Kristal Herrin

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University students in the Department of Mass Communication recently were given the opportunity to hear from a media professional who visited the school, as part of an exchange program that connects educators with media organizations.

In July, Dr. Nathaniel Frederick, an associate professor of mass communication, participated in the program, sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism in Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Scripps Howard Foundation, which included a two-week externship at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our students to network with someone outside of our region,” said Frederick.

As part of the program, Tasha Stewart, a senior manager of engagement at WCPO, visited Winthrop to discuss how technology, including social media, is changing the way news is delivered.

“It’s been really fun,” said Stewart. “I’m really surprised by how interested people are in what I do. You kind of get used to doing it and you forget that there are people who want to know about it and that’s been personally fulfilling for me.”

Stewart, who graduated from Howard University, began working at the Cincinnati ABC-affiliate in April 2015, after stints at The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Detroit News.

Stewart, who appeared on the Palmetto Report podcast, shared a number of stories related to her job managing digital storytelling, social media and streaming content for the station.

“It does seem that TV stations are seeing more of the value for digital (content), especially in reaching a younger audience and just expanding the audiences for their content,” she said.

Stewart also discussed her experiences as a woman of color working in media, including how she was caught off guard by going from a “majority black” community in her hometown of Baltimore to Atlanta, Detroit and Cincinnati.

“There were a lot of black folks in Detroit, but there weren’t a lot of people of color in management,” Stewart said. “It just never really struck me, because I was in majority black cities the first two major parts of my career, Detroit and then Atlanta. Then when I got to Cincinnati it was like the total opposite.”

Stewart said, even though she was confident in her abilities, the culture in the newsroom made her feel like she “didn’t have the voice yet” to speak up until she got into the TV station and reached her current leadership position.

She said she now tries to lend her voice to people who might be in similar situations.

“We need more women in leadership,” Stewart said. “We need more women’s voices at the table, we need more diversity at the table, and while I see incremental change, we’ve got long ways to go.”

For those just starting out, Stewart said she encourages open dialogue so others can feel comfortable enough to “speak out” and “raise their voices” to be heard.

“You don’t have to contain yourself to be a leader,” she said. “You can lead by example, you can lead by the work you do, you can lead by being what others can come to, to help work things out or help navigate situations.”

She said she also tries to “make a space where those observations are welcome and where it’s okay to be who you are.”

However, Stewart said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of her mentors and allies, both male and female.

Tasha Stewart Podcast
Tasha Stewart, a senior manager of digital content at WCPO TV in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast during her visit to Winthrop (photo: Nathaniel Frederick).

“Find those people who want to help uplift you, but you’ve got to meet them halfway,” she said. “You can’t expect them to do all the work. Show them that you want it and that you are willing to work for it and there will be people who are willing to help you.”

Many mass communication students had the opportunity to hear Stewart speak multiple times during her three-day visit to Winthrop.

“To me, hearing from Ms. Stewart was empowering,” said Tatianna Davis, a mass communication who is African American. “It feels good to know that there are women of color working in the same industry as I am aspiring to go into. I am more confident in working in the industry knowing that I have people that look like me and that I can look up to.”

Meredith McCoy, a mass communication major, she she also appreciated hearing Stewart’s message.

“I thought it was cool she was a woman representing her station,” McCoy said. “Most of the time, it really is men representing on the TV screen, because they’re seen as approachable or have been in the business longer, but it was nice to listen to someone who is taking her job just as serious and finding new ways to connect with the audience.”

Khaura Day, a senior integrated marketing communication major, said she could relate to Stewart’s discussion about the struggles she has faced in the media industry.

“Sometimes it’s hard for those who haven’t had to face some of the struggles (women of color) go through to understand what it’s like,” Day said. “So, having her up there talking about the things she’s faced and how she got through it, really made me feel better about some of the obstacles I saw in my own path into the industry.”

Stewart said women of every race should be prepared for what is in store for them going into the media industry.

“Be prepared for standing your ground,” Stewart said. “Know that you are a leader even if it hasn’t been recognized yet. Know that your day will come. Find other female mentors who you can go to, who can be your safe space, who can give you advice on your career, how to conduct yourself, and what’s the best path to leadership, if that’s what you want.”

* Joseph Kasko contributed to this report.