Legacy Award Winner
By G'Ra Asim, NABJ Program Assistant
As a student at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, Paula Madison inspired a bout of derisive laughter when she told a guidance counselor that she aspired to attend an Ivy League or Seven Sisters college.
This year, Madison will provoke applause as she accepts NABJ’s 2010 Legacy Award. The honor recognizes an esteemed black journalist who has been a pioneer in the field. The first person to hold the position of executive vice president of diversity at NBC Universal, Madison has promoted the equitable inclusion of minorities in media throughout her career.
"We, as African-Americans, come from a rich culture and most of us are not involved in destructive behavior,” she said. "I’ve been able to shape the images and share images that are much more reflective of who we are as a people holistically.”
Buoyed by a supportive family, Madison did not internalize the guidance counselor’s discouragement. She instead secured a scholarship to Vassar College, where she went on to graduate with a B.A. degree in history and black studies.
Before becoming a media executive, Madison, a former NABJ executive board member and local chapter president, began her career as a print reporter in Dallas and New York. Madison became assistant news director of WNBC-TV in New York in 1989, then vice president and news director in 1996, an ascension she calls her "proudest career achievement to date.”
"That was the only job that resulted in me crying tears of joy,” Madison said. "I will never forget that day and I could probably tell you second by second what was going on.”
After only three years under her watch, WNBC closed out the November 1999 sweeps with a first-place finish in all local television newscasts.
In 2000, Madison became the first African-American woman to run a network-owned station in a Top 5 market when she was named president and general manager of KNBC. In 2002, her responsibilities expanded when NBC purchased the Telemundo network and named her regional general manager of the Spanish-language stations KVEA and KQHY.
Known for her commitment to scrupulous journalism and community service, Madison’s leadership guided KNBC to local area Emmy, Golden Mike and Regional Edward Murrow Awards. The 20-year veteran of General Electric was named company officer in June 2007.
Madison was named NBC Universal’s chief diversity officer in 2007, marking the first time in the corporation’s history that a senior executive was assigned diversity as a sole responsibility. She serves as NBC Universal’s diversity spokesperson and ensures that the company’s programs and culture reflect its increasingly diverse clients and audiences.
"What I have always recognized is that excellence has to come first,” she said. "You have to be the best at what you do. I see diversity and I see myself being African-American as a cherry on top.” She added: "Our entire company is engaged; we groom and grow diverse talent and then we promote diverse talent.”
Madison’s accomplishments have earned her widespread acclaim, including, among many other awards, from NABJ (1998 Ida B. Wells Award and the President’s Award in 2001), the National Ethnic Coalition of Organization’s Ellis Island 1999 Medal of Honor and the 2002 Los Angeles County Commission for Women’s Woman of the Year Award. She was honored with the Anti-Defamation League’s 2003 Deborah Award and the City of Los Angeles Marathon named her Citizen of the Year in 2004. Hollywood Reporter has included her in its Power 100 and Crain’s New York Business has chosen her the city’s Top 100 Executives. In 2005, Black Enterprise magazine named her one of the 75 most powerful African-Americans in corporate America.
Madison is active in the National Medical Fellowships, The Center for Public Integrity and the African-American Alumni of Vassar College.
Her determination to give back and stay grounded is enduring. "Given how most of us grew up in this country, we are but a couple of paychecks and four years of education above housekeeping,” she said. "We are not so high and lofty that we forget where we came from.”