Tamron Hall is one of the busiest women in the news business. Already the chief anchor for MSNBC’s NewsNation with Tamron Hall, she is also a regular substitute anchor for NBC’s Today show.
As if two jobs weren’t enough, on Sept. 1 she began hosting a new show for Investigation Discovery called Deadline: Crime With Tamron Hall. Hall took a few minutes out of her day to discuss the family tragedy that inspired the show, as well as the sense of humor of one of her friends, music legend Prince.
You’re one of the most visible anchors on one of the most visible networks in America. What appealed to you about joining a smaller, non-news network?
I didn’t think of it in terms of size. I think of it more in terms of loyal audience. MSNBC has an incredibly loyal audience — people who will leave it on all day and not turn it, and Discovery ID has the same kind of passion.
I consider myself to be a passionate person, sometimes ruled too much by my heart and not enough by my head, but I love when people are attached to something and believe in it and get behind it, and MSNBC viewers and ID viewers are like that, so it seemed like a great fit.
When I first started meeting with the ID team, I didn’t have a show in mind. We found this common ground on crime stories as it related to my personal story in my family.
So tell us about the show.
The show is considered a magazine show, but I consider it some of the best storytelling I’ve participated in and tackled as a journalist. We’re talking with people who have lost loved ones, who have been personally affected by crime in different ways. We are going deeper than the headlines we see on the Internet or [in the] paper and really [bringing] to life these people who have been affected in horrible ways. Some have overcome and some still struggle.
Can you tell us a bit about your sister?
Well, I’ve talked a lot about it in the past. We’re from a blended family. My mother is 25 years younger than my father. She had two children and my father had two children. They married when I was very, very young.
I instantly had the most amazing sister in the world — someone that I looked up to who was stylish and smart and beautiful. Everything I dreamt of being, my sister was. We were very, very close, and throughout her life, like many women, she struggled with self-esteem issues and [self-]acceptance and ended up in a relationship that was plagued by domestic violence.
Years after she met and married [her husband], she was murdered, and the person responsible for her death has never been charged and it remains a mystery. And we talked about the difficulty of having that open wound for my father especially, for my mother and myself. And we realized a lot of people who experience violent crime have that open wound for one reason or another.
Do you think sharing her story will prevent other women from being victimized? Is that your hope?
That’s always a hope. I can’t say what impact it will have. I’m not sharing that story for any reason [other] than that. It’s difficult for my mother. My sister had children. My nephew is now married and has a son of his own who constantly asks, “When can I meet Grandma?” I’m not telling this story for therapeutic reasons for my family. I am telling it in the hope of saving a life.
Do you think hearing stories about women like Rihanna has an impact on younger girls?
I think it would have to have an impact. I don’t know if it is eye opening.
Specifically Rihanna’s struggle with domestic violence?
I don’t know if it’s a struggle with domestic violence. I can’t speak for her because I don’t know all of the details. I know what we’ve reported in the news and I know that [she and Chris Brown] reconciled, and I think that young women see that, but how they process that I don’t know.
I think celebrity culture is something we discuss a lot, but I think what happens in your home has a larger impact. If a girl sees [that] her mother, sister or loved one in her home is a victim of a domestic-violence situation, that has a larger impact than our celebrity-obsessed culture, than what’s happening in Rihanna and Chris Brown’s [lives].
So when I talk to girls, I’m not talking to them about the latest headline on TMZ. I’m talking to them about what they are seeing in their home and what they are experiencing. I think that has an impact, when a young girl is trying to understand why her mother or sister is staying in that relationship, because that’s what I was trying to understand with my sister, and what we discussed in our intimate conversations. … Why do you stay?
That’s something that haunts me because I feel I didn’t listen as much and didn’t know what to do. So I don’t think young women are obsessing over Rihanna in the way they’d obsess over their sister or mother or selves.
Do you have any advice for a woman who is struggling with domestic violence or has a family member who is?
I think you have to talk to someone. Even though the images and messages are there, I still believe people feel alone and that there’s no one to talk to, and we’ve got to break that cycle. There’s still this feeling of loneliness or helplessness. My passion for all of this is the desire to help people know they are not alone.
There have been stories about the decrease in newsroom diversity. How would you rate where the industry is on diversity at the moment, and what could be done better on the issue of diversity in the news industry?
You know I’m always taken aback by this question because that’s applicable to any profession. I think in our business we often get hooked on what we see on TV and not what’s happening behind closed doors, if you will.
For me in my journey, I’ve been on TV since I was 18, and I’m now 42. I see more people of color than I ever have. That doesn’t mean that we’re at some perfect level. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying diversity needs to be discussed on all levels — who is being hired as a producer, as an executive, but it cannot be an obsession focused on the media.
This obsession of what the news looks like has to be broadened out, and I mean that from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. I was just reading about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, but that’s maybe not as sexy as how many people of color are on air. You can count how many brown anchors there are, but companies are not taken to task in the same way media is for a lack of diversity, even in companies that are bringing in far more money and have a larger economic impact than the daily newscast.
That’s not to say it’s not important. It is, and MSNBC has done an exceptional job in diversity, which is why we’ve seen a spike in our ratings among African American viewers, but the conversation can’t be an obsession with the media. It has to be discussed on a broader scale.
I heard that you’re friends with Prince Nelson, also known as the superstar Prince. Any thoughts on his new album cover for Breakfast Can Wait featuring Dave Chappelle?
He’s incredibly funny. He’s such a funny person. I’m just happy people are starting to see there are many sides to that complex individual — including [that] he’s got quite a sense of humor.
Keli Goff is a special correspondent for The Root, in which this story first appeared.