The news sector has not been a welcoming space for Black women. And yet, veteran journalist Shaun Robinson has been a staple on our television screens for over two decades. The Spelman alum began her career at Detroit’s WGPR-TV (now WWJ-TV) –the first Black-owned television station in the United States and quickly became one of the nation’s top journalist. Robinson covered Bill Clinton’s Impeachment proceedings in the ‘90s and the Oklahoma City bombing before becoming a host of the acclaimed NBC show, Access Hollywood — a role she held for 16 seasons before moving on in 2015. Never one to be confined to a certain role or a certain type of news coverage, the Emmy Award-winning journalist and avid philanthropist is ready to add a new title to her lengthy resume — executive producer.
Recently, Shadow and Act caught up with the Detroit native to talk about how the news landscape has shifted and evolved during this current political administration, and her forthcoming mega-project with Lifetime.
“When I was growing up in the business, the number one lesson you learn was to get the facts before you report them,” Robinson reflected on the way journalism has shifted since she first began her career. “There were checks and balances back then. Sure, everyone wanted to be first, but you made sure to check all of your sources, and get the information from both sides of the story before you went on the air and reported anything.”
In the internet age where everything is readily available at the click of a button and instant gratification is king — many principles of journalism are no longer upheld. “Unfortunately, today there is just this rush to be first without with very little regard for the accuracy of stories,” Robinson explained. “A lot of it has to do with what people view as ‘the media’. You hear, ‘Oh, the media this’, ‘the media that’ but these are real people we’re talking about. There are people who care about the integrity of the story and the integrity of journalism, and there are people who don’t. When you have a platform and people look to you as a news source, you have the journalistic responsibility, to get it right, and that’s not done today.”
This is not to say that journalists aren’t allowed to make mistakes, but Robinson wants to make sure that the news industry is putting their best foot forward. “I’ve always considered myself a journalist no matter what I’m covering,” she emphasized. “Obviously most people know me from covering entertainment, but I’ve done general assignment reporting, I’ve done health reporting, I’ve done so much. It’s all the same. The facts of the story are the same. As journalists, we care about the facts, and that doesn’t mean we are not going to make mistakes. But what true journalists do is, when you do make a mistake, you go, and you correct it. You say, ‘This was an error. We apologize. And here are the facts.’ No journalist is perfect, but the true journalists will research, get the facts, and if there’s a mistake — they will correct it.”
These days Robinson’s focus has shifted more towards her philanthropy work and a new television project, but like many of us, she’s continually disturbed about the president’s constant attacks on the media —specifically journalists who are women of color. “It’s very disturbing,” Robinson said solemnly. “I have felt for my sisters out there in the field who have been attacked just for doing their job. They’re not only attacked by the person that their interviewing, but having to go home and worry about personal and physical attacks from people who listen to those who were spewing that rhetoric. It doesn’t just stop in the newsroom or at the news conference. There are, some violent people out there who are trying to attack members of the media physically, and that is extraordinarily disturbing. Everybody should be concerned about that no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on.”
Though she’s paused her work as a journalist, Robinson has no plans of stepping away from the entertainment landscape entirely. However, her new venture will have her working hard in the background. Partnering with Lifetime Network, Robinson has optioned the series, Seven Deadly Sins — an anthology from best-selling author Victoria Christopher Murray. The TV One Access alum will serve as executive producer on the project alongside Bishop T.D. Jakes and Senior Vice President of TDJ Enterprise, Derrick Williams.
“Victoria and I have been wanting to do something for a while, and I just think she’s such a great author,” Robinson explained. “I optioned the entire series, and I pitched it to everybody including Lifetime, and Bishop T.D. Jakes. As this was happening, T.D. Jakes did a movie with Lifetime called Faith Under Fire with Toni Braxton that did extremely well. Lifetime decided to continue their relationship with him, and that’s when he said, ‘Get Shaun Robinson on the phone.’ It didn’t take me long to say yes. I thought my first project would be something really small and I would work my way up. But, my first project is seven movies with T.D. Jakes and Lifetime, so it is really a blessing.”
Robinson is currently hard at work on Seven Daily Sins, finishing scripts and putting her cast together for a 2019 debut. However, she’s also working diligently on her passion project The S.H.A.U.N. Foundation for Girls. Robinson started the foundation as a way to give back. “Philanthropy is just in my bones,” she said earnestly. “I remember going with my grandmother when I was really little to the blood bank. She would give blood on a regular basis. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a form of philanthropy. Grandma didn’t have money, but she was giving her lifeblood to help other people. So, it’s something I’ve been raised with.”
Along with her grandmother, the former Access Hollywood host’s parents also instilled in her the importance of giving back. “My parents, including my father, God rest his soul — they would be really remiss if I just had a closet full of shoes and nothing to show for what I’ve done for other people,” she explained. “I’ve always wanted to have my own non-profit. When I was at my former job I was working constantly, and I wasn’t able to really focus on the things that I was passionate about. When I was freed up to do what I really love doing, it enabled me to finally sit down and figure out what I want my legacy to be. I went back to being a little Black girl. I knew I wanted to help little girls that just need a boost. My foundation is about leveling the playing field for girls of color and helping them thrive while giving them a little piece of encouragement and help. It will help them dream a little bigger.”
Seven Deadly Sins is set to premiere on Lifetime in 2019.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide