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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Ken Lemon

PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACK JOURNALISTS
TV JOURNALIST, WSOC TV
GASTONIA

As a TV journalist, Ken Lemon often talks to people in crisis. Armed with a video camera, he approaches people who may have just lost their home or a loved one, been the victim of crime or facing accusations themselves.

“You have to be honest with people and help them understand that I understand it’s the worst day of their life,” says Lemon, who works for WSOC TV, the ABC affiliate in Charlotte. “But you also tell them that I’d rather let people know what someone’s smile looked like rather than what their mangled car looks like.”

Lemon celebrated his 25th year anniversary working for WSOC last year, married Kortni Alston, chair of the department of Communications, Art and Design at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, and was elected president of the 4,000-member National Association of Black Journalists.

Lemon says he campaigned for the position because he believes in “championing diversity in the media.” He wants to see diversity spread beyond just those on camera or whose bylines appear on stories, to those who make newsroom decisions.

“The more Black people you have in journalism, the more stories you’re going to have from communities that are often overlooked,” says Lemon. “When you have diversity in your ranks, no matter what you are producing, studies show you tend to produce a better product.”

Lemon’s first inkling of a journalism career began when he took an aptitude test at New Hanover High School in his native Wilmington. It suggested five career choices. “I can’t even remember what the other four jobs were, but TV reporter was one of them.”

At UNC Wilmington, where he would serve as student body president, he had an internship with local radio station WFMD’s news department. Radio was not his calling, but from that internship Lemon earned a job recommendation with WECT TV in Wilmington after he graduated in 1992.

He started by editing video that TV news anchors read over the air. It was a low-profile job, one where the dress code allowed for jeans and a T-shirt. Co-workers razzed him because he often wore a shirt and tie. “I said, ‘One day I’m going to go into that manager’s office and I need him to see me as a reporter and not a news director,’” says Lemon. He had a reporter’s job within six months.

At WSOC, Lemon has won an Edward R. Murrow award, one of the highest honors in TV journalism, for his coverage of a church fire in Ranlo in Gaston County. He has also won three Emmy awards for news coverage in addition to several honors from The Associated Press.

He held several leadership roles with NABJ, an organization headquartered at the University of Maryland, before his election to president. He was a two-time president of the Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists, an organization he helped re-establish in 2008.

The Charlotte group last year awarded Lemon its Lifetime Achievement award. Also last year, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston awarded him a congressional recognition for his work in media diversity.

Lemon says his natural curiosity — questioning why something happened — has been one secret to his success in journalism. He considers it an honor when people allow him to tell their stories. Every day remains a challenge. “The minute you stop growing, there’s nothing left to do, and you become stale,” he says.

After three decades, Lemon says, he still loves his job.

“At the end of the day it’s an opportunity to elevate voices.”

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