NewsChannel 5 Network honored at Nashville HRC Dinner for leadership in diversity

by Debbie Turner
President and General Manager
WTVF NewsChannel 5

Thank you for this tremendous honor. My name is Debbie Turner, and I have the privilege of being the President and General Manager of the NewsChannel 5 Network.

Our focus on inclusiveness and diversity began several years ago. Early in my days as GM, I was asked by a group of African American employees if I would meet with them. I was pretty sure I wasn’t receiving the best boss award, but I wasn’t prepared for their message. Bottom line, they didn’t feel included at the station. I was astonished because that was the polar opposite of the kind of company I wanted to lead. I look back on that day, as receiving one of the biggest gifts I have ever received. So, from that day forward we have focused on diversity and inclusiveness, both inside and outside the station. Part of this effort includes creating shows for niche audiences.

So, that is how we got to the summer of 2005 and the launch of the only locally produced show serving the GLBT community. Church bulletins throughout the midsouth urged parishioners to call or e-mail NewsChannel 5 to let us know they would no longer watch our station because we were promoting this deplorable, immoral and sinful lifestyle. Major employers in town sent out news bulletins to their employees to contact us about our plans to air this despicable programming. Threats of boycotts, both in viewership and advertising were constant. We responded to thousands of brutally nasty e-mails and phone calls…and we responded to each and every one. I personally met  with numerous ministers, business leaders and advertisers - each meeting it seemed, worse than the last. The Southern Baptist convention was coming to town and there were rumblings that they would be picketing NC5. The negative out cry outside the station was numbing. All of us in this room know that people can hate for no reason. This was a barrage of hate that felt very personal at times.

Inside the station, life was even harder. I did not have the buy in of the majority of my team in embarking on this path.  Key station leaders publicly questioned my decision making and insisted I concede. In one of the most tense staff meetings I ever held, I was told that this would ruin channel response I firmly asked for the trust and support of my team to do what was right for the future of NewsChannel 5.

NewsChannel 5 not only still stands, but it is the number one station in town and a top CBS affiliate in the country. That kind of success only happens as a result of earning the trust and loyalty of the people in this room and rooms like this one filled with other minority communities. I personally want to thank the hundreds of you who reached out to us to show your support. Your encouragement  gave us the strength to remain standing tall. Many of you provided me ongoing counsel, several your advertising support. To all, I say thank you.

I think back to this time with great pride. There are people here tonight that deserve special recognition for being on the frontline of this endeavor. I would like to recognize my Senior Director of Operations , Richard Eller for his unwavering support. I would like to thank members of our Leveraging Difference Steering team who daily work to make NewsChannel 5 more diverse and inclusive. I, of course, want to thank Out and About Newspaper, Jerry Jones, Brent Meredith, Pam Wheeler, and the 5+ team for their continued efforts on this program. But at the pinnacle of all of the recognition, I want to salute Michelle Bonnett who, as the Department Head of 5+,  launched this show and several other niche programs and has continued to support inclusiveness throughout our station and the Nashville community through some incredibly difficult times.  Michelle was a relatively new manager at the time we embarked on our diversity programs. I can assure you she has grown into a tremendous leader in her own right.

This Leadership Award is something we at NewsChannel 5 will do our best to remain worthy of for years to come. I look around at all the sponsors this evening who also have taken risks with the majority to serve us as a minority. We as a community must remember to actively support the businesses that support us. Let us grow each others businesses in order to create more opportunities for each of us in the room this evening.

Again, thank you.

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