By DeNita Lacking-Quinn
Clarice Tinsley has graced our homes through the art of journalism since 1978 and is the longest-serving news anchor in the Dallas/Fort Worth television metroplex, most in-depth stories affecting Texas and the world. We have watched her take on heavy stories and become one of Dallas’ most recognized and respected broadcast journalists.
We began the interview in the hall of Mrs. Tinsley’s home showcasing memorabilia of her at the Berlin Wall, sitting in a Air Force Fighter Jet and of course her gracing the cover of the 1998 Dallas Weekly.
Growing up in the middle of the civil rights movement in Detroit, Clarice’s journalist spark was ignited by her mother. She felt Clarice had the ability and love of writing. Clarice spoke of how her mother would push her into writing with purpose.
“My mom was a teacher and my dad worked for the city of Detroit [and] were very verbal,” Clarice explained, “we read a lo,t we talked a lot, so asking questions, I think, was kind of a normal outgrowth of that but my mom noticed that I liked to write and she felt ‘well maybe you’ll have a career as a writer.’ she was thinking as maybe a novel or a book not necessarily, television because you know you didn’t see us on TV back then but she and my dad wanted me to have as many opportunities as possible; so they exposed my sister and me to a lot of different things. So she gave me an assignment and I like to say she was my first assignment editor! she said I’m giving you this book, blank pages, and every day I want you to fill one page with something that you’ve imagined something that you saw or something that you experienced from church from school from the neighborhood your imagination and I loved it ’cause in that book I was the boss and those were my ideas and those were my thoughts and that was kind of like being the beginning of being a reporter.”
Clarice, then on the junior high school paper as a reporter at Angelique Bobian junior high school in Detroit and felt her agency. The responsibility and authority to question folks at her discretion and get answers was an exhilarating feeling for her.
She wrote articles and was the co-editor of the paper, and eventually moved up to editor. Clarice didn’t work in journalism in high school, but when she got into Wayne State University in Detroit she chose to be a double major in journalism and humanities.
“It was more print journalism, but then I saw radio/TV/film and I thought that’s what I want to major in so I majored in [it] and I graduated a year ahead of schedule…I got a four year degree in three years and it was a great experience and then I got my first job in Milwaukee in 1975 in July at WITI TV six” Clarice recalls.
Now it’s 1975 in Milwaukee. The civil rights movement had helped inform Clarice about the power of the media, particularly the power of broadcast journalism. Newspaper reporters were writing about the events of the movement, but it was the television reporters and the photographers who ushered the movement into the living rooms of Americans. The influence of the television medium was not lost on Clairce at all.
“You see it. And let the world see fire cannons attacking peaceful protesters, and there was a power that I saw with television journalism. I thought ‘wow’ you can really experience that as a viewer through television…it just captivated me. To be able to have that kind of power instead of reading about it, but you see it, and you hear it, that’s what I want to do … that is a lot of power in that and seeing that…” She knew.
By this time Clarice was in Milwaukee, a young journalist looking to make a name for herself in the “boys club” industry where women found themselves in the mid 70s workforce. At that time, she looked to the seasoned professionals for support and guidance.
“I wasn’t the first woman in The Newsroom. I wasn’t the first black person in The Newsroom. I had great role models and there were veterans who were very supportive; however, I was right out of college, so what I had to deal with was people who had worked their whole careers to get to Milwaukee. That’s where I was starting and at that time Milwaukee was the 34th market ;34th market out of 200, that was a really great start.”
“I knew I had to earn that. I didn’t think ‘oh, I’m in Milwaukee I’ve made it!’ it was like no I got to earn this and so I went to the veterans and the people that I really respected. After they could see that I was serious, they were very generous and they were very open and Milwaukee …I was there 3 1/2 years, started as a reporter and by the time I left I was reporting on five days a week, I was co-anchoring the noon news, solo anchoring the Saturday night 10:00 o’clock, and producing and co-hosting two public affairs shows.”
That is a 6 day a week schedule working most of the day each day. The pay off is a deep understanding of work, and working for a reason that is necessary; the education of public affairs and events to the entire community. It’s the foundation of becoming a media icon with longevity and integrity. With that type of determination I asked Clarice to tell me about the leaders and the influencers in her life that she looked to and gave her inspiration.
“I start with my mother who is 97-years young. She is vital, she is open, she is elegant, she is strong, she’s wise, she is the most amazing person that I know and I am proud to be her daughter. My dad is deceased and he’s been gone for 26 years. I am proud to be his daughter. These are the people who helped form me… [they] gave me that foundation to know that I had value, to know that I had a voice, that I was going to find my own place in the world and then you know have to work hard to do it because nothing is guaranteed, but they they really enriched my life to such a very strong degree”
Clarice puts notable historical figures as her inspiration as well. Without hyperbole she looks to the great Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hammer, Michelle Obama and women who are unyielding in there will to succeed in their mission. But she also recognizes the hometown hero in every woman. She earnestly believes that the everyday woman is an inspiration. You can find these role models all around you and celebrate them, and elevate them in your own life and community.
Knowing all that, it won’t be hard to understand how Clairce adapted in the 2020 pandemic to continue her work to bring her audience the news. She set up in her home, had equipment to stream and did the job for 18 months from 5:30 to 10:00. Experience pays off as well. With a simple inhale exhale Clarice demonstrated in one take a reading without a prompter to camera without missing a beat. Easy.
Clarice is a moving force not comfortable staying still letting life happen around her. I asked her what she sees in the future for herself.
“I get bored and so I wanna move to the next level. I had no idea I would ever end up as a broadcast journalist, and be able to work from home. So maybe an angry newscast from home.” She jokingly says,”we need to stay open and to be thinking and aggressive and think what’s next, what’s new, what’s possible.”
So now we are looking back at the legacy of Clarice Tinsley. Over 40 years of work, journalism and industry accolades,and the respect of the metroplex, she is a staple of the Dallas community and media landscape. The next generation of anchors, journalists and reporters are coming up as she was in the early and mid 70s. The media industry has changed and the audience has changed. I wanted to know what message would Clarice want to give to those women who are standing on her shoulders.
“What’s old is new. Even though I’ve got social media that I’m dealing with, I’ve got all the cameras – all the technology, it’s still about facts and it’s still about the truth, and it’s about journalism. That’s going to inform people and make them better informed citizens.” She responded to the inquiry
“so for future anchors for current anchors and future anchors it’s truthful information mix the facts it’s being prepared every day it’s being on your game every day and it’s not working for perfection because we’re human and I don’t believe that that’s possible but it’s working for excellence hard work and high standards every day every newscast”
The story comes full circle. I know because I am a part of it; a member of the young girls that stand on the shoulders of Clarice Tinsley, I am a part of that clan. I was 8 when I saw her, and I’m 42 now, and as that young girl now here, I want to thank Clarice for her work, her professionalism and we are grateful. I am here now with the Dallas Weekly interviewing her about her life and legacy. The goal was achieved. The outreached rewarded and the influence direct. The honor is definitely mine, and the next generation is in debt.