Teresa Tomeo

Tired of the increase in violence and bias in the media, she gave up a 20-year career in broadcast journalism to serve as a public speaker and media consultant. She spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Drake: Where did you grow up? Tell me about your family.

I was born in New Jersey, but have lived in the Detroit area all my life. I am the youngest of three sisters. My mother named me after St. Teresa of Avila, not realizing that it was Teresa's mouth that got her into trouble all the time. I come from a large Italian-American family. My mother comes from a family of 10, and my father comes from a family of five.

I attended St. Joan of Arc Catholic School and graduated from Central Michigan University with a journalism degree. My husband and I have been married for 18 years.

I've known since I was a child that I wanted to be in media.

The Sisters of St. Joseph were very encouraging to me in my reading and writing. They asked me to read a poem out loud during my third grade Christmas pageant. Holding the microphone in my hand, I got hooked. God instills unique gifts in all of us. Mine happens to be the gift of communicating.

How did you get your start in journalism?

There was no doubt that I was going into broadcast journalism. I had everything all planned out. I decided my major right away and worked for the college newspaper and radio station.

My goal was to have a television job when I was 30 years old. I was fortunate to start working in my hometown, and got my first television job at age 27. I was thrilled to be able to stay at home and cover an area that I knew well. I thought I would be in broadcast journalism all my life.

What led you to give it all up?

About seven or eight years ago, when I was still in television news, I began to notice a real change with increased violence and bias in the media, especially with regard to the issues of abortion and homosexual agenda.

The sleaze factor was skyrocketing. It seemed that all we were covering during prime time were murders and rape. Friends around the country said that they were noticing the same thing. I felt that God was asking me to do something different, but I didn't know what.

About two years ago, I received a phone call from a friend in public relations.

She explained to me how hard it was to get news stories for her clients. All the media seemed to want to cover was blood and guts, rape and murder. I mentioned some of the trends I had noticed and she invited me to come give a keynote on the subject. I wrote a 20-minute talk and it was a huge success. Many folks told me to take the show on the road. A year ago I took a big leap of faith and left my job as a news director at a local radio station to start my speaking career.

My goal now is to encourage all Christians to take a stand, fight back and improve the media in a positive way — to bring balance to the coverage and reduce violence. From my own experience and inside knowledge I can tell my seminar audiences when and whom to call.

When I decided to give it up I had reached the point where I couldn't justify doing it any longer for a living. It's an all-consuming kind of job that you can't get away from. You have to do what you're told. I'm far happier now.

Didn't this also coincide with a reversion-like experience?

When I got to college I forgot about my faith.

God became a weekly, and less than weekly thing for me. My husband and I became so successful so quickly that we didn't think we needed God. I started working nights as an anchor and we began to drift apart, almost to the point of separation. My husband got involved in a Bible study program and recommitted himself to the Lord. Meanwhile, I was a star.

Quite suddenly, changes were made at the independent station at which I worked, and I lost my job. One night I was the lead story, and the next night I was in the unemployment line.

Out of desperation I asked God back into my life. After I did that it seemed as if God were saying, “O.K., here's what we're going to do.” The following year my husband and I made a pilgrimage to Israel with our parish. It was at that time that I discovered that perhaps my communication gifts weren't for me, but were to be used for God.

What was it like being a person of faith in broadcast journalism?

It was very difficult at times, especially in the areas of life. I did a lot of coverage of Jack Kervorkian and whereas it was Kervorkian who was dropping dead bodies off at the Coroner's office, the media made it look like the Christians, and the Catholic bishop, were the lunatics on the fringe. It was very disheartening to see how the media kowtowed to the liberal side.

A recent study in Columbia Journalism Review found that over 60% of those in the news media have no faith at all. They are either atheist or agnostic. It's no wonder they're being subjective and reflecting only their own views in their coverage.

You have made a career out of telling people that they can make a difference in the secular media. How can people make a difference?

First, they have to become familiar with the form of media they wish to target. If they feel a particular station is biased in their coverage, they need to begin monitoring it and videotaping it.

Second, if there has been bias, they should write to the reporter, the news director, or the general manager. Letters that stations receive must be put into the station's files for FCC review. If several members of an organization, such as a church group, can sign a letter that is even better. A letter should be sent and followed up with a phone call or a meeting.

Viewers need to realize that they have a lot of power as a consumer. The TV audience has dropped. Inside Media Research reports that only about 1 out of every 4 adults watches local news. Avoidance of local news had doubled in the past 10 years. According toa survey done by CNN and Time, 75% of respondents feel that news media is sensationalistic. Individuals do not feel that local news pertains to anything in their life.

The news media has to listen. Consumers represent ratings dollars and all the mediums are fighting for a smaller piece of the pie. When I was growing up the choices were ABC, CBS, NBC and the independent station. Today there are more stations, as wellas radio and the Internet.

In addition, there are many advocacy organizations that people can get involved with. The Parents TV Council puts out a family programming list. They've taken away advertising dollars from Howard Stern and the WWF. There is also Focus on the Family, andthe U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops launched a national campaign with their document on “Renewing the Mind of the Media.”

Do you have any examples of individuals who have had success with the media?

One of my favorite is about a local Right to Life Lifespan group that noticed biased coverage of a life chain that was held on a Sunday in October a couple of years ago.

Hundreds of people lined up along a street in Detroit. However, it wasn't until about three or four abortion-rights protestors showed up across the street that a local news crew arrived. When they did, the news crew interviewed only the abortion-rights protestors.

The group taped the coverage, wrote a letter, and asked for a meeting with the general manager. After watching the tape he said, “You are absolutely right,” and the next year they received balanced coverage — which is the best that viewers canexpect. Ever since, the coverage has been very fair.