Photo by Darren Schwindaman
Dr. Sunny Smith started her career in journalism working with networks such as CBS Sports and Time Warner Inc. Now a mass communications professor at Jackson State University, Smith believes she has found her calling. "It's what I imagine I was born to do," she says. "I've been a reporter; I've been a producer; I've been an anchor; but honestly and truly, teaching is the ultimate live shot."
Born in small– town Tarboro, N.C., Smith and her family moved to Queens, N.Y., when she was in the fourth grade. She graduated from the College of New Rochelle with a degree in communications. Smith moved to Manhattan to jump–start her career in sports reporting and says it was as eclectic as one could imagine.
"My sister came once with me to McDonalds (in Manhattan). She said 'Look! Diana Ross!' I said no, honey, that's not Diana Ross. It was a hooker because between 9th and 10th, that's what you got, a lot of ladies of the night," Smith says.
In New York, Smith got into on-camera news reporting with New York 1, a 24-hour news network. As part of her work there, she moved into the emerging convergence fieldusing media for more than one platformby training magazines such as Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated how to do on-camera work.
Smith moved to Jackson in 1996, with her late husband Walter. "The ironic thing is he was from Mississippi, and I'm not, but I ended up loving it," she says.
Eventually, Smith began exploring TV production, working for WLBT-TV3 as a producer and anchor in 2003.
"I wanted to be a sports anchor. And for the Jackson morning news report for weekend shows, I did sports. I produced the show, then I'd go out and do my live anchor for sports, then I'd get back into the producer chair!" she says.
Her success has trickled down to her JSU students, who get the opportunity to work with her colleagues who mentored her 20 years ago: people like George Veras of CBS Sports, who came to Jackson in 2005 for a BET event.
Her students had the chance to cover the first presidential debate in Oxford and turn them over to outlets such as BlackCollegeWire.org, WAPT.com and WJSU radio.
Smith is also an organizer of JAHSPA, a new local high-school press association, and she also started JSU-22, a closed-circuit campus channel. Watching them produce, film and air on JSU-22, Smith sees herself in her students. "Some of my students say they're little Sunnys," she says, laughing. "My legacy is these students.