Washington, D.C.’s Shomari Stone shares what drives him to serve local communities through broadcast journalism. From the adversity he overcame early in his career, to his honed approach to sharing compelling stories, Stone imparts how he strives to accurately, ethically and objectively report the news that impacts Americans most.
Hear his first-hand account of what it was like to report from Capitol Hill during the riot on Jan. 6, how covering weather emergencies can help save lives and the many ways he and other broadcast journalists work hard to report the local stories that matter.
Edited and Paraphrased for Print
When did you realize you wanted to be a journalist?
I knew when I was seven years old. My parents would watch “60 Minutes” and I’d see Ed Bradley, and I was fascinated with the television aspect, the questions, the seeking of truth and trying to hold those in power accountable. In my third grade English class, I loved telling stories – with a beginning, a middle and an end. And I said, “I really want to be a journalist one day,” and continued to work hard to achieve that dream, I’m living the dream now.
What was it like in your first job?
My first job was terrifying. I started my career at WINK, a CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida. The main anchor, Jim McLaughlin, took me under his wing. He was incredible and brilliant at news and I was really scared of going live sometimes. When the anchors would toss to me, I would sometimes freeze up, have a deer in the headlights look and stumble over my words. I called my parents and said I wanted to give up, and they said it was my dream forever, so I needed to keep working at it. I studied, stayed late at the station and looked at other reporters, and got very comfortable at going live. I’m glad I listened to my parents and stuck with it.
I then made the market jump to Miami with CBS for eight years, and then ABC in Seattle KOMO for three years. I’ve been with News4 in Washington for the last ten years, and I’m really enjoying this.
What’s different market-to-market from smaller markets and regions?
In Fort Myers, you got your feet wet covering floods, hurricanes, everyday news, but as I made the jump to Miami, it was much faster and more live news. Sometimes the show rundown would be thrown out because there was always breaking news. Miami also had lots of weather stories, immigration stories. And in Seattle, KOMO was a great station for storytelling.
Why did you choose broadcasting for storytelling?
I love talking to people. I love having conversations. Even when I’m getting coffee, I’ll start talking to people in line. Everyone has a story. As a journalist, it’s our job to accurately, ethically, objectively tell that story while capturing opinion and emotion. That’s one of the great parts of being a journalist is telling those stories.
What are some of the most memorable stories?
One great moment was when George W. Bush went on his first presidential vacation after the 200 election. I was covering this event. Bush arrived, I stood on a car and shouted a question, “what’s the first thing you’re going to do?” And he shouted back, “Have lunch!” And I was wowed that the president talked to me.
I’ve had a good run. What I like most about it is being able to help people. Whether that’s someone taking advantage of an elderly person having her roof fixed and the local guy is taking her money, or the parents of a missing child who have to rely on the local news to help find the child. Those are local stories that matter. Some people say they don’t watch local news, until they need something, and then they call their local news. It’s nice to be part of the community that you’re covering.
Your first story in Washington was covering a hurricane? How does it feel knowing you saved lives?
It feels good because it gives you a sense of purpose. But I also enjoy it. Those are both important things. I also enjoy weather stories. Whatever station I’ve been at, I’ve done weather. And to come to DC and have a hurricane and an earthquake in one week was mind blowing. Usually, you need some time to get acclimated at a new station, but as soon as I got here and the earthquake it, I was working right away.
Covering weather stories is nonstop. There have been nights I’ve slept in the live truck. What I love about being a journalist is that you’re not sitting in a cubicle. You’re talking to people. You’re outside. It’s important because you’re making a difference in the community.
How important is social media to a local journalist today?
It’s very important. The phone is a part of my life. I don’t stop. In terms of tweeting, getting out information, finding well-sourced articles to share and start a conversation on social media. The days of reporting the news and putting out a tweet and going home are over. News and social media are a part of what you do every day. You can also show people what it’s like to be a reporter behind the scenes. You can share the process behind the scenes on social media.
In this day and age, there’s also a blurring. You have reporters, commentators, political pundits. People will sometimes ask me my personal opinion while I’m covering or reporting stories, but I don’t reveal my personal opinion. Why? Because I’m an objective journalist who strives to be fair and balanced. People will still ask for my opinion, but I’m not. I’m not a pundit or a commentator. I’m a journalist.
January 6 was a tough day. Can you walk us through it?
Even now in February, I still have flashbacks from January 6. I still catch myself saying, “did that really happen? Did the Capitol, one of the safest buildings in the entire world really invaded by insurrectionists?” I remember sitting in my truck with my photographer, Brooks Meriweather and watching President Trump’s speech before the pro-Trump mob walked up to the Capitol from the Ellipse near the White House and I remember looking at him and saying “Wow, he really got them riled up.”
So, we immediately jumped out of the car and were waiting, but there was no one there. Then we saw all these people coming, and they were chanting, “Stop the steal, the media’s the enemy of the people, invade the Capitol and hang Mike Pence.” These were things that we heard. All of a sudden, they broke down the barrier and started plowing through the Capitol police, who were completely outnumbered. I’m standing there watching this and told my photographer to stand back because he had a big camera, so I used my phone camera. As people flowed through, I saw them storm up the stairs and had my photographer stand back and get video, and I walked up to the door and was able to get video there as well. As a journalist, I felt uncomfortable going inside the Capitol – particularly during the pandemic - because most people weren’t wearing masks and I didn’t want to put myself at risk of getting coronavirus, so I got the shots and came back down.
DC deals with protests regularly and the biggest shocks was that MPD wasn’t ready for this, right?
For a lot of last year, I covered the Black Lives Matter protests, the George Floyd death. What’s interesting is the time when President Trump walked across the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church and held up the bible, there were peaceful protesters there. I saw with my own eyes, police forcefully moving people back with horses and pepper spray and OC spray. There was such a show of force and law enforcement there. I didn’t see anything like that at the Capitol on January 6. There was a definite difference in the comparison of response to both protests. You still ask yourself why, and some say they were outnumbered, but the fact is clear that the police knew in advance and weren’t prepared, so I was really surprised. I feel for the family of Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick. And for the officers – some who committed suicide. It was a very tough time.
Where do you see local broadcasting in the next five years?You’re always going to have local news. You’re going to see more social media working with local news. You’re always going to have people who tell you about the local weather, your community. You always need local news. We’re at a time now where there’s so much more for people to see online with the streaming platforms. As a journalist, you need to still find a way to keep that audience. What I try and do is trying to create memorable TV. Be yourself, be authentic in your reporting, be conversational in how you write your pieces, to show the viewer that we still matter and we are here to serve you. At NBC Washington, we say, “We’re working for you,” and we really are. You’re my audience and hold us accountable for what we report.
Has your job changed in the last few years?
Yes. With LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you’re not just thinking in terms of television, you’re also thinking in terms of social media. What stories will resonate with viewers on social media? Some say I have my own newsroom on social. That’s definitely going to be part of media in the future. Can you imagine having TV and tweets right next to a story? I see more of that in the future.
Also, you have “fake news,” and you have people who have an agenda and some people feel like they can just put it out on social, and people absorb and believe it. So, you have to remind people about the source. If you’re seeing a study, who is part of the study? You have to do your investigating and research the sources of the news.
What advice do you have to someone starting out as a broadcast journalist?
My first advice is don’t give up. Second: get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat well so you’re not tired. Third: learn from the veterans in the newsroom. People who have been there for years who know the market you’re in. Read the little neighborhood papers and publications in the community because you can find great stories there. Reach out to your sources, call the police officers, get to know people, and learn about the community you’re covering. It’s a relationship business. Have good ethics in the way you treat people. You’re the first person that someone will see after their child is shot and killed. Talk to them. Show compassion. Show empathy. That will make our profession look good because there’s a stereotype out there that we’re vultures, but we’re not. We actually care.
Shomari Stone is a general assignment reporter for News4, specializing in breaking news coverage for News4 at 11.
Shomari joined News4 on Aug. 22, 2011. During his first week, he covered the 5.8 magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene. One year later, he brought viewers an exclusive interview with Trayvon Martin’s parents while they were in Washington. In 2013, Stone reported from Boston after the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
He has reported on the social unrest and Black Lives Matter protests outside the White House at Lafayette Square park and covered the fall of the Albert Pike Statue on live television. He also reported on the deaths of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Congressman John Lewis and former President George H.W. Bush from the U.S. Capitol.
Although he graduated from high school in Washington, D.C., Stone has lived in cities all across the United States. He has worked at KOMO-TV in Seattle, CBS 4 in Miami, and WINK TV in Fort Myers, FL.
Shomari was part of the News4 teams that earned Emmy Awards for Washington Capitals championship coverage and Washington Nationals championship parade coverage. He also earned five Emmy nominations, and he was part of the CBS4 team of journalists recognized with an Edward R. Murrow Award for live coverage of the federal air marshals shooting at Miami International Airport in 2006.
He has covered a wide range of stories including the inauguration of Barack Obama, immigration reform, Hurricane Katrina's, Rita's and Wilma's passage through Florida and the resulting devastation to the region, Republican Presidential contender John McCain's appearance in Miami, the local impact of the Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro's relinquished power, the local impact of the fall of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the uproar surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith, and the Bush family's first "presidential" vacation on Gasparilla Island in 2000.
Shomari graduated from St. John’s College High School in Washington and the University of Michigan, where he received six Journalism Awards. Shomari has been active in his community throughout his career and enjoys playing basketball, tennis, and Scrabble. He also enjoys spending time with his family and coaches youth football, baseball and basketball.
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