Editors’ note: This story was written before the May 27 announcement that Robyne Robinson was chosen by DFL gubernatorial hopeful Matt Entenza to be his running mate as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Twenty years is an eternity for TV newscasters, but Robyne Robinson stood prominently amidst a mostly vanilla-colored media landscape, where Blacks and people of color are few.
Last month, Robinson announced that she was leaving her prime-time anchor post at KMSP-TV after 20 years to solely concentrate on her growing jewelry designing company, ROX Minneapolis.
After previous stops in Virginia, Dallas and Baltimore, the Chicago native Robinson joined Channel 9 as a weekend reporter in June 1990 and eventually rose to be the first Black woman to anchor a local prime-time newscast. She later became the first Black female to be named senior anchor of a local news operation. She easily was the most recognizable Black on local television during her two-decade stint.
“Being in Minnesota has been the longest I have been in any market,” said Robinson during a May 25 interview, a day before she signed off her final newscast May 26. “It’s wonderful that viewers want you in their homes every night, so I feel very blessed to have such a long sphere in television news.”
She did more than just read the nightly news, noted Robinson. “You are a public servant entity for providing your community what they need in their lives,” she explained. “That’s what it really started out to be.”
Over the years, Robinson expertly displayed her journalistic chops, snatching interviews with many key local, national and international figures. She provided continuous coverage, anchoring big events such as the 35W bridge collapse, the Wellstone plane crash and the 2008 Republican National Convention. She also launched The Buzz, a local arts and entertainment program that highlighted upcoming local artists: Prince once gave her a rare one-on-one interview, a personal highlight for her.
Robinson in 2005 won an Upper Midwest Emmy for best anchor. She also was honored over the years by the NAACP, the Associated Press, Minnesota Broadcasters Association, and she serves on several local boards.
Furthermore, she is most proud of telling “stories of people in everyday life” that oftentimes are ignored by mainstream news each night on the air during her time at Channel 9. “It’s hard to pinpoint what stories” stood out more than others, she surmised. “I think all those things really helped to make my career here very interesting, and it was really a pleasure to report on. The thing that I am proudest of is my arts and entertainment coverage in this town.”
If there was any disappointment she can point to, however, Robinson noted the fact that the number of Blacks on local TV news is lower than when she first arrived on the scene in 1990. “There had been more people of color on the air than there are now,” she lamented as she listed among others Tony Stafford, Lou Harvin and Carolyn Brooker working as Black TV news journalists at Twin Cities stations. “It was a packed house. But over the years, a lot of those persons have come and gone.”
She could only list herself and WCCO’s Angela Davis as Black women regularly seen today as local anchors, as well as a few Black reporters. “I think it is truly important to have a broader [number] of reporters [of color] than we do,” Robinson continues. “I’ve had people in the Hmong community say that I am the only face that they have to look at that’s somewhat like themselves. I think the news managers in this market have to do more than just recruit reporters [of color] but [also] to retain them. We have to do more.”
Despite the declining numbers of Black journalists nationwide, more Black reporters are needed in local television newsrooms, believes Robinson. “I would hate to say that one day all they remember is somebody from 20 years ago,” she noted. “It is important to have our stories told [by Blacks].”
She admits that local TV news coverage has changed over the years. The rise in blogs also has affected how news is covered, she added.
“I think it changed a lot,” Robinson believes. “I think we [mainstream journalists] kind of rolled over because we were afraid of being limited by access. The economic health [in newsrooms] also affects how news is covered.
“After 20 years, it’s time to do something different,” said Robinson, who doesn’t see her leaving a successful journalism career as some sort of mid-life chance endeavor, definitely not for someone who once owned a gallery in Minneapolis for several years “where we did a lot for emerging artists,” she pointed out. It’s simply time for her to stop leading a “double life” and instead devote her entire energy on her many business interests.
“I look at this as more than just a hobby. I have stores that I sell my jewelry to in five [U.S.] cities: Santa Fe [New Mexico], the Twin Cities, Tampa [Fla.], Naples [Fla.] and New York,” said Robinson, adding that she also has overseas clients as well. “I am beginning to go on-line.”
As she leaves the public scene on a nightly basis, Robinson wants Twin Cities viewers to know that she will miss them probably more than the other way around. “I am so grateful for having been here 20 years. I just want to thank [them] for allowing me to come into their homes every night,” she surmised.
And to the Black community, Robinson wants them to know that as a Black journalist “I was always there,” she concluded. “Please support the Black media, Black journalists. I hope that people will remember that I wanted to be an advocate for them.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-record er.com.