Viewers in Texas may not know his name but John Jenkins has helped shape television news coverage throughout the Lone Star State since 1968. His life story began in Hitchcock, Texas, just 15 miles from Galveston. Jenkins was one of 11 children. “There was always plenty of food, plenty of clothing and my folks believed in work… there was always plenty of work,” said Jenkins in a 2016 interview. Jenkins cherished reading as a child and was encouraged by his family with daily book reports before dinner.
Jenkins persevered in education despite feeling the sting of racial segregation. “White people told black people what to do and only allowed them to do so much,” said Jenkins. “If there were white people walking down the sidewalk, there were black people who would step off.”
Jenkins attended North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) with dreams of being a Pulitzer winning writer. He was on a campus stroll when sportscaster Bill Mercer persuaded him to look into broadcasting. Soon there was a job posting at KRLD-TV (now KDFW) in Dallas. “The job was posted a week after the FCC said that radio and TV stations needed to reflect the communities that they serve,” said Jenkins. He became a newsroom trainee and was among the first African-American journalists hired in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
Later, Jenkins became a full-time photographer at WFAA-TV. It was during an interview with a woman who had lost her father in a police involved shooting, that he realized his calling.
“I was on a medium shot and I just moved [the camera] in a little bit and she looked at me,” said Jenkins. “She said ‘my dad is gone. They said he had a gun. I don’t know, I don’t care. I don’t have a dad anymore’. I just held that shot on her face. Tears came down and I was behind the camera crying. And at that moment, it was ‘oh my goodness, this thing [camera] was powerful’.”
After years on the streets, meeting Presidents and celebrities and covering fires and weather, Jenkins moved into news management at KDAF-TV in Dallas. A News Director role in Tyler followed. Management roles at KHOU-TV in Houston and KDFW-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth followed. Jenkins is a champion of diversity, both at KXAS-TV for the past 16 years, and within NBC. One colleague says, “John Jenkins doesn’t make excuses. He only demands excellence.”
He is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, helping to form the DFW chapter, and the Society of Professional Journalists. He will take time to talk to the college intern just starting their career. And there are veteran journalists — news directors, anchor/reporters, photojournalists — who say they owe their careers to Jenkins’ guidance.
“I’ve been doing this for 46 years and the more things change, the more they remain the same,” said Jenkins. “This job is about people. Respecting people. Empowering people. Giving people what they need.”