I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Emmy award-winning journalist LaSalle Blanks. Having worked for 13 News Now, the Hampton Roads ABC News affiliate, for over 16 years, Blanks understands the hard work that goes into professional journalism.
Having reported from places all around the world and collecting professional accolades along the way — including a Virginia Association of Broadcasters Award for a series on racial issues and having a special appearance on “Wheel of Fortune” — Blanks has proven that hard work really does pay off.
“I knew I wanted to be on TV doing some kind of reporting when I was a kid … (at age) seven or eight years old,” Blanks said. “It started with me trying to be a Yankees announcer. … I would turn down the volume, and start calling the game and report for myself.”
When he got a little older, Blanks would watch Bryant Gumbel on NBC’s “Today Show” and it was then that he decided he wanted to be a reporter.
“He sort of became my role model, because I saw somebody on air who was using his mind, and that appealed to me,” Blanks said. “I thought (to myself), ‘this guy’s smart.’”
From there, Blanks went into print journalism in high school as a sports writer for his hometown paper, the Fairfield Citizen, but his true passion was broadcast.
Today, Blanks is living out his dream. As a broadcast journalist for 13 News Now, he is the Social Media Anchor and he hosts his own daily show at 4 p.m. called “Making Your Mark,” highlighting the positive news that happens around Hampton Roads.
In preparation for the daily tasks that come along with being a reporter for a major news station, Blanks said it is critical for journalists to keep up with current events. He said as a reporter, “you have to know what’s going on.”
“You can’t have viewers come up to you and say, ‘Hey, did you hear about that?’” Blanks said, “ … You’re the one who’s supposed to be giving them the information.”
As for how to remain on top of the news cycle in today’s social media-driven society, Blanks said the new technology has totally transformed how the journalism industry operates.
“(Social media) has completely changed my career because I have a completely new role at the station,” Blanks said of his promotion to Social Media Anchor. “I used to anchor the morning show … for 15 years and then (social media) happened … and this is where our industry is going.”
During the station’s research on how to adapt to the new online media presence, it discovered that Blanks was the No. 1 personality on Facebook and Twitter in Hampton Roads.
“It used to be when we were on TV, when we said ‘breaking news,’ that was the first that you heard about it,” Blanks said. “But now, when you pick up your phone, … that’s your first hint of what’s going on, and then you might turn on the TV. That’s a complete role-reversal.”
In this new position and as an anchor for his daily show, Blanks has made it his goal to focus on the often-forgotten good news of Hampton Roads. When you see your local news stations’ headlines, “you may think your hometown is the crime capital of the world,” Blanks said. He wants to play a role in changing that perspective.
But the interviews and story assignments are not always easy. In fact, early on in his professional career, Blanks was sent to Lansing, Michigan, to interview the president of the Klu Klux Klan because of a rally they were hosting on the state’s capitol steps.
“It was tough for obvious reasons,” Blanks said of covering that story as an African-American. “But you still treat every interview the same. It’s your job; you go in and get information. And he actually gave me a compliment at the end. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and went on my way.”
When moments like that come, Blanks said to remember what makes a good journalist. Remain factual in your reporting, tell the story and have thick skin, do not be afraid to ask questions and do not panic over finding the perfect phrase, “stay strong” and, “if you have a dream, go get it.”
From playing “Jeopardy” with Alex Trebek to acting alongside Susan Lucci in an episode of “All My Children,” Blanks has had many milestone moments as a television personality and journalist. But his greatest passion is true journalism —reporting the news and informing the public on issues that matter, in hopes of bettering society.