Interview

Sharon Carpenter Talks Style, Perseverance and Tough Skin In The Industry

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Passionate, powerful and progressive were the first words that came to mind when I listened to Sharon explain what she does and why. Not only is she quite the expert on all things production, she is arguably the coolest entertainment journalist ever!

“First and foremost, I consider myself a Broadcast Journalist. I get to tell stories and interview some of the most interesting people in the world…I’m not afraid to ask the questions that everyone wants to know the answers to.”

Before becoming a major entrepreneurial force, Sharon grew up in a town called Watford, England. Influenced by hip-hop music and its culture, her dream was to go to the place where it was originated and pursue her passion of becoming an A&R. After interning with a small indie recording label, Carpenter realized that this wasn’t quite what she had intending on doing, which is when she fell into on-camera work. She was offered an unpaid opportunity with a local public access channel where she discovered her talent for interviewing and reporting.

Long brown hair and a pretty face are usually the first things you notice when approaching Sharon Carpenter, but she is much more than just television candy. About 15 years ago, Sharon moved to New York City with an ambitious attitude and a college acceptance letter to Pace University, ready to pursue her dream career in the industry’s capital. About a decade and some change later, the seasoned journalist is now responsible for the success of shows including, The Gossip Game, Revolt Live, 106 & Park’s news segment and the list is still growing.

Being in the entertainment stratosphere is one of the most difficult, exciting and desirable positions in the world, but there are only a few people who understand the work and time that it takes to make it big in this dog-eat-dog business. Sharon is amongst the few people who have delved into this business and thrived. Working along side major industry moguls like, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons, Carpenter has discovered that having a tough skin in the business is one of the most important lessons that she has learned. With over a decade’s worth of experience, the British journalist has maintained an upward slope of progression in a very unstable field. She has built a portfolio that has blessed her with ample opportunity where she has gained everlasting relationships with several prestigious networks.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. If it was, then everyone would be doing it. Remember That!”

When discussing the media’s most powerful women, it’s hard not to mention industry veteran S.C. Sharon is one of the youngest and most renowned broadcast journalists in the entertainment and hip-hop industries. Among her many accolades, Sharon has been building her self-made resume through television hosting, producing popular television segments, and web content development. Now, the media maven has plans to create her own empire with her latest endeavor, Wiretapped.tv―an online destination where fans can watch exclusive interviews and communicate with their favorite celebrities.

Aside from being a knowledgeable and professional woman, Sharon has a certain realness about her, which is both relatable and genuine―we got to meet the real Sharon and she certainly had some inspiring gems to drop. In an insightful conversation about the struggles she has faced being a woman in the industry, Sharon shared her spiel about not giving up, how she’s managed to get back up after she has fallen, and her advice to anyone attempting to pursue a career in media.

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Photo Credit: Shane Suber of Wilhelmina

 

PYNK: What do you do and why?

Sharon Carpenter: I’m a broadcast journalist, I’m a tv host, and a producer as well. I specialize in television, but I also work in the online stratosphere. Throughout my career, I’ve covered everything from hard news to entertainment. I’ve worked with some of the most prestigious networks in the country, which has been an honor. Coming from the UK to New York, I’ve worked with BBC in America, which is originally a British network. Most people know me from BET, which is when I first started establishing myself as an anchor. I’ve also worked at Revolt with Diddy and with Russell Simmons over at Global Grind. I’ve had a wide range of experience in this industry. First and foremost, I consider myself a broadcast journalist. I get to tell stories and I get to interview some of the most interesting people in the world. I’m not afraid to ask those questions that everyone wants to know the answers to. I’m all about breaking news, educating, informing and entertaining the audience. I work on creating and developing shows as well. I’m about to launch my own entertainment website, which I’ve wanted to do it for a while now, but it was all a matter of finding the right partner. We are starting off with mostly video interviews with celebrities.

How long have you been doing your job?

It’s been over 10 years. It seems like yesterday though. I was in school and I initially came to America because I thought I wanted to run my own record label. I always had a passion for hip-hop and music. I went to Pace University and I studied business management. I wanted to be an A&R. I interned for a small independent record label and I realized that it was not quite what I wanted to do. I didn’t have the chance to be creative and it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Then I was offered the opportunity to be on a public access channel where they would go around interviewing celebrities. They were looking for a new host because the current host was leaving and it was an unpaid position. They asked me if I was interested. I never even thought about hosting up until that moment. It was a chance for me to figure out what I wanted to do. People who watched my videos used to come up to me and say, “wow, that was a really insightful interview.” That’s when I realized that I had a talent. I ended up with my first official job in television as an associate producer for a local newscast. That’s where I learned how things came together behind the scenes. I learned how to go out in the field and gather as much information as possible to tell a good story. When I went to BET, it my responsibility was to be a producer and join the edit sessions―anything to make me better. Another thing that helped me was that I was always easy to take constructive criticism. You have to remember it’s not a personal attack and it’s always going to make you better. I remember my boss telling me that I sounded like I was attacking the script when  I would speak on camera. He would have to tell me to take it down a few notches because I was too abrasive. Everyone is going to have their own opinion and not everyone is going to like you. There are people who don’t like Oprah. You can’t please everyone.

What would you say separates your journalistic approach from other journalists? And what are some specific tactics that you use as a journalist to get answers?

I don’t know if I want to give my secrets away! I’ve worked in the world of traditional journalism, but I’ve never been your typical journalist. I’ve always had a younger approach because I’m young and I’ve always had a young audience that follows me, so I’ve been creative in the way I tell stories. No matter where I worked I always made sure I could be creative enough to get the audience hooked. For example, when I worked at BET, which is an entertainment network, one of the challenges was getting young people to tune into a news story. So I would use music, really creative editing, get celebrities involved and have them speak on a topic. Once they heard it from T.I or Beyoncé, they’re going to listen. The approach will change depending on the outlet that I’m working for. Even my style of dress is quite different than a lot of other journalists. I’m also not scared to ask the tough questions, but I’m going to ask them in a fair way. My style is somewhere between Barbara Walters and Oprah. I think that people feel like Oprah cares when she’s asking questions, so I try to use a similar approach. One thing that I advise interviewers to do all the time is listen to the answer. Of course, you should always go in with your set of questions, but listen to what the person is saying because your interview can go a different direction from what you expected. You may uncover some information that you originally did not plan for. Do thorough research as well. Even do research up until you do the interview because some breaking news may happen.

You briefly touched on your style and interview etiquette, what would be some advice for newbie journalists on how to dress appropriately for an interview?

I think you need to know who it is that you are working for. Advice I would give is to google other people who work at the outlet and see what they are wearing. You don’t have to care about how you are going to come across because there’s so many other things you have to worry about when dressing for TV like, is it going to be outside or inside? Is it a tight frame or a wide frame? There are so many other things to consider. I was recently working for Arise Ent. The dress code was very strict because the majority of hosts are on camera all the time, so what you wear cannot be distracting. The colors have to go well with the back ground and look good on camera. Usually, women should wear something that’s form fitting. Not super tight. If you are doing a red carpet, it’s okay to be a little sexier. If you are doing a hard-hitting interview with a celebrity, you want to be a little more covered up and on the conservative side wearing a pencil skirt and a nice top. If it’s a more lenient outlet like a music outlet, I think you can rock some leather and do something a little more edgy.

What are your go-to outfits?

I have a couple of go-to outfits. I’m all about the pencil skirt or pencil dress because you can dress them up or keep them simple. You can wear a pencil skirt with a tee shirt and it can still look a little dressy. You can wear with a button up blouse or even a crop top. Also, I’m really into leather leggings, I love leather. If you’re covering an event that’s more conservative, you can wear a shirt that covers your butt or if you are covering an entertainment event then you can wear something less professional. I think that accessories are a must. And some nice manolo heels are a plus. You always want to focus on what looks good on screen.

Have you ever worn an outfit and when you saw yourself on camera after you were like, “that does NOT look good?”

OMG! Yes, like a million times. I’ve had so many wardrobe malfunctions. That’s why I am so particular about what I wear now. I had a mortifying experience at 106 & Park when I was a correspondent for the program when there was some serious breaking news about an artist, so I was wearing jeans and a top. I was standing on stage, ready to go live and as I lifted up the microphone my top came up. I was on stage delivering this very serious news about a celebrity who just lost their parent and my midriff was showing. I was embarrassed. Recently, I posted a picture of this hideous concoction that a stylist put together for me. I was interviewing Valentino on the red carpet and I made a joke about him saying, “what the hell are you wearing?” He didn’t really say it, but it was just an awful wardrobe choice. It’s okay to take chances here and there, but at the end of the day, if you really aren’t comfortable then just say “no.”

Speaking of being on camera, you recent made a cameo appearance in one of the most popular shows out right now. How was your Empire experience and have you had an acting experience before this?

My agent got a call from the casting director at Empire, who is actually Lee Daniels’ sister. They were just like, “we’d like Sharon to make a cameo appearance.” When my agent told me, I couldn’t believe it. I got to play myself, which was even cooler. I was on the fictional show called “Spilling the Tea,” which my partner and I came up with and we’re actually working on a real show with a similar concept. I got to interview Jamal Lyon, which is definitely one of my favorite characters on the show. I got to sit down with him and do what I do. He performed one of my favorite songs, which is called “Born to Love You.” I got to hear it over and over again because we had to do take after take and try different angles.  I would consider this my acting debut and it was in front of an academy ward nominee, Taraji P. Henson. “Cookie” actually said my name on the episode, so that was really cool. For a moment, I started to get nervous and I never worked with a female director, Dee Rees. But she was really amazing. She took the pressure off before we got started. She said, “Sharon, if you f**k up your lines, don’t worry about it, just keep going because I’m sure there will be stuff I can use from it.” So that in itself took the pressure off. I think the production team is also used to working with non-actors. They were all really helpful including the other actors on the show. It was incredible. I got a ton of love on Twitter and social media.

Sounds awesome, I wanted to talk about feminism in media. Unfortunately being a woman in the industry does have a stigma that comes with it. As a woman on your professional level, would you say that you’ve had to work twice as hard to get to where you are now?

I think everyone has their own unique set of challenges and difficulties, but I would say as a woman, it can be more difficult. Especially when you’re working in a world where often times you are working more with men. I think one of the challenges that I’ve had is dealing with men that don’t want to take direction from women. As a producer, I’m someone that has to give direction. I’ve certainly faced some situations where guys have said some very inappropriate things. I remember working on a story with an editor who wasn’t even that good of an editor and I told him that he needed to fix something. He had the nerve to tell me “why don’t you sit down, shut up and look good.” I could’ve easily gone off on the guy, but instead of doing that sometimes you just have to be a little more strategic and keep calm in those cases. I still have to get the story done and on the air. So I said to him, “I would love nothing more than to sit back, look good and relax here on the couch, but since you’re incapable of putting the story together without my help, I guess we should just continue.” And it worked. I’ve been out with camera guys in the past where I’ve noticed that they were doing things wrong, whether it was dealing with the lighting or audio, and when I’ve told them things, they would brush it off assuming I know nothing about camera work.

I think as a woman, you need to build the experience to know the right way of doing things and the wrong way. Also, do not be afraid to speak up. I think you should try the nice way at first because you attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar, but if that doesn’t work, you just have to be firmer. At the end of the day, this is work and you want to put out a good quality product. I’m all about putting out stuff with a high standard. I’m not necessarily there to make friends.

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Photo Credit: Shane Suber of Wilhelmina

 

I’m not saying that you’re there to make enemies, but your only job is to work to the best of your ability and if people are getting in the way of that, it needs to be addressed and corrected. Not everyone is going to like you for that, but you will be respected. And the right people will notice.

 

I’m sure that incident wasn’t the only time something like that has happened. How did you manage to keep your head on straight, brush it off, and continue to do what you do with a smile on your face?

One of the most shocking moments for me was when a network executive (I won’t say his name) told me that if I agreed to sleep with him, he would give me a contract. This was at the beginning of my career. It was a situation where I could have gone off on the guy or taken legal action, but I decided that the best thing to do was to just move on. I knew that I would have been a good asset to the company and there was no way in hell that I was going to stoop that low to get the job. You just have to believe in yourself. I think that if you believe in yourself and in your work it will always work out. If you work hard and you are always willing to learn, you will get very far. I spoke to a young woman a while ago about giving her advice. She told me that there were no women in the industry that want to help her. So I said to her, “well, you have to get them to want to help you. You have to get yourself to a place where you are an asset.” Either they will see themselves in you or they will see you as an asset. I don’t think people are going around helping for the sake of helping. You want to make sure you are helping them in return. Another thing she told me was that she was an “amazing producer.” I asked her to show me the stuff she produced and she’s only ever produced one thing. It was a small YouTube clip. You want to be able to sell yourself, but you also want to be realistic. Even at this stage in my career, I don’t go around saying that I’m an “amazing producer” and I have produced countless documentaries and video content. I’ve won awards for my stories, but I still have so much to learn.

 

The industry is definitely discouraging sometimes and it’s only because it’s oversaturated and there’s a lot of people trying to do the same things. It’s hard to compete, but you manage to stay relevant. Have you ever hit a wall in your career where you felt like you couldn’t do this anymore?

I think for anyone to be successful, you’re going to have those days. I’ve definitely had a time where I might have auditioned for something and I really had my heart set on it and I got the news that I didn’t get the gig. It can be heartbreaking. There has been times where I went into a meeting and I didn’t do as well as I could have, so I beat myself up about it. The thing is, you have to pick yourself up and learn from the experience. Every time you don’t do your best, you get a chance to learn from what you did wrong and go into the next opportunity with more confidence. Sometimes it’s not even a personal thing. You may have gone into an audition and you were incredible, but maybe they were just looking for a particular look, sound, background and you didn’t get it because you weren’t it. People see these things as failures, but they are more like lessons.

My passion for what I do keeps me going. I’ve given myself no other choice. Even on those days where I’ve felt really disheartened, when you give yourself no other choice, the only option you have is to pick yourself up and go after it again.

As long as you stay in it, you work hard, and you’re good at what you do, you have no other choice than to succeed.

I know a lot of people who have dropped out of the business who may have lost their jobs or what not. I get it because people have bills to pay and they have to do what they have to do. But, I think when you give yourself no other option eventually it’s going to work out. Persistence and staying in the game is half of succeeding. It’s a business that’s full of rejection. Pitching a story to your boss may get rejected. Going for a job, you’re going to deal with rejection. You have to build yourself a tough skin. Especially when you’re in media and on camera. People will constantly critique you and people are always watching. Sometimes people are going to say horrible things about you. You just have to be tough enough to take the constructive criticism and ignore the negative comments.

Keep up with Sharon on social media @SharonCarpenter

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