'This isn't a resting point, it's a launch pad' — an interview with WWL-TV's Sheba Turk on the release of her new book

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WWL-TV Anchor Sheba Turk's new book was published by Pelican Publishing March 27. - PHOTO BY JOSH DETIEGE
  • Photo by Josh Detiege
  • WWL-TV Anchor Sheba Turk's new book was published by Pelican Publishing March 27.

In March, WWL-TV anchor Sheba Turk and Pelican Publishing released Turk’s book Off Air: My Journey to the Anchor Desk, about growing up in New Orleans in a family of modest means, striking out on her own in New York City for college (only to have to return home when she no longer could afford to attend school there), and her meteoric rise from co-producer to reporter to traffic anchor to morning show anchor at WWL in just two years.

Turk credits her success to her loving, albeit flawed parents, a positive attitude and an abundance of strong female role models, including her mom and her mentors Kim Bondy, a former program producer and now-strategist and consultant, and Soledad O’Brien, former CNN anchor and now-CEO of Starfish Media Group. O'Brien also composed the book's foreword.

Turk celebrates the book’s premiere at a signing 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 8 at Terrance Osborne Gallery (3029 Magazine St.). Books are available for purchase at the event, or online at www.ShebaTurk.com. She took a few minutes to talk with Gambit about her journey so far, her book and what’s next.
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Gambit: In your book, you call yourself “the poster child for quitting” and give a lot of examples of how that strategy helped you succeed in the long run. Was there a time when you wished you hadn’t quit something?

Sheba Turk: No, I have absolutely no regrets about my journey — I don’t even have to think about it. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you always move forward. I wouldn’t change a thing. I would keep quitting. I would quit more! … It’s been a new thing for me to do it more purposefully and to not feel guilty about it.

G: If you could do it all over again, would you still attend New York University, even though you ended up accruing tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt?

ST: If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now? No. And I make it a point to tell that to all the young [people] I meet who … are in a similar financial position to me. … Don’t incorporate debt in your life when you don’t have to.

G: Your story is one that proves liberal arts majors can have successful careers in fields other than education. What’s your advice to students considering majoring in the arts?

ST: If you’re thinking about it, do it. I think if I (hadn’t) had that mantra stuck in my head that “all English majors end up becoming teachers,” I probably always would have majored in English and I would have figured out what I wanted to do with my life earlier. … It’s more about the connections you make and the internships and experiences you get that’s going to lead you to a career field than what’s on (your degree).

G: You write in your book, “There were more mistakes to be made.” What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

ST: The best mistakes I’ve made are my financial mistakes, and I say they’re the best mistakes because they’ve been the worst. ... [Those mistakes] made me pick up financial books and reach out to financial advisers.

G: I love that you write about your hair and its role in how people perceive you. I think you could have written an entire chapter about it. Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on black women or women with curly or kinky hair in the media industry?

ST: One hundred percent, yes, there’s more pressure. There’s more pressure on women over men because it’s an industry that judges women on looks. … There’s age discrimination when it comes to women, there’s physical discrimination when it comes to women. … They’re kind of starting to break away from that, but yes, the hair thing is huge. My white coworkers complain about their hair issues and my black coworkers complain about their hair issues, so it’s not specific to black women, but we do know that a straight (haired) look is what’s become acceptable and professional for black women. So, now that there’s the natural hair movement, I want to see that move into the professional space.

When I first started, I had natural hair … and women who were trying to be kind to me told me, “Straighten your hair, because you don’t want (others) to have something else to be distracted by.” So, I did straighten it to get my job, and I straightened it to get promoted in my job. To be very clear, I think that pressure comes from society, not from any specific person. If anything, every person that’s above me at WWL has been so supportive of me now wearing my hair in its kinky form.

Sheba Turk. - PHOTO BY JOSH DETIEGE
  • Photo by Josh Detiege
  • Sheba Turk.

G: Now that the #MeToo movement is in full swing, do you think an appearance reckoning is on the horizon?

ST: I think we’re still a good way away. … Women are still judged way too much on looks alone, and this is an issue from the male perspective of looking at women as objects and from women seeing themselves as objects. … People talk about it more, so the conversation is definitely there to start. I think we’re at the starting line.

G: You also talk about social media and how it has complicated your efforts to keep your personal life and your work life separate. Do you still think it’s important to have a social media presence despite the downside?

ST: Sure. When I first got on TV, I was attacked (on social media), so I closed all my accounts. … And then I realized that I could be annoyed by it, or I could use it as a free tool for brand promotion for myself and for the station. … Now I’m very strategic about it. I have “#FrenchQuarterFriday” [on Instagram], which has become a thing where I take cute pictures in the French Quarter on Fridays, and I post videos and pictures while I’m at work, so now it’s a way of connecting with my audience. But I still don’t post a lot about my personal life.

G: So, it would seem that you’ve got it all figured out.

ST: No, no — that’s my other point in writing this, especially because of Instagram and because I’m on TV and because of the book now — that just adds to this image that I’ve got it all together. I get that from young girls that I meet, and I could totally take that and run with it … but the truth of the matter is if they are struggling with (something), I have either struggled with it or am struggling with it still, which I think they find super surprising. I’m still struggling with standing up for myself, valuing myself, figuring out what I want to do with my life. … You always have to want more — you always have to set new goals.

G: What’s the next step for you?

ST: I don’t know what the next step is, and … I’m actually fine with that for now. … This is my — I don’t want to say, “resting point” — “launch pad.” I don’t know where I’m going next, but I’ll figure it out. … You can't wait until you feel comfortable and ready to move, or you will never move. You have to keep on moving.

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