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Elaine Effort

Who hasn’t heard Elaine Effort’s voice on KQV news in Pittsburgh? She has been a fixture for many years, always reliable, calm and insightful. Many have also turned to Elaine to help promote their cause, and she always seems to have time for everyone who needs her. Elaine was a challenging interview, for she is so polished and professional that her responses were measured, fit for a short sound byte on the air. We kept asking questions, however, and she had many good things to say, as you can see for yourself in this excerpt.

JS: Today I have the privilege of speaking to someone who’s been a blessing to CUBM and our community for a few years now; Elaine Effort from KQV. Elaine, welcome to the Urban Heroes program.

EE: Thank you, John.

JS: As we’ve started out each interview, we’re going to go about 30 minutes, and we’ll transcribe this so people can listen or people can read. So tell our listeners and readers a little bit about Elaine Effort; who you are and what you do and how you got to where you are.

EE: Okay. Well, I’m a radio news reporter. I’ve been doing this for several decades now. I started in high school, and in college doing radio, just for fun. I enjoyed interviewing people and talking to people, and finding out; just curiosity led me to this kind of job. And, like I said, when I was in college, I worked at the student radio station, and I did all of this just for fun.

I thought I’d be an attorney. I was going to go to law school. My brother was an attorney, and I thought, “Oh wouldn’t that be neat, we would be partners in law.” And then I had a guidance counselor who listened to me and heard me on the radio. And she said, “I don’t understand why you’re taking these other courses and not…” She said, “You’re heavy on political science and history, and pre-law.” She said, “What about speech and news and journalism?” And I said, “Ooh, I just do those things for fun.” And she sort of laughed. “Well, when most people know that there’s something they like to do,” and she said, “I hear you all the time – I love your reports, I love your voice, and I like to hear you on the radio.” She said, “Have you ever thought of doing what you like for fun?” And I thought, “Oh my gosh, work and fun? They’re not supposed to be together. There’s no intersection.” And she said, “No, well I think you should pursue this.” So it was a guidance counselor who sort of nudged me to even consider it, and I don’t regret that.

JS: Now, are you a local girl, or did you come from someplace else?

EE: Yes, I come from Michigan.

JS: Okay. So you went to high school there.

EE: Right.

JS: Where did you go to college?

EE: To the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

JS: Ahh. Are you a faithful alumn?

EE: Ohhhh yes. I follow the maize and blue. Oh yes. In fact, I consider that a blessing that I went to the University of Michigan.

JS: How so?

EE: Well, I met my husband there, while he was in dental school. That’s where we met. And, just the opportunities that came my way as a result of going to the University of Michigan. The people I met, the people encouraged me, my instructors; I just felt like I received a wonderful education at the University of Michigan, and I am forever grateful.

JS: Did you consider any other places?

EE: Yes, I did. I was also accepted to Wayne State University in Detroit; a big university there that has a wonderful reputation. I was accepted to the honors college at Wayne State.

JS: Now what did you study in college?

EE: Political science.

JS: You did go poly-sci. But were you involved in media?

EE: Well, then I received my master’s degree in journalism, after I realized that, yes, this would work for me.

JS: And at Michigan for your masters?

EE: Yes.

JS: So how did you determine that “this will work for me”?

EE: At that time, more women were, it was at the beginning, we started seeing more women on tv and radio, and the newspapers. More women were getting into the field. And, I thought, the timing is good. And again, it was something that I liked to do. And that making a career of this was possible.

JS: Well let’s go back a little further. Tell us about your family, mom and dad, and siblings.

EE: Right. I grew up in Detroit with my mom and dad, Evelyn and Vernal Leiphart. And I have an older brother, Jerry, and a younger sister, Erma. And, also, very, very active in my life growing up in Detroit were my grandparents. I spent the summer with them in a little place called Shrewsbury, Ontario, Canada. And, they were very, very influential in my life as well. My grandfather taught me how to hunt and fire a rifle. And my grandmother taught me how to fish and to smell the wind and know when a storm was brewing on Lake Erie. And just really influential in my life.

JS: And do you still hunt and fish?

EE: I still fish. I just came back from fishing. But I don’t hunt. It was once I left Michigan, and in the news, and I realized that, oh, every time there was hunting season, we were always doing these reports about hunters shooting themselves or each other in these horrible accidents. I thought, “How could that happen?” They weren’t following these basic rules that my grandfather and my great uncles, when we went hunting, that we followed. It just couldn’t happen. And then I realized that not everybody is careful. Well, I sort of, I don’t know, I didn’t hunt after that.

JS: Were your family, were your grandparents church folk?

EE: Ohhhh yes. Ohh yes.

JS: Tell us about that.

EE: Well, we worshipped together, but we were active Christians. It was really part of who we were in our lives. So it wasn’t about memorizing and just doing things for Sunday. It was incorporating God’s word in our lives.

JS: And obviously that still influences you today?

EE: Yes it does. It’s just a part of who I am.

JS: And, so are you involved locally here? Or is it tough being a media person and to be involved in the church or other community opportunities?

EE: No, I’m a regular member and active member at the Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood. And I am a, well, we used to be called lay ministers, but now we’re called chalice bearers and lecters. And so, I read, we do the morning readings, and we also help with the Eucharist. We help the priest with the Eucharist.

JS: And tell me about your family today.

EE: Two grown children, April and Edmondson. And they too are active Christians, and it’s just something we do.

JS: They’re here local?

EE: No. Our son is in North Carolina, and he’s on the faculty of the school of engineering at North Carolina A&T. And our daughter is at Boston University. She’s in tech transfer and biomedical engineering technology transfers; she’s a director there.

JS: And husband is still in practice here?

EE: Yes. Oh, and our daughter is married. I now have a son-inlaw too.

JS: The family is expanding.

EE: Right! Very exciting.

JS: Let’s go back. You finish, you get your bachelors and masters degrees at Michigan. Tell us a little bit about your journey after that.

EE: Well, I was working in radio at Michigan at U of M, so I had lots of tape to send out. And I had professors who gave me tips and guidance counselors about job openings. And all of them though were out of town. And so, after graduation, I had three job offers. One in Pittsburgh, and that’s the one I selected. I had one offer in newspaper, one in radio, and one in television. I think because I had always liked radio, I took the radio job. And no regrets.

JS: And that was here?

EE: Yes.

JS: Was that with KQV or another station?

EE: Right. I’ve been with KQV all this time.

JS: Wow! Well I remember growing up we used to listen to KQV, and it was kind of the rock ‘n’ roll station. And then it made a transition. So were you here when it was a news station? Or, what was the scope or emphasis when you came?

EE: When I came to Pittsburgh, KQV was an ABC affiliate and they were doing music. Two years later the station was sold, and they changed to an all-news format. So I was in the right place at the right time.

JS: So was your emphasis news broadcasting? Reporting? Or, what was your emphasis?

EE: It was, yes, radio news, from the beginning.

JS: Now I know you do some interviewing now, don’t you? You have a show or two.

EE: Right. In addition to news, I do a weekly public affairs program called Pittsburgh Profiles. And, I’ve been doing that. Right after I got married though, I took a six-year sabbatical, and lived overseas in England, and started a family, and then came back to Pittsburgh.

JS: So what were you doing in England?

EE: My husband owed the Air Force some time. They helped him go to dental school. We didn’t live on base, but he was with the military, with the Air Force.

JS: Where you in the country? Manchester?

EE: We were in RAF Alconbury. It’s 60 miles due north of London, in the English countryside, near Cambridge.

JS: Did you enjoy that time?

EE: It was wonderful. Absolutely life changing, and wonderful.

JS: Do you get back there very often?

EE: We’ve been back a couple times, but it’s been a decade since we’ve gone back. It’s been a while. We used to go back frequently. But now there are lots of places we want to see. A lot of our friends, people that we knew then, have either moved or have gone on. But it is, to this day, one of our favorite places in the world.

JS: Looking back, what were some of the defining moments, what were some of the things that happened along the way that helped make Elaine Effort who she is today?

EE: I think it would be my family influence. My parents, and my father, and the encouragement that you get. You reach certain milestones, and they’re turning points where you have to make a decision. And I’ve been blessed. I’ve always gotten really good advice from my father and my grandparents, who said, “Always look into your heart, and just make a clean decision. You know, have a quiet time and pray, and listen. And the answer will come to you.” And I have found that to be true!

JS: Besides radio, have you dabbled in any other media since you’ve been here? Do you do any writing or have you done?

EE: Well I’ve done tv, and that was fun. My true love is radio, but I have done tv. I did at WPGH, I did a weekly public affairs show called In Focus. And years ago, I used to substitute for Chris Moore at WQED when he did Black Horizons. When he took vacation, I would substitute for him, and host Black Horizon.

JS: What have you tried to do as a journalist to assist the community, even in particular the African-American community? What have you seen your role to be there? What do you feel you’ve been able to do or accomplish?

EE: Number one, for everything that I do, I try to find the truth. Just speak the truth. You don’t have to color it or couch it. None of that. Just speak the truth. And I also try, and that’s why I’m grateful for the long-running Pittsburgh Profiles, to do the stories that may be overlooked. You know, the positive things that are going on in the African-American community. All of the arts and culture and the history – a lot of people don’t know the history and the black history – it’s amazing, Pittsburgh history in general is phenomenal.

And then there’s this black history. Who knew that these influential people are from Pittsburgh? And even if they went on to other places, what they accomplished, you know that where they were raised had to influence their work and who they are. So, that’s what I try to give to the community. That their own truth, and what they’re doing, in an outlet to get the word out. It’s not all negative.

And it’s important that they and everyone else, hear their story, and let them tell it. Again, I’m not trying to color t or rearrange it or fancy it up. It is what it is. And just listen to the people that are doing these things, and let people decide.

JS: Do you consider yourself a Pittsburgher now? Or do you still consider yourself a Michigander?

EE: Oh dear.

JS: It’s okay. You can be honest.

EE: Because Pittsburgh is home. You know, I claim Pittsburgh. But, I’ll never lose the Great Lake State that really influenced me. So, I still claim that too. I will never renounce it; I’ll always be that person from Michigan. But, I am a Pittsburgher now.

JS: So going back, you mentioned black history in Pittsburgh. What are a couple of the things that stand out to you? Surprises or things that are most notable about black history in Pittsburgh?

EE: First of all, the influence of Pittsburghers on arts and culture. That’s a huge, huge area. And then also, just recently did a piece about Daisy Lampkin and her role in the women’s rights movement, the suffragette movement. Her role in the early days of the NAACP. You don’t hear much about her.

But once you do the research and read about her, and her ability to raise money when the civil rights leaders were being jailed, and they would call her in the middle of the night. Her ability to sell memberships and raise money for the organization so that it could continue to grow and be active and have the resources it needed to stage the protests, to get the people out of jail, just to function.

And her leadership role is phenomenal. Just a phenomenal person. And you don’t necessarily hear about her, but there is a marker, a Pennsylvania state historical marker in the Hill District, in her honor. So the history is there; you just have to do the research. But it’s there. The story is there. You just have to tell it.

JS: I lived in Alabama for 18 years, and I became more southern than the southerners, because as an outsider, I did things and looked at things that they had never done or looked at. And I think you may have some of that tendency to. To dig a little deeper and not take things for granted, because you’re not from Pittsburgh. So you may ask some more questions or do a little more digging. On the arts side, who stands out? And I know there are many, but just a couple for you that made a significant mark, not just locally, but nationally.

EE: Henry O. Tanner, the artist, when I look historically. But, recently, the artists that are here now. They are doing remarkable things, and carrying on the tradition of outstanding Pittsburghers, whose works are in museums all over the world. And they’re right here, in Pittsburgh. A musician, Sean Jones, a remarkable trumpet player, who again, has an international reputation, and he’s right here in Pittsburgh.

JS: I guess he’s still teaching at Duquesne, isn’t he?

EE: Right. And I considered him Pittsburgh, but I think in actuality, I believe he’s from Ohio. But he claims Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh claims him. So even today, you’ve got all the old timers. The Billy Eckstines. But then the tradition continues with the musicians here today.

JS: Yeah, I interviewed Etta Cox earlier today and of course what she has done here, and now she’s teaching at CAPA. And so we do have a lot of great folks. What’s still left for Elaine? What is there for you on the bucket list that you haven’t done yet?

EE: Oh dear. Let’s see. I’m hoping the best is yet to come. Still working, still love what I do, and still telling Pittsburgh stories. You know, I love the politics. I love the legal side, covering federal courthouse and the things that are going on. And even when it’s corrupt, even covering the corruption and the wrongdoing; that is so important to let the light shine on that as well. You would think that the more we cover it and the more that people go to jail, but that continues.

So you wonder, what do you have to do? We cover these stories, people are convicted, people who had power and influence. And yet, they let that corrupt them. And they knew the law; many of them are attorneys. They know the law. They know right from wrong. What happened? And I hope that maybe I could study that a little bit more and interview; what happened. You were hard working and you were bright and you could get things done. What happened? What happened? What went wrong?

JS: Do you ever get asked teach?

EE: I have, yes. The way I have found to do that is through the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation. And I was a founding member of that organization. And a founding member of the annual workshop that we do for high school students. There’s always a way to make it happen.

JS: What else have you done that we don’t know about? What other things are you a part of? Or things you’ve been very involved in?

EE: I like to quilt.

JS: Do you?

EE: Yes. And I was able, again, another opportunity, I quilted with the women of Gee’s Bend in Alabama. I was doing an interview with the group about the work that they do here in the community. And they mentioned that they were going to have an exhibit, and they would have these women from Alabama come and work with them and their students. And I couldn’t believe it, because I had just gone to an exhibit in Cleveland where their work was on display, and their story also.

So I was able to interview them and they invited me down, and I had an opportunity to go and make quilts with them. I mean it’s just remarkable, because it turns out that the Pettway family, that’s one of the families that’s involved in Gee’s Bend, have relatives here in Pittsburgh. So they were able to connect with the Pittsburgh Quilters Group, and then somehow I was interviewing them.

So you see how opportunity just comes your way and you didn’t even do anything. You didn’t go looking for it. A lot of times it comes to you, but you have to be open to it. So that’s why, when it comes to what I might do in the future, who knows. Who knows what God might send my way.

JS: Let’s say you were invited to a local journalism class, and you had an opportunity to talk to students who were thinking about journalism as a career. And knowing what you know today, looking and reflecting back on the past, what are some of the things you would tell them?

EE: I would tell them that they’ve got to know the new media. They’ve got to know how to do the new things that are online and all the new social media. And that how can they use that? And they’ve got to be really sharp and open to the possibilities in the future, because this career field is changing dramatically.

I don’t even know today how many students I would recommend going into this business. There are 30% fewer reporters in newspaper newsrooms nationwide. 30% fewer than just 12 years ago. That’s not to mention when I started.

So, this career path, you have to look at it in news ways. What can you do; you need more than one skill, you need multiple skills, you have to be open, and almost create your own way of getting the message out. So you’ve got to look at it differently than I looked at it coming in, so many decades ago.

JS: And somebody considering or looking to make an impact, make a difference with their life. What would you say? What principles would you be able to draw from your own experience that you would encourage them to pay attention to?

EE: That, guard your reputation. Your reputation means everything; it means who you are. And so, to that end, be honest with yourself and with others. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

JS: Ooh, where have we heard that before?

EE: And it’s so true. It’s so true. And when you let the goodness that’s in you, it’s there, if you let that shine, and you let that be who you are, you will be successful. You’re going to have to work hard, but you also have to have integrity and character, and be someone of substance.

Do what you say you’re going to do. Be on time. Little things like that. You know, you don’t leave work early. You get there before you’re supposed to be and you leave a little later than you’re supposed to be. Show up. You’ve got to show up and be ready to work. And that’s in everything. Even at church, in your clubs, in your sports. Whatever it is, you have to be there. And if it isn’t something you don’t want to do, don’t.

JS: Don’t fake it.

EE: Yeah. Don’t fake it. Be honest. And even in having that discussion, they may help you see it in another way. Well, yeah, we see you’re doing it this way. But maybe if you try you can get more out of it and you can give more.

JS: What do you to stay fresh? What do you do to refresh yourself or keep your edge?

EE: Go to church!

JS: You’re my kind of girl!

EE: You really need it. You need to know there is something greater than yourself, because you can get bogged down in, “Oh, look at all the bad around me. Look at all the negative. What can I do?” Well, you can do anything with God’s help, but you’ve got to know that. And it has to be part of you. It has to be part of your being.

JS: Well, you’re a Detroit girl, and now Pittsburgh. So you’ve spent your life in the city. As we close, what would you say to the urban community? I know you have to be one that’s objective, and you’re seeking the truth, and you report as objectively as you can. But subjectively, what do you say to the urban community today based on your perspective, and your life-long experience?

EE: That there’s more good than evil. It’s there. It’s next door to you. It’s across the street. It’s in the little neighborhood store; the bakery. Keep your eyes open to it.

JS: And I guess in light of the message you would give to the media students, find ways to tell it.

EE: Yes.

JS: I mean, find an audience that wants to hear it and develop that.

EE: Exactly. Don’t be afraid to create something; to look at things differently. You see how they’re being done, but how can it be done better? What can you use, these new resources, the Internet and all these new things, how can they be used to tell the story to get the word out.


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