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Robinson was accepted at Dartmouth, where she hoped to study art, but financial considerations kept her close to home. "My parents couldn't weather the idea of spending an exorbitant amount of money. I was in tears. My father sat me down and said, 'Here is the reality of it. If you go, you must have a job, and you can come home once a year.' That was just not acceptable to me at that time. My sister was going to Northern Illinois on a scholarship at the same time. They couldn't afford to have two girls in college and let one make all these sacrifices and get scholarships and pay through the nose for the other one."
She went to Marquette, the Jesuit university in Milwaukee. But the journalism program there lacked hands-on course work, and after a year a frustrated, homesick Robinson transferred to the smaller Loyola University in Chicago. There she divided her time between course work and interning at NBC's Chicago bureau.
"The only reason I went to college was because I wanted to be a journalist," she remembers. "That was my attitude. Being in that newsroom fascinated me. The energy, the characters, stories: It was all at a heightened level of energy that I found infectious. It was exciting to see how the pitch built from midday to evening and then calmed down again.
"I was incredibly eager. I'd be in their face, going, 'Hi, I'm going to be a reporter,' and it was kind of like, 'Yeah yeah, OK, sure.' But they saw that I was doggedly determined, and after a while they started helping me. They saw I was passionate about it. I'd talk to reporters and they'd help me with my script-writing and give me techniques for how to carry myself on the air. Photographers would let me come out on shoots with them, and at the end, they'd start calling me at my desk and say, 'Listen, we're going to be on the Wacker bridge about 3:00. We're only staying 15 minutes, and if you don't show up, we're leaving.'
"I'd get out there in my little suit that I would bring to work so I would be ready in case they had some time to shoot a stand-up for me, and I'd go and do my little stand-up, and then I'd try to get editing time. And they never had time. And I said, 'Listen, if I go and get dinner for you, will you edit this thing for me?' I'd come and bring them a bottle of wine, a bottle of champagne as a way to say thank you."
One of her mentors was Roger Brown, an African-American producer at NBC's Chicago affiliate, WQAM, which was right down the hall from the national bureau's offices. "I could tell she knew what she wanted from the day I met her," Brown recalls. "Some kids will come in here looking like they just got out of English class, but she dressed in a way that was acceptable in an office environment." Brown took Robinson under his wing. He helped her write scripts, facilitated the recording of her first demos, and generally encouraged her.
"I came into the business in 1970 and there was nobody there to take my hand and it made it very difficult for me," he says. "So I kind of vowed that if I ever had a chance to help somebody out, I should be more than happy to. And I think she could relate on a number of levels because of the experience of being black."
A job in NBC's financial department soon led to a gig in South Bend, Ind., covering economically depressed southeastern Michigan, which led to Norfolk, covering military affairs, and later Dallas, where she covered City Hall. In 1990 she was working for a station in Baltimore when it went bankrupt, prompting Robinson to take a gig as a weekend reporter at KMSP. In 1992 she started anchoring, and in 1994 she was asked to be the station's full-time entertainment reporter.
"When I first was asked to do 'The Buzz,' I fought it," she says. "'I have an extensive résumé, I'm not gonna do this fluff reporting.' And they said, 'It won't be. Do it well, and no one will think it's fluff.' So I saw it as a chance to get out from behind the anchor desk and do the best work I could do."
"I can't be pretentious about it," Robinson says later. "I'm not Ted Koppel. This is the local news. But it's an important job."
Initially, the segment was underfunded and difficult to manage, and Robinson often had to fill it without the assistance of camera crews. "I'd call record labels, get publicity stills, and use old interview footage," she says. "I was very resourceful." Soon, "The Buzz" began to gain, well, a buzz, and the Cities' top-secret alternative culture that she'd been assigned to cover began to warm to her presence.
"I think that when she first started coming around, I saw things she would do to fit that made me very aware that she wanted to be perceived as cooler than her media role," remembers Rachel Joyce, a Walker Art Center independent publicist and scenester-at-large.
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