use. I’m also putting together a website to speak my mind on things I couldn’t do before…and I am walking.
Q: What do you think about the changes in journalism that have occurred since you stepped away?
A: It’s very confusing for a viewer — even me (laughs). I think people need to learn how to watch TV now. By that I mean there are certain channels with a political bent, and you need to be aware of that. I stick with my local news and spend a good deal of time reading newspapers. I want to make up my mind for myself. The only one I’ll admit to watching every day on cable is Rachel Maddow, because she’s fair. On a normal day I do sample CNN, MSNBC and Fox. Most people will look at just one thing and that concerns me…If you look at both sides, you can make your own decisions.
You have to delineate between people who are paid to be opinionated and people who are paid to present the news. Most viewers don’t understand the distinction between commentary and journalism.
Q: What advice would you give to prospective journalists?
A: The first thing I would say is get into it because you love news, you like telling stories that affect people’s lives. Far too many people are getting into the business nowadays because they think it’s going to make them a star. It’s “I want to be an anchor” and it’s not about the anchoring, it’s about the reporting. It’s about helping people make decisions about their lives.
Q: If you were still in journalism, how might you have covered this year’s pandemic?
A: The only thing I would have done differently is that people are just now taking note of how this affects seniors, and young people who didn’t take it seriously because they think they’re bulletproof. I think these kinds of stories should have been done sooner. Another story I wish we had done sooner is on essential workers.
Q: What’s your opinion on the “Black Lives Matter” movement?
A: At first, I didn’t understand Black Lives Matter because I hadn’t done my research. Once I did, I was very comfortable. Put it this way: if Black lives mattered, why are Black and brown people being the “essential workers” who are most exposed to COVID and paid the least? If Black lives mattered, why would we see an education system that’s still very segregated and, in many cases, “less than” for Black children? If Black lives mattered, why would a young white man who shot three people be able to walk toward officers with his hands up and allowed to go home, whereas a Black man who is walking away and getting in his car is shot in the back? The movement is being demonized right now.
On cancel culture: if you know your history, you don’t mind some of your history being canceled. I know I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but some people don’t know what the Confederacy was about, the history of people being enslaved for economic reasons and not being treated as human beings. You don’t have a problem taking down the statue of a man who was a slaveholder.
Q: On a lighter note, do people still comment on your hair the way they used to when you were anchoring?
A: They still do that. And I change my hair all the time. As a matter of fact, that’s where I’m headed. I have a noon appointment to get a haircut. You have to remember that, for me, hair is an accessory. As you change your jewelry, I change my hair.