He has been the weekend news anchor and a fixture at Channel Four news for three decades; now he is about to make his own news retiring to the Big Easy.
Furnell Chatman has made reporting the news seems so easy and effortless that it's hard to imagine looking at the news without him or that in 1968, he was the first Black news reporter in Louisiana. Starting his television career in New Orleans as a weekend monitor and desk assistant at WVUE-TV, he graduated to becoming a reporter and by 1972, he was anchoring the noon news.
Describing some of his experiences as a reporter, Chatman said, "It's been a wild ride; 40 years in the trenches is simply enough, 35 years with NBC, it was an incredible journey." Reflecting on how far the nation has come, he continued, "I broke the color barrier in Louisiana and pretty much in the South, as the first African American to make it on TV in the late 60s. I plan to go back to Louisiana, post-Katrina to help rebuild my own home, which I had for 10 years, and to help other families who lost their homes as well.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Chatman graduated with honors from Xavier University and was one of only 20 candidates selected nationwide to participate in a special program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
As a co-anchor of Channel 4 News on weekends, Chatman's news coverage was rated as number one. He previously held positions as a general assignment reporter at WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio before joining the NBC team in 1973. Over the past three decades, Chatman has covered nearly every major news event in the Greater Los Angeles area including the earthquakes, post Rodney-King the civil unrest, the 1984 Olympics, brushfires, floods, and the infamous "trial of the century" with O.J. Simpson
"I had the first on-camera interview with Rodney King after the LAPD brutality case," Chatman recalled, "and also with O.J. Simpson after he was acquitted. I watched three women jumped to their deaths from a high rise building in Louisiana; that one really stayed with me. But helping people, that's what it is really about. I hope I've shown some care for people."
He went wherever the news led him in breaking significant news stories. Chatman not only had the reporter's instinct for the high profile, guts-and-gore news but he diligently sought to uncover the lesser-profile community-oriented stories. He participated in numerous community events throughout and beyond the Southern California region each year and volunteered his time to emcee many of those events.
Charisse Bremond-Weaver, president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade, said, "The community will miss the great Furnell Chatman. He has been amazing, telling our stories, telling the community's stories and being a part of the community." Remembering the times that he emceed the Brotherhood Crusade annual dinners, she recalled, "I can't even count how many years he has been the master of ceremonies for the Brotherhood dinner. He has volunteered thousands of hours calls to serve the community and that will be deeply missed as he is retiring."
A recipient of numerous awards for his journalistic work, Chatman has received Emmys, Golden Mikes, as well as honors from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club, the Ohio Associated Press Club, the Greater New Orleans Press Club and a Lifetime Achievement Award from "Minorities in Broadcasting."
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and chairman of the Brotherhood Crusade, has been a longtime friend of Chatman – they are both from New Orleans – and he was very honored to be able to express his feelings and appreciation for the countless times when Chatman gave of his time and talent to the Brotherhood Crusade. "He always brought his sense of community with him to and from the newsroom," Bakewell recalled, "he was good because he was in touch with the community, particularly the African American community, but he also prided himself in making sure that he understood the plight and circumstances of any and every community that he covered, and that's what made him an excellent reporter. He was not only a good newsman but also a trusted friend."
It is befitting to celebrate his journalistic excellence as a native son returning home to New Orleans after he has been away from home pioneering the way and leaving a trail for the unborn generations to travel.
Rev. Eric Lee, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Foundation of Greater Los Angeles summed up the essence of Chatman as a journalist when he said, " I think it's going to be a tragic loss for the news industry because Furnell has always brought us stories that is more significant to all of Los Angeles and has brought them with an intelligence, professionalism and grace."
There will now be an empty seat at the journalism table as Chatman retires to the Big Easy.