Lissette Campos knows the eye-catching videos, scandalous tales and breaking news events will always grab the lead spot on the WFTS-Ch. 28 newscasts, but she doesn't at all miss the days when she chased those stories. She remembers all too well covering such news in the early stages of her career. As a Miami television reporter, she reported on corrupt politicians, quizzed mothers about the arrests of their sons or daughters and once chronicled the story of a Russian mobster who tried to use a submarine to smuggle drugs into the country. Such pursuits, however, often meant going to places where she wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms. "I remember a man saying, 'My dog can eat you in 20 seconds,' and it was literally the same height as I am," Campos said. "I remember people cocking their gun and saying, 'Get off my property.' Now, I don't even think about all that crazy stuff." A veteran TV news reporter, Campos, 44, now finds joy in presenting good news stories and shining the spotlight on charitable community efforts. As the WFTS director of community affairs, she presents Positively Tampa Bay segments and leads the station's community awareness efforts. In our Sunday Conversation, Campos shared with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Ernest Hooper that she traces her attraction to positive stories to much more than escaping the realities of hard news.
Is there something in your upbringing that led you to report positive stories?
I'm so glad you asked that question because it gives me a chance to brag about my parents (Sergio and Miriam Campos). It goes back to my mom and dad. They came here from Cuba as teenagers, and they had nothing but the clothes on their back. They came from well-to-do families in Cuba and for them the change was such a culture shock and a financial shock. I don't know where they would be if it wasn't for the kindness of others. They were so fortunate that someone saw them and saw their promise and saw they were decent human beings.
So since someone helped them, you help others today?
They said, if we teach you only one thing, we want you to know everyone has a story. As a writer, you're uniquely trained to capture their stories and give them dignity. Give them respect and dignity and let them feel that they're important. They're very giving, very generous. They always see the good in the people They've got the best stories. When my family gets together, we say, 'Tell us the New York story. Tell us about the Arab guy, the Puerto Rican lady.' They have all these characters who helped them. We just laugh. We only regret we can't go back and thank these people for helping them because it's really emotional.
Your work on raising awareness about domestic abuse has helped the station win Emmys, a Green Eyeshade Award and a National Headliner Award. How has that impacted your perspective?
I mean this with every single word: That campaign has changed my life. It really broke down all the stereotypes I had in my mind about what a victim of domestic violence looks like. I thought it will never happen to me or my sister or my daughters because I come from an educated family, I'm middle class, I'm a working professional, I'm safe. I thought those things could keep me out of that arena. But when we sat there looking at these interviews, I thought, "How can that woman be a victim?" There was an attorney, an accountant, a social worker, the wife of a pastor. That campaign made me realize how important it is to be aware of this danger and how important it is to know the signs so you can stop it, so you can save yourself. I have two daughters and I pray every night that they're never victims because it's just awful.
Your work raises awareness of nonprofits, but sometimes you serve as an emcee for organizations at different events. What motivates you to go above and beyond?
When you go and do the research on these organizations and nonprofits, it's a chance to discover these people are very special. You feel that passion they have for their cause and that they are good and decent people. You can't help but feel a connection.
How do you decide whom to help?
There aren't enough hours in the day, so I try to pick and choose and make it something I have an affinity for. Certainly, I try to help organizations fighting domestic abuse, and I like groups involved with empowering young women and Hispanic causes.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.