Robin Roberts, anchor on ABC News’ Good Morning America, spoke yesterday to students in Wallis Annenberg Hall about diversity in the Oscars and her thoughts on the changing journalism industry. Willow Bay, director of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, moderated the hour-long conversation and introduced Roberts as “one of the most accomplished and successful journalists of our time.”
Roberts is in Los Angeles this week because she will be hosting the red carpet pre-Oscars special on ABC at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Bay began the discussion by asking Roberts what she thought about the hashtag, “#OscarsSoWhite”, which is currently trending on social media. Some actors are refusing to watch and support the Oscars, which Roberts said has brought up real diversity issues within the Academy structure,
“Currently, the Academy membership is 94 percent caucasian and 77 percent male,” Roberts said. “They’re most likely going to have the same thoughts. I doubt many of them even saw Straight Outta Compton. Maybe it’s time that we have a little bit of a fresher perspective. They are changing how you become a member of the Academy, and they’re going to change the voting process.”
Roberts encouraged the audience to continue the diversity conversation after the Oscars are over.
“It can’t just be over on Monday,” Roberts said. “It’s our responsibility, if we’re serious about it. It’s continuing the conversation. How do you do it? By being patient and persistent.”
Speaking of patience and persistence, Roberts commented on her longevity in the industry. Roberts joked that she’s only at first base, and she has a long way to go until she reaches the dugout.
“I’m very comfortable and confident in what I’m able to bring to ABC News and Good Morning America in particular. I’m grateful that I started as a general assignment reporter, then became a news anchor, then a co-anchor and now the senior anchor on that program,” Roberts said. “I believe that I do a good job of making sure I can stay current with what’s going on, but I love the fact that I have this wealth of experience.”
Roberts was born in Alabama, grew up in Mississippi and attended Southeastern Louisiana University. She also lived in Turkey for a short period of time while her father, a Tuskegee Airman, was stationed there.
“My father was in the military, and we traveled all around the world,” Roberts said. “It was wonderful that my parents exposed us to these different cultures. All of this makes me who I am as a journalist, and that’s why it’s so important to have people from different backgrounds.”
Roberts has worked in entertainment and sports journalism, but she has no interest in entering the political arena.
“Not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell no!’” Roberts said when asked whether or not she would ever be a political journalist. “Can’t we all just get along? Again, I don’t want everybody to be in agreement. But these personal attacks … Why can’t a candidate just state their position without ripping apart who they’re running against?”
Roberts admitted that as a young adult she did not want to be a journalist at all. She dreamed of being a professional athlete. Although her athletic ability paid for her college education, she realized that she didn’t have the skill be a professional basketball player. Her older sister encouraged her to combine her passion for sports with her interest in journalism. Roberts ended up working at ESPN for 15 years before joining Good Morning America.
“I used to dream as a little kid in Mississippi with my little afro puffs that I would be a Wimbledon one day,” Roberts said. “And that I would curtsey on that hot, steamy court, and I would eat my strawberries and cream. I made it there, not with a tennis racket in my hand, but with an ESPN microphone. I made it to Wimbledon. Your dreams may not look like you think they’re going to look, but they mean every bit as much.”