WOMEN IN MEDIA – Bobeth Yates

BobethA petite powerhouse who knows how to stir up a conversation, Bobeth Yates, 35, is a co-anchor on the Suncoast View on ABC7 Sarasota. From her early days interviewing her teddy bears and dolls as a child to earning her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the prestigious S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, Yates has come a long way earning an impeccable reputation professionally and displaying a natural ease in front of the camera.

The self-described “over zealous achiever” landed her first job while attending Florida State University. Later, she worked as a writer for MTV and NBC before landing on-air reporting jobs in Great Falls, Montana; Savannah, Georgia; Panama City, Fort Myers, before coming to Sarasota. As a co-anchor on the Suncoast View, Yates’ lively personality is well suited for the local television talk show format. She and her co-hosts, Stephanie Roberts and Linda Carson, gab each afternoon with guests, discussing hot topics ripped from the national headlines and stories happening right here in our backyard.

The world of television news can be a very cruel fishbowl, where viewers often times email or call on-air personalities with critiques not only on their story coverage, but also on their clothing, hair and appearance. Yates says she’s learned how not to take herself too seriously or let viewers’ criticism bother her, especially as a woman. It’s a pragmatic perspective from a woman who overcame harsh criticism about her race and appearance — not just from viewers, but also from her graduate school professors. While the comments could have decidedly change the course of her career, Yates found strength and support from family and friends to fight back against the critics and grow from the experience.

Logging long hours in front of the camera and in the field is all in a day’s work for Yates, who commutes each day from her home in Punta Gorda. She and her husband, Dr. Ritchie Fevrier, an anesthesiologist in Ft. Myers, will celebrate their second anniversary in October.

Bobeth and Ritchie and Ritchie at their wedding at Mar-aLago Club in Palm Beach
Bobeth and Ritchie and Ritchie at their wedding at Mar-aLago Club in Palm Beach.

In her own words, Yates talks about the hard lessons she learned in television, the biggest misconception about the industry, and the secret behind the success of Suncoast View.

How did you land your first job in television?
When I was at Florida State University, I was working at the CBS affiliate as a writer. I just called them one day and said “Hey, I’m a student. Do you need help?” They said “Yes, come on in.”  It started off as a paid internship. After graduation it turned into full time position. I wanted to be on air.They said I still needed some grooming. The impatient me said I was just going to get my master’s and then I can get the experience I need and I won’t be just waiting around to see if they want to put me on air. That prompted me to apply for a master’s in journalism program. I narrowed it down to the top three: Syracuse, Columbia and Northwestern. I got into Syracuse and I was like oh my! Who knew? I didn’t expect it.

So you’re a Florida girl and moving up north. How was that transition?
I had never been to that part of the world. When I got my acceptance letter, before I started my program, I had a few months to spare. I decided to move to NYC to give me a buffer, but I had never been to the city. I had some friends who had graduated and were working at MTV and asked them if they had any jobs. I had almost a year before I started school. I quit my job in Tallahassee on Friday, was in New York City on Saturday, and started working at MTV on Monday.

Bobeth and Ritchie on their honeymoon in Maldives.
Bobeth and Ritchie on their honeymoon in Maldives.

How did you find living in New York?
I had to move out of the friend’s apartment after two weeks and find a place in the city. I realized that my job at MTV wasn’t going to be enough so I ended up having to juggle. I started emailing everyone I had ever met and anyone who I thought was working in TV. Someone offered me a position which was, at that time, a war reporter. It was just after 9.11. I would go in, watch the overnight feeds and write up short pieces for Tom Brokaw. I never met anybody. It was just me in the room with three other people. We got there around 2-3 a.m. I would write stuff up, leave, then head over to MTV and to “The View.” I wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m. It was a countdown until I started. I didn’t want to make it look like I couldn’t do it – so I had to literally continue this pattern the entire time I was in NYC. It was my motivation to finish until school started.

What were some of the realities you faced in Syracuse?
I was thinking this was my time to relax, but, Syracuse was a rude awakening. The first day you are there they tell you the first month is like boot camp. They put us through hell. It’s really intensive. Mind you, they only take 30 people, so how much are they weeding out? I had never really shot for myself at that time, nor had I edited for myself. Part of this boot camp is to learn everything – from a one man band through the entire reporting cycle.  We would direct, do weather, and literally every single day we had a newscast. When I would arrive for the day, I would find out what I was going to do. Even if I had never done it before, I was being graded on a scale of the level they expected. They would grade on a scale of 1-20. There were days I would get a zero.

I would say to myself, “How do I get a zero when I actually did something and showed up?” I wasn’t used to trying and not succeeding. For me, that was a harder situation than what I went through in New York. I was tired in New York but at least I was accomplishing something. I had a paycheck or I had the ability to say I got an apartment. I was making it happen. Here, I was doing everything at the end of the week, and I would have all of these points, but have single digit numbers. It was really tough. I started to feel that they didn’t want me there.

Bobeth horseback riding in Pennsylvania.

There were other things that happened where I thought my race was coming into play. I was one of two African Americans chosen for the program. The other student ended up not finishing the program. The professors are very hard nosed. They would say to me, “Maybe, we made a wrong choice. Should we not have picked you? Should we have given your spot to someone else?” I don’t know if it was for motivation or if it was for something else. At the time, I thought, “Does he really not like me as a person?” I started taking things a little bit more personal.

There were times that part of the grading was based on looks. They would tell me certain things that I couldn’t do. I would get points off because my hair was not straight enough. My hair can’t do that. That it in itself is racially biased. You can’t expect my hair to do something it cannot naturally do. Maybe I could have spent some money to figure it out, but that was not a realistic expectation. Now I’m at work and I have a different income and a different perspective, but in college where would I have gone to get that money?  They would say “Do you want it or don’t you want it? Do what you have to do.” While I get the concept now, at the time, I couldn’t fathom. I had never experienced people being so bold about it.

Have you ever had anything like that happen since then? A consultant or someone saying your look is not what we want?
Oh yes, all the time, consultants or agents. It was an experience. I think it was the first time I was called colored and actually called nigger. It was definitely a tough experience.

Did it deter you?
No, it made me want to fight. It made me angry. I was also part of an African American sorority graduate city chapter in Syracuse and they helped motivate me. They said, “You are not going to let them win.” In the end, when I graduated I hated them. I hate to say that but, I was done with them, done with the city.

The funny part about it though is about a year after I graduated, I realized everything I went through made me a better person and a better reporter. That hate and the resentment that I had made me feel almost accomplished. I’ve been through worse and I survived. I went to the number one broadcasting school in the country. Even if sometimes I feel a little too optimistic, I feel that they were preparing me for something that I might have dealt with in real life. When people said certain things to me, I was prepared. I wasn’t freaking out. I wasn’t emotional. When I look back, I say, “Oh my God. I wonder if this was part of my growing process?” The way it turned out for me is that the anger and resentment I felt from a professor saying something negative to me was actually helping me. I can’t believe I grew from that experience.

What do you love about being an anchor on Suncoast View and the dynamics with the other hosts?
(Laughs) A lot of time I wish it was scripted. I wouldn’t say half of the things I say. Stephanie is the moderator. She has a lot more of the scripted part, so she introduces a topic. After she reads it, then we talk about it. It’s funny, before we started I thought Linda was going to be the very, very conservative one and Stephanie would be the liberal. I’ve realized Linda is the most non-conservative person ever! She’s willing and down for most things people wouldn’t believe. I think, in my role, they like to surprise me and get that initial response that is raw emotion. Once I actually think about it, I’m more conservative about what I’m going to say. Sometimes it’s fun – I think, “Did I just say that? Am I going to get hate mail?”

Favorite book: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Favorite Book:
The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood

When you are in the newsroom you don’t get to know a lot of your coworkers on a personal level, but we have gotten to know each other. I can call Linda and spend the night at her house if I don’t want to drive home. I think the best part is the lesson I have learned. Normally when people don’t agree with you, you get angry, or think ‘I can’t believe this person thinks this way.’ This show has taught me that regardless of your views on something, you can actually have some common ground where you can agree to disagree, still like each other, and still be friends.

Do you think that is the recipe for success to the show?
I think it is the fact that the audience doesn’t know what we’re going to say or how we’re going to respond. It’s all about the balance. Everyone wants to get their viewpoint across and find the right time to speak and find the balance of listening. The best way to describe it is like a conversation with some girlfriends at a bar or over drinks. That’s the kind of dynamic. We respect each other to know when a person is speaking and let them get their point across. It’s not about making it all about you. Each viewer that is watching may have a completely different opinion or may agree with one of us. The idea is not to alienate everyone – get different viewpoints out there and hope when you say something, it’s not crazy.

Favorite Pandora Station: Uptown Funk

Favorite Pandora Station: Uptown Funk

What is your comfort zone: anchoring or reporting?
If you had asked me that question back in September when we started the show, I would have said reporting. In reporting you’re not speaking an opinion. You have a topic, you’re right in the middle and you tell both sides. Every time I go on a story my goal is to get both sides upset at me. I feel if both sides are not happy that means I did a good job of presenting both sides of the story because this person doesn’t want this view to be heard, etc. If you tell both of their opposite views, they will say you told my view but, I didn’t want to hear that side of the story. My opinion doesn’t matter.

With the View, it is my point of view. I never have the opportunity to give my real opinions on a story as a reporter. There are some I did that I don’t agree with but, I would cover as the story as if it were my baby and I agreed with it. On the Suncoast View, I do stories and if I think this is the dumbest idea in the world, I say it. The funny thing is that there are days I cover stories and then the next day we talk about it on the show. And I think, “Should I tell them I think its a really dumb idea?”  That has been a balance. I am aware of stories I can comment on. I get a lot of angry mail. If people don’t like it, well, other people do. One person out there may agree with my opinion.

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