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OU Alum Stephanie Frederic On The Role Of Emotion In Journalism

Nov 19, 2014

Credit Stephanie Frederic / Twitter

Since graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1982, Stephanie Frederic has worked in radio, television and film in positions ranging from reporter to executive producer.

She now runs her own company, FGW Productions, which creates content aimed at black and Latino audiences. The name acronym stands for “Frederic Girl Working,” a reference to a phrase she heard often around Los Angeles, “That Frederic girl is always working.”

Frederic recently returned to Norman to accept one of three 2014 JayMac Distinguished Alumni Awards from the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. In Copeland Hall, the building where she took her classes before quickly driving to Oklahoma City to work at a radio station, she speaks about what her company is all about. Her drive is evident and you can tell that people were right when they said, “that Frederic girl is always working.” Even after a long day of teaching classes and networking with faculty while fighting off a cold, she maintains an air of uncompromising enthusiasm about what she does.

The movie studios in Hollywood wanted to market movies to communities of color, and so they came to me because I had been doing interviews for Black Entertainment Television,” Frederic says. “We all can look at the same thing and see something different, so we’re hired to come in and say 'What is it about this movie that would make and African American or make a Latino want to go see this film?'”

Frederic was an “Army brat” growing up, which allowed her to witness different cultures, but reporting was what showed her the world.

It’s been my travels while I was a news reporter that really broadened my perspective,” Frederic says. “I covered earthquakes in Nicaragua, I covered the first democratic elections in South Africa, and I shoot movies in Canada all the time.”

That ability to connect with people of many backgrounds led BET to call on Ms. Frederic in late 2005, despite the fact that she had already started a new chapter of her career.

I was doing movie when Black Entertainment Television called me and said "Hey, do you mind coming back in and reporting on Hurricane Katrina?"” Frederic says. “New Orleans is my dad's hometown and Louisiana is my home state, so I went back to work.” 

That connection drove Frederic to do the story but it also made it difficult for her to not get attached to the victims she met there.

I went back through neighborhoods where I know people that lived in those neighborhoods,” Frederic says. “It became a situation where I had relatives missing and so I was down there also looking for my family.”

Although Frederic found her missing family members, some of the people she reported on were not so lucky. There was one family in particular, the Simon family, that she made a special bond with.

The Simons’ house was one block from the levee that broke and the water quickly filled the house, forcing the six kids and mom and dad to seek shelter in the attic. They spent three days in the cramped space with no food and no water. It was hot and humid and the water was lapping up, so the father tried to knock a hole in the roof so that they could escape. He collapsed and died of a heat stroke. The fifteen-year-old son then finished the job the father was trying to do and they put their two-year-old sister up through the hole. To their relief, a helicopter came by and rescued them and the helicopter dropped them off at an underpass.

“At that point, me and my crew were there and we meet these people on the worst possible day of their lives and the mother tells me this story,” Frederic says. “The family is taken to a Red Cross center where they clean up and I give them one of my cell phones and I said, 'Keep in touch with me,' because their story touched my heart so much. I'm like 'I've gotta find out where they’re going,'.”

The family was flown to California, just outside Los Angeles, where they had family. This was great news for Frederic who was living in nearby and was able to check in on the Simons over the following years.

“What has it been almost 10-years later, I'm still friends with this family,” Frederic says. “The mother recently passed of breast cancer so now you have six kids raising themselves, so it’s almost like the good Lord put us together and we're now just one big family.

Frederic doesn’t see a problem with a journalist getting attached to the people she is reporting on, in fact its something she promotes.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, if you weren't shedding a tear, something’s wrong with you, because at the end of the day we're all human,” Frederic says. “I mean I know that there are some journalists that believe in being strong and not showing any emotion. Go back and look at Walter Cronkite when he announced that President Kennedy had been shot. Clearly his voice breaks. I don't think there's anything wrong with showing emotion. Especially when your audience is feeling the same thing. We should not be afraid to let the audience know that we have a heart too.”