Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

Shattering TV's Glass Ceiling
Montpelier Spring 2000

Cynthia SmootWhile studying at JMU, Cynthia Smoot ('78) decided that broadcast journalism was her first career choice, but breaking into the male-dominated field in the 1970s was a challenge.

While still working toward her bachelor's in communication arts and minor in Spanish, Smoot landed a summer internship at a television station in Norfolk, where she did her first on-air story.

"The assignment desk was run by a cigar-chomping, hard-charging ex-newspaper guy who thought women had a place ... but not in the newsroom," says Smoot. "You knew that you had to prove yourself, not just as a reporter, but as a woman reporter."

Smoot was determined to make her way in the "good ole boys club," and she did. After graduation, she worked in radio for three years as part of a top-rated morning news team in Norfolk. Then she made the leap back to television working as a morning news anchor and noon news producer for three years at the NBC-TV affiliate in Portsmouth.

In 1984, Smoot finally got her big break when the FOX affiliate in Greensboro, N.C., offered her a position as the noon anchor and reporter. After only three months on the job, she was promoted to co-anchor of the prime-time 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news broadcasts.

Smoot quickly began to carve her niche at the station and became known for her Wednesday's Child segments, which profiled abused, neglected and abandoned children and those with medical and adoptive home needs. The segments led to her involvement with several children's foundations, including Operation Smile and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

After 13 years in Greensboro, another career opportunity arose for Smoot. In 1997, she was offered the co-anchor position for the 5:30 p.m. news show at the FOX affiliate in Tampa, Fla. "WTVT offered new challenges in the country's 13th largest television market," says Smoot. "It was an offer I couldn't refuse."
Smoot has also made her mark in Tampa. In 1998, she won an Emmy for her contribution to A Real Horse Whisperer, a profile of a man who overcame abuse early in his life and embraced a non-violent method of training horses to accept saddle, bridle and rider.

"An Emmy is such a recognizable award, and it truly is one of the most distinguished achievements for a broadcast journalist. It is definitely one of the high points of my career," says Smoot, who lives in Lutz, Fla. with her husband Bill Weller.

- Kara Carpenter ('00)

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