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EYE ON THE MEDIA A RISING AFTERNOON STAR: MARION BROOKS
by David R. Guarino
2001-05-23

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Recently I presented an interview that I shared with Channel 5's enigmatic afternoon anchor on the move, Mark Suppelsa. This week the spotlight turns to Suppelsa's co-anchor of WMAQ-TV Chicago's 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. weekday newscasts, the lovely and talented Marion Brooks.

A native of Vancouver, BC, Brooks is a graduate of Spellman College with a degree in English. She then found her way to Jacksonville, Fla., and in 1991 began a two-year stint as a general assignment reporter and morning anchor at WJKS-TV. Notably, Marion received an Associated Press Award for her reporting in that same year. Brooks then moved on to KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Mo., and a tenure that garnered her an Emmy nomination for her outstanding coverage of the 1993 Midwest Flood.

Atlanta, Ga., Beckoned in 1996 and Brooks landed a position as noon anchor and general assignment reporter on the 5 and 6 p.m. weekday newscasts at WSB-TV.

Marion became part of the NBC 5 Chicago Newsteam in January 1998 and currently co-anchors the 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. newscasts with Suppelsa. She frequently fills in as co-anchor on the 10 p.m. news as well. Brooks has established herself as a respected Medical Reporter and has been responsible for many informative and timely "NBC 5 HealthWatch" reports.

DG: Marion, from watching your broadcasts and reading your bio, I know you are a medical reporter. Is your involvement in this area by accident or design?

MB: That was an accident. When Joan Esposito left, she was the medical reporter ( at NBC ) . ... And they moved me to do one of the shows she was doing, and they asked me if I would be willing to do the medical report. I really did not have an interest; I'm a general assignment reporter at heart.

DG: Do you enjoy covering a story right at the scene? Do you like the live shots and traveling and the rest of it? Do you enjoy that more than being an anchor?

MB: Yeah, I do. Because you meet people, you get to feel the community. You can just sense the people and what's important to them. ... So in a way that's kind of a gauge, a nice barometer to get out there and see what people are thinking and to feel what's important to them. And people approach you with other stories and it really makes you feel that you're part of the community.

Then, as an anchor, you relate to what you're talking about. ... I don't get to go out into the street and do general assignment work as much as I used to, obviously because of my schedule. Because I'm doing Medical now. So now I'm being exposed to a completely different group of people; with doctors and hospitals and that kind of thing. So that's a little different. Still part of a community, so no less important, but different. ... But you know the thing about some of these folks with these medical stories is that they can be so inspirational.

DG: I notice you spent a part of your earlier years as an anchor in Jacksonville, Fla. Did you enjoy that?

MB: Yeah, I did. I enjoyed Jacksonville. That was a real learning spot for me. There were people there who had been journalists for many years, and so I learned a lot. ... And then in St. Louis I really grew to appreciate the Midwest. The people are like, "Give it to me straight, no run around, just give it to me and give it to me straight." And I loved that. I was there during the 1993 flood when the whole Midwest was flooded. It started in April and the floods were not over until September. You know The Mississippi is on the tributaries and so it just spread out, it was incredible. .

DG: The pairing of you and Mark Suppelsa seems quite apropos.

MB: I love Mark. I love working with him. He's so easygoing and he's a generous anchor. We really communicate well together even without speaking because so much of it is wanting the show to flow, you know you want it to feel good. ... I feel like he's got my back. I think he's one of the smartest, best reporters I've ever come across, so I respect him professionally. And he's a great guy, he's such a nice person. ... There were times in my career when I wasn't so happy to work with people that I was working with. So I know when it doesn't go well, and how important it is to have somebody that you really do click with.

DG: What was your favorite job not connected with your career at NBC?

MB: When I was working in St. Louis. Absolutely. I had such a great experience there. I had great contacts, there was a huge story going on when I first got there and so I got to get out and meet so many different people. I really respected the people I worked with. And it was a great time for growth for me. I started there as a general assignment reporter and then I got promoted to weekend anchoring doing both, which was nice. Outside of Chicago, it was the one place that I really enjoyed working.

DG: What part of your job do you like the least and why?

MB: Sometimes it's very difficult to not have the time and the resources to do the stories that you really want to do. For example, for me, it's very difficult, whenever I go out on a story, no matter what it is, I have to be back in the station at 2:30 p.m. That really puts a damper on my ability to gather news because even if I were to leave at 9, you know, what if you get on a groove and you're really getting good stuff?

DG: Who would you say are the most difficult people to interview? Celebrities, politicians, victims of crime?

MB: Well, let's see. Celebrities I don't interview very often, so I'll just drop them off. But I think there's always a challenge in dealing with victims of crime. Because you are in someone's face at a really difficult time. I can remember interviewing people right after they've found out someone's been killed and there's just nothing harder than to talk to a person like that. ... Some people do really want to talk about their loved one, and that makes it, OK, fine. But some people are like, "How dare you come into my world?" And you say, "I know, I'm sorry." And yet some people, you'd be surprised, are so open. They want other people to know about their loved one ( s ) , and what they feel about their loved one ( s ) . Almost as if it's sort of a memorial to that person. ... One thing I hate doing is funerals.

DG: What attributes do you possess that you would say have played a major role in your success?

MB: I think curiosity is a big one. Just a natural curiosity. I do enjoy research, so digging for information, looking for tidbits and things like that. And I think I get along well. I think I'm pretty good at meeting people and getting to know them. I think I have a strong sense of writing and perspective. And I think one of my major strengths is sort of an element of diversity. I've always brought an element of diversity wherever I've been just because I'm a Black woman. You're usually one of a few, so I think that's strength. I don't know if that's an attribute, that's a strength. But I think it helps. Because I think it helps others. It helps the newsroom. It helps me as a person, because the experiences that I have give me a broader thought process. You know what I mean?

DG: Marion, what was one of the most devastating losses you've ever suffered?

MB: My grandmother was a tough one. She had Alzheimer's; she died years before she died. And it was hard to lose her because she was very important to me. And I was 21 or 22 when she was diagnosed and that was pretty tough. And then the last time I saw her she was still relatively lucid. She would forget things but her personality was still there. And ( the day came when ) my mother said, "Don't see her again. Let your final memories be what they are." Because I lived away, and my grandmother lived in Victoria, British Columbia. When my mother said, "Don't go," I thought that was the most giving, wonderful thing she could do. So I never saw my grandmother after that but my final memory of her is still very positive. I'm going to cry. By the time my grandmother died it was a blessing.

DG: What journalist who does not work at NBC do you admire the most?

MB: Probably Carol Marin. Because she is first of all a woman and I know she came around at a time when it was not easy to be a woman in this business. Not only that, she rose to the top of her craft, she's a fantastic journalist, she's also an anchor and so I relate to her in the sense that she's always had a dual job as well. And she's managed to just take that and run and do amazing things. She's done incredible work, more than that, her standards are just so high, and she's so concerned with the industry and the importance of the industry. She's everything that I want to be one day.

DG: Do you know Carol?

MB: Yes! I wish I knew her better and I wish I'd worked with her because she tends to help people. I mean, she's a good mentor. And she's actually called me and given me advice on things and I just love it when she does. On any level, someone who's willing to do that, no matter what the issues, to me is already an admirable sort of person.

DG: Aside from your tenure at NBC 5, what has been the happiest time of your life, Marion and why?

MB: I enjoyed college a lot. Spellman ( College ) is a predominately Black all-women's college. I grew up in Portland, Ore., which has a very small Black population. When I got to Spellman I realized the real education I needed was one about myself and my community and how I fit into the world. It was there that I became proud and happy and excited about my blackness and who I am, being an African American. The heritage. What we've done as a people. That's where I learned the appreciation, because of the variety of African American people I was around. And I just learned so much. The education; there was such a sense of pride and history and you know, a reminder that this community has done a lot for this country.

E-mail: DavdRonald@aol.com


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