Local CBS news anchor Brittany Noble-Jones was fired from her morning show perch last year after she filed an EEOC complaint against WJTV television in Jackson, Mississippi.
Now she faces an uncertain future — uncertainty over where she will live, when she will return to TV news and how she will survive financially.
After anchoring at the CBS affiliate for two and a half years, Noble-Jones claimed she was wrongfully terminated in May 2018 over the EEOC complaint that alleged she was singled out for wearing her “natural hair” on-camera.
She initially took her concerns to the human resources department at WJTV.
“I filed a complaint, originally in 2017, because of all the things that my news director was saying to me about the stories that I was pitching,” Noble-Jones told Urban Hollywood 411. “It felt like I really couldn’t tell stories about race, and the stuff that he was saying about my hair, about my natural hair being ‘unprofessional.'”
Noble-Jones also alleged that she was barred from participating in station promos after becoming pregnant, and was targeted for pitching “too many stories about race.” She said she has recordings of the conversations with her news director to back up her claims.
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Thanks for waking up with me today #Mississippi I’m sincerely grateful for the opportunity to anchor the news at WJTV and livestream a #behindthescenes look at the show. For the past few months I’ve been putting my masters degree to the test by researching the best way to connect real people to news! PLEASE check out my #noblethoughts videos & join the LIVE conversation during commercial breaks on Twitter & Facebook. 📸 @newsman21 #cbs #Jackson #newsanchor #reporter #journalist #momlife @wjtv12
The now 32-year-old journalist said she wore a “long weave” when she was hired. After she gave birth to her son, she said she decided to stop straightening her hair with the blessing of her news director. A month later, Noble-Jones said he told her to change it back and explain why to viewers and fans on social media.
“He wanted me to say on social media ‘I’ve been asked to change my hair back to the way it was because ‘that’s what looked best,’” she said.
Nexstar Media Group, which owns WJTV, did not respond to a request for comment.
Noble-Jones said she was inspired to stop straightening her hair after noticing African-American actresses wearing natural hair.
“I was inspired by the hairstyles on Black-ish,” she said during a telephone interview.
But she soon learned Jackson isn’t Hollywood.
Last week Noble-Jones wrote a lengthy post on Medium — that has gone viral — titled “Why I disappeared from WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi.”
She said in the post her news director told her local viewers preferred a certain look.
“He said ‘Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen.’ He even asked why my hair doesn’t lay flat,” she wrote.
Jay Jackson, founder of the Los Angeles Reporters Clinic (LARC), which offers coaching and help with demo reels to aspiring reporters, called such thinking “ridiculous.”
“There should be no definition on what is beauty. If a person is a good journalist, they’re a good journalist,” he said.
Jackson, who spent more than two decades as a reporter at KCOP and KCBS-KCAL in Los Angeles, said he’s heard many stories about news directors telling women of color to change their hair.
“When you have a situation where these news directors at stations and news networks are run by people who look a certain way, predominately white males, they have an idea of what defines beauty,” he said. “Oftentimes, they don’t understand cultural beauty that is not similar to their own. So they try to pigeonhole people into what they think is beautiful.”
Jackson mentored ESPN journalist Cari Champion, Pamela Brown of CNN, and former Fox Business Network reporter-anchor Shibani Joshi, early in their careers. He said he often gives young reporters advice on their hair and wardrobe.
“What I tell them about their appearance is ‘look at the stations that you want to send your news reel to, and try your best to look somewhere like them,’ because my goal is to help get people a job,” he explained.
Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Noble-Jones worked as a general assignment reporter and fill-in anchor in her hometown at CBS affiliate KMOV-TV before moving to the South.
In 2014, she was one of the first journalists to cover the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of unarmed African-American teen, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. She used social media to tell the story in real-time, gaining national attention.
The following year she was named Emerging Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) for her coverage. As her star began to rise, she decided to leave KMOV-TV.
“I longed for an opportunity to be a main anchor. So I ended up leaving my hometown in St. Louis for an opportunity to be an anchor down South in Jackson,” she said.
She had a talent agent at the time, but told Urban Hollywood 411 she got the job at WJTV on her own. She joined the station in 2015, and eventually parted ways with her agent.
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Preparing a story for tonight on @wjtv Black lawmakers are boycotting a major legislative conference because of the confederate battle emblem on the #Mississippi flag. I’m told 30 bills about the flag came up last session but none of them survived committee. What happens next??? #bnjexclusive 📸 @newsman21
It wouldn’t be long before problems started at the Mississippi station, which she described as being stuck in “1953.”
After going to the station’s human resources department and Nexstar HR, she filed an EEOC complaint.
Noble-Jones was married when she moved to Mississippi, but recently divorced. She said stress from the situation at WJTV contributed to the breakdown of her marriage. Her two-year-old son is now in Missouri with relatives.
Since losing her job, she’s been unable to find full-time work in TV news. She’s now living with NABJ members in New York City, works at a clothing store, and freelances on the side.
“As a sales assistant, I almost make about the same per hour as I would on TV [in Mississippi],” she explained.
Still, money is tight. She started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to get an apartment and bring her son to New York.
Despite a series of challenges that would make many people give up, Noble-Jones remains determined to return to TV news.
“I want to get back in TV, but it has to be the right opportunity,” she said.