Behind the Beauty with Denise Walters

The award-winning TVJ journalist talks about the highs and lows of media, Manchester United and much more!

Even though we’re bringing you a new and improved version of Behind the Beauty, we had to link with an old favourite who has accomplished a lot since we interviewed her for the original series in 2015, Denise Walters!

Our latest edition of Behind the Beauty chronicles the award-winning journalist known for her work with TVJ and the RJR Group. We go in-depth with the Spanish Town native about her accomplished career, the state of women’s sports in Jamaica and lots more.

876: Thanks for doing this with us again! You are a veteran in this media game and have seen it all in an ever-demanding job. Do you ever sit back and marvel at how long you’ve done it and your impressive career achievements? 

Denise: Funny you should ask as only just recently, I thought I’m almost a seasoned veteran in journalism. I did my internship at The Gleaner in 2007 and started professionally at CVM TV in 2008. So, I’ve been at it professionally for 15 years. I’ve dabbled in PR and Marketing in 2008/2010/2011, but for the most part, media is what I do.

Having done this for so long, it becomes routine, an extension of my life, if you will. So, to me, it’s just like a regular function. So apart, from that thought I recently had, no I’ve not sat & thought about the time spent in media or achievements because I always have a desire to do more. I still feel like I just started out and still have a lot to learn.

876: Since the last time we did this feature with you, you’ve (unsurprisingly) achieved several accolades in your career. You earned a pair of Journalist of the Year nods and a special award from Caymanas Park for your years of horse racing coverage. What do these achievements mean to you?

Denise: The thing about those Journalist of the Year nominations, as well as a Sports Journalist of the Year nomination, is I shied away for years. You had to enter your own stories and I didn’t want to. For years, friends, colleagues and I even remember in one instance, the then-president of the PAJ cuss me for a couple of years for not doing it. So. eventually I did (laughs). I’m very laid back and don’t put a lot of stock in these things. But, it does mean something that my work is recognized and is rated among some of the best news, not just sports (although sports is news) stories during that period. Because for sports to be nominated with hardcore news is no easy fete.

The award from SVREL & having a race named in my honour was very special. I’ve been a racing fan and going to the track before I ever became a journalist. When people who have been in the industry for years tell me it’s deserved, it makes me proud.

Denise Walters raising the Walker Cup won by her alma mater, St. Catherine High School.
Denise Walters raising the Walker Cup won by her alma mater, St. Catherine High School.

876: You do it all really. You write, produce, and do on-screen interviews and radio. Is there a specific part of your work that you enjoy doing more than the rest?

Denise: I’ve grown to love producing. I hated it initially. When I started NCU in 2004, my major was TV Broadcasting. By the time I got to my second year, I realized it had mostly production courses. Plus, there were maybe less than 10 broadcasting courses for the 4 years. I literally used to fall asleep reading my production textbooks, so I changed my major to PR. Ironically, my first TV job in 2008 was as a production assistant. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything because accepting that challenge prepared me for what I was about to do and I didn’t even know. The good thing about NCU was, and probably still is, that you learn about everything, especially as it relates to Mass Communication. So, you’ll fit in wherever you go. If the only job available was as an editor or videographer, I could do it.

After joining the RJR/Gleaner group as a producer, I had direct responsibilities to create features and vignettes for the Olympics and World Championships. I also created shows for TVJSN. Being left on my own to do all that, in some ways, gave me the direction and focus I didn’t know I needed. And, it gave me leadership qualities I didn’t know I possessed. It challenged and tested my creativity. It also showed my resourcefulness in getting the job done with limited resources. I still do those features, among others, today and I love the challenge. I love watching my creations come to life.

Outside of that, I love doing what we call enterprising stories, where you dig beneath the surface, beyond the scores. Those are ideas and concepts I come up with myself. And, they are generally what are entered for the awards.

876: You’ve also interviewed many of the biggest names in the sports industry over your distinguished career. Which interview stands out most for you as the most memorable?

Denise: I worked in news and entertainment too. So, I’ve interviewed prime ministers, former prime ministers, ministers of government, artistes etc. And, of course, the biggest names in sports. So, that’s actually a hard question.

I don’t know if it’s the most memorable, but it definitely stood out. I once interviewed the former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Arkady Dvorkovich. He was in Jamaica for a one-day visit in his bid to become president of the International Chess Federation, FIDE. The press surrounding that was interesting as the U.S. sanctioned the then-sitting president for conducting business dealings with Syria. The then-president opted out of running for re-election and Dvorkovich won and is a two-term president now. It made for an interesting conversation. I still have that entire interview by the way. The World Cup was coming up in Russia. I got to ask him about the racism often experienced there and the best way to handle it.

Another memory that stood out was American hammer thrower, DeAnna Price, who won at the JAAA’s JIIM in 2018. As I was doing trackside interviews, she literally lifted me up. And, she rocked me back and forth to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” playing in the background. Listen, when I tell you she picked me up like I weighed nothing. I was 145 pounds at the time (laughs). Later that year, she won NACAC gold. And, the following year, she won World Champs gold.

876: The media business is a very demanding one, as mentioned earlier. The stress this industry causes is overwhelming at times and takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being. How do you best manage such stress?

Denise: I love sports and I love being a sports journalist, so I’ll work every day for months, for many hours on end. When I was working with the cable division, I went to Westmoreland to cover motor racing at Jamwest. I didn’t get back home until after midnight the following day and a few hours later, I was back on the job. Then, I headed to Ochi to conduct some interviews. Or, pulling overtime working on features, etc, getting up by 4 a.m. for the company taxi to pick me up by 5 a.m. (I don’t drive). I didn’t get back home until 1 a.m. the following morning, And, by 10 a.m., I was out the door.

For years, I did things like that until I started taking vacations in 2018 and I burned out without even realizing it. Whenever I feel I need to destress, I mostly go to the beach. I get away from the stress, the hustle and bustle. If I can’t make it to the beach, then the spa is a wonderful option and I get a massage at least three times per year. Or, I sleep. I was plagued with insomnia for 14 years and now I can sleep for 24 hours, I kid you not. Sometimes, the best place to unwind is home with a good book, chocolate and a glass of wine, coupled with sleeping.

876: Speaking of stress (laughs), as anyone who knows you knows, you support Manchester United. Since 2015, when we did this feature the first, it’s been a real rollercoaster ride. Last season, Erik ten Hag’s management and Marcus Rashford’s superb season offered renewed hope. However, they’ve struggled to build on that so far this campaign. What do you think of the Ten Hag era so far? And, do you have any hope this era will lead United back to its former glory?

Denise: The answer to the latter question is no. I think Ten Hag’s era will end up like all other managers at United. To be fair, he won a trophy, albeit the Mickey Mouse (Carabao) Cup. But, there are too many distractions and mini-internal battles ongoing. There are too many players making excuses for not delivering at the highest level, And, there are too many players who are not up to standard and shouldn’t be on the team sheet much less the roster. The owners are running the club into the ground and the cycle continues.

876: One of the most admirable aspects of sports in JA in recent years is the progress of our female athletes.  From our depth of female sprinting talent to the Reggae Girlz’ amazing ascent, among other stories. However, as we’ve especially seen with the Girlz recently, the support from the powers that be isn’t where it should be. Do you think women’s sports in Jamaica get the respect it deserves? What needs to change?

Denise: The short answer to that is no. Sports overall is seen as glorified P.E. in Jamaica and the COVID-19 pandemic made that evident. So many industries opened and reopened locally, but they viewed sports as this big super spreader. Even when the rest of the world was playing sports and “the numbers trended down” for a general election, sports got the shaft.

Now, if the men are barely getting support, women are not even getting half of whatever the men get. And, it wasn’t just football. The women’s volleyball team, rugby sevens team and the Sunshine Girls all delivered on the big stage with the resources they had.

What needs to change? The perception of sports among the powers that be. And, having better administrators. We need persons with the purse strings and influence who don’t just post when teams/individuals are doing well, or dole out some cash. They must invest in development at the grassroots level. That will help the nation will have even better success.

Denise Walters and Khadija Shaw link up at the  Norman Manley International Airport as the Reggae Girlz returned home from the 2019 Women's World Cup.
Denise Walters and Khadija Shaw link up at the Norman Manley International Airport as the Reggae Girlz returned home from the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

876: Being an 876 Beauty, one of our favourites to highlight, what do you consider your most attractive physical feature? And, what’s your most attractive non-physical feature?

Denise: My most attractive physical feature is probably the bumper. The most attractive non-physical feature…my wit.

876: When it comes to a relationship, or trying to see if there’s a potential for a relationship with someone, what are your biggest turn-ons and turn-offs that make you decide if there’s a connection or not?

Denise: I don’t necessarily have a list. But, when it happens in the moment, I know. Because every scenario and case is different.

876: What is one interesting fact about yourself that would surprise others?

Denise: I’m seriously shy and very introverted.

876: You’re a recognized vet in your profession now and seem perfectly qualified to pass on advice to the next generation. What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to anyone trying to break into the journalism world, given your experiences?

Denise: The media landscape has changed so much and continues to evolve that very few persons are interested in traditional journalism. That’s the way I was trained. But, my advice is to learn every aspect of media: TV, radio, newspaper, multi-media, videography and camera work. It will serve you well, especially when job hunting.


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