Before she retired in 2012, we welcomed Monica Kaufman Pearson into our homes every evening for 37 years as she reported Atlanta’s breaking news for WSB-TV. Besides earning countless awards (the amount of Southern Regional and local Emmys is astounding) and honors (she’s been inducted into FIVE professional and academic halls of fame), she also broke major barriers. Monica was the first woman and first minority to anchor the daily evening news in Atlanta — a proud, permanent mark in the history of journalism. After leaving TV, she now has moved on to radio, hosting a weekly music and talk show on KISS 104FM, as well as continuing as an active volunteer and board member for many worthy local organizations. Oh, and did we mention that she is a breast cancer and liver cancer survivor? Get out your seat and salute one of Atlanta’s most treasured journalists and community leaders and today’s FACE, Monica Kaufman Pearson!
You were the first woman and first minority to anchor daily evening news in Atlanta. Did you feel like a trailblazer when you were first getting your start?
Not really because I wasn’t aware of being a groundbreaker until I went on the air and the complaints started. Many white people did not like the idea of a woman being on the traditional all-male set and then to have a black person … that was just too much for some to take. Many in the black community felt I did not represent blackness enough and should have had a huge Afro rather than my permed, straight hair. All of a sudden, I realized my success or failure on the air would affect how soon other minorities and women would appear on the 6 p.m. news. I realized in order to be successful, I could not just BE on the air but had to be in the community — speaking in schools and churches, volunteering and tutoring.
When I look at news in Atlanta today, I smile because no station would dare have an all-male anchor team, anymore. Then I chuckle when I see, from time to time, an all-female newscast … my how things have changed!
Who have your role models been?
I’ve only had one: my mom, Hattie Edmondson. She is 93 years old. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and I am the second and the first to graduate from college and earn a master’s degree. My mother stressed the importance of education and working hard. Her favorite statement was, ‘It’s what you do with what you have that makes you what you are.’ Note it is ‘what you are’ and not ‘who.’ She then says, ‘Don’t make excuses — make work and all work is good work as long as it is honest work.’ She set the bar high and never set limits. She believes excellence always trumps pettiness, eventually.
What advice can you share with young women looking to break into the field of broadcast journalism (or any field) and not just maintain but excel?
Remember journalism is not about you — people knowing your name and face or being a celebrity. It is about research, questions, interviews, writing, editing, accuracy, fairness, presentation … telling stories and providing facts that can help people make decisions about their lives. And you just can’t report in the community; you have to be involved in the community. When people get to know YOU, they will feed you story ideas and more. Don’t come into this field because someone told you that you have a great voice, speak well and are attractive.
What was the most memorable local story you covered? Why?
The Georgia High School Association (GHSA), at the time I did the story (late ’80s/early ’90s), had never had a woman on their board in 80 years of existence. The GHSA governs all competitions in schools from debate to sports. After my series of reports, women were added to the board and girls’ soccer became a recognized statewide sport, allowing girls to compete for college scholarships.
You’ve been inducted into many Halls of Fame (University of Kentucky, Georgia Association of Broadcasters, Atlanta Press Club) and just recently became part of the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. What would you like your legacy to be?
I don’t know. I’d rather leave that up to others. But then I think of one of my mom’s favorite spirituals and a line that covers my personal life and my professional life — ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along … then my living shall not be in vain.’
You survived both breast cancer and liver cancer. What got you through that terribly difficult time, both physically and emotionally?
My faith. It teaches me that I was created for a purpose and am here on earth to be a representation of God’s grace and mercy while exhibiting what is called the fruit of the Spirit — “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” — even to the end. Cancer was not a difficult time for me but for everyone around me. Only positive people and positive energy were allowed to be around me.
I have a lot of energy and recuperation from surgery drains you. But instead of dwelling on that, I looked for ways to celebrate. I’m still alive and can contribute. I had an attitude of gratitude because my breast cancer made women get mammograms or do breast self-exams. It was amazing how many people let me know that my story helped them find a cancer early. The liver cancer was found during a routine physical, just like the breast cancer was found during a routine mammogram. I am a staunch advocate of regular checkups.
My feelings about my body are a little strange, I admit. I see my body like a car that sometimes breaks down. You fix it and keep on moving until it can’t be repaired anymore.
Do you ever miss the news cycle? Which current stories do you wish you were covering for the nightly news?
The only time I miss the news cycle is right now, during a presidential election. I miss being able to go to the conventions to follow the race right now. I love covering politics.
What’s more fun — radio or TV?
Radio, because I pick my weekly topics and guests and have control of my product during my three-hour show. I love the instantaneous feedback from listeners in radio.
Tell us your favorite restaurants in Atlanta and why?
Herban Fix on Peachtree Street near the Fox. I am not a vegan but the food is so good in a fine dining setting and the wine selection is excellent. I’ve taken bona fide carnivores there kicking and screaming and they leave with a change of heart.
Paschal’s has great fried chicken — like Mama’s — and is part of Atlanta history. Bistro Niko transports me back to Paris. I love the chicken sausage dishes to the lasagna to the Lil’ Clucker at Delia’s — top it off with a swirlie (combination of frozen sweet tea and raspberry lemonade) … ummm, good!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
What three things can you NOT live without excluding friends, family and faith?
Monica Kaufman Pearson has led an extraordinary life and has many adventures still to come! A huge thanks for letting us delve a little deeper into her storied professional and personal accomplishments.
And as always, we can’t create these amazing FACES profiles without the hard work of CatMax Photography!
Read about even more amazing local women in our FACES archives. Click here to get inspired!