Two years ago, she said she wanted to be the Shonda Rhimes of broadcast news.
On Wednesday, Nneka Nwosu Faison was named executive producer of WCVB Channel 5’s “Chronicle,” the longest-running locally produced news magazine in the country.
It’s not “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” but this woman is making media moves.
Let’s get it out of the way: Faison is the first black woman in this role. “Chronicle” is 37 years old — the same age as Faison.
And yes, she’s motivated to bring diversity to the show. But diversity is not why she got the job.
Princeton, Columbia, Nieman, and a lifelong dedication to excellence is how she got here.
“Over the course of her impressive career here at Chronicle, as well as at stations across New England, Nneka has demonstrated a commitment to excellence, great story-telling ability, strong leadership skills, and a vision for innovation that make her the ideal person to build on Chronicle’s decades of success,” Bill Fine, WCVB Channel 5 president and general manager, said in an announcement.
In just six years at WCVB, she’s gone from producer and reporter to managing editor to executive producer. Last month, Faison was named one of the Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.
“Every job I’ve ever had, if there was something new that we had to learn or do, I would do it,” she said. “I wanted a job in television so bad, if they said shoot and edit and report your own stories, I would do it. When Twitter came out, I said I’ll do it. I may not be the best reporter or producer, but I’m the most enthusiastic. I’ve created a reputation for myself of being someone who isn’t afraid of innovation. In our business, that can be scary.”
The Emmy award-winning journalist pioneered the “Chronicle” podcast and newsletter because even though it’s a TV show, she believes it’s important to reach everyone where they are.
Chris Stirling, the current executive producer, will retire at the end of the year after 35 years at “Chronicle.” He’s happy to see Faison as his successor.
“I’ve admired her talents since the day she joined ‘Chronicle’ as a producer in 2013. And I’ve come to rely on her as a dependable partner in her time with me as managing editor,” Stirling said in a statement. “She’s already shown an instinct for innovation (hello, podcast), and I can’t wait to see where she’ll guide Chronicle as she and the team continue to produce the best local television program in the country.”
For more than three decades, “Chronicle” has told the stories of the people, places, and things of New England. So what does Faison have in mind for its future? More nuance.
Friends her age and younger tell her their mamas love the show. She wants them to love the show, too. It’s a show for her husband and, when they are older, her children as well. It’s for all of New England, she says.
People of color will tell her they only cover the bad news. That’s not true, but she wants to showcase even more of the good.
“I personally think the reason the show survives is we do stories New Englanders don’t always think about,” she says. “People don’t always want to see shootings, car crashes, and these horrible things. They want to see the people and the communities. We provide context in a world and in a time when people think all local news is bad news, and it’s not.”
In a time as divisive as now, she’s aware of the pressure for any black person with a platform. She’s ready, too.
Faison was 5 years old when her father gave her the talk.
She was in the backseat of the car when he told her that once she walked into her classroom, the teacher would assume she was the dumbest person in the room.
“He said I would walk in with a C and have to work for an A,” she remembers. “I always have that in the back of my mind.”
There are always people who will doubt you when you are a woman. And doubt you double when you are a black woman. This drives Faison not just to be better, but to love people.
“I want people to succeed,” she said. “I feel invested in their careers. In a newsroom, there are people who are 22 and people who are 70. I can have lunch with them all. It’s important to get along with people.”
And you can do that and still represent for those who go unrepresented.
“Sometimes our show is criticized for being very white,” she said. “New England is very white. But I personally, as well as several other producers, make an effort to find those stories our audience wouldn’t otherwise see. Stories like the one we did on the interracial community of Malaga Island. Reaching a more diverse audience is a priority of mine.”
Hence her Shonda Rhimes dreams. Rhimes disrupted a white primetime narrative as producer, writer, and creator of shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “Private Practice.” Now she’s bringing that inclusive storytelling to Netflix.
“I saw a black woman as lead actress on network TV, on primetime because of Shonda Rhimes. I saw diverse casts and staff,” Faison says. “I know what it meant to me to see black women on television. I had an assistant news director before who was black. It’s important. I realized I could have more influence in management and better motivate staff to think in different ways.”
With Faison, “Chronicle” turns the page.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.