Sidmel Estes, 60: Media trailblazer was admired mentor

Nationally renowned media trailblazer Sidmel Estes devoted her life to mentoring aspiring journalists and championing diversity in the newsroom.

As an executive television producer for WAGA-TV/Fox 5, where she worked for 27 years, Estes co-created the groundbreaking morning news show “Good Day Atlanta.”

Under her direction from 1993 to 2006, the show became No. 1 in its market, beating “Good Morning America” and “Today,” winning seven Emmys and helping to jump-start the careers of musical artists such as Usher and TLC.

It also launched the “Good Day” franchise for the Fox network.

Also a trailblazer outside of the newsroom, she was elected in 1991 as the first woman president of the National Association of Black Journalists, which inspired other women to pursue leadership roles.

“We lost somebody who was an excellent journalist behind the scenes,” said friend and former WSB-TV anchor Monica Pearson. “She was a smart woman who had on-air skills but took the management route. Sidmel really will be missed. I am grateful to have known her.”

Estes died Tuesday after a brief illness at DeKalb Medical Hillandale in Lithonia. She was 60. Visitation will begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by the service at 2 p.m. at Elizabeth Baptist Church at 4245 Cascade Road in Atlanta.

Born on Nov. 27, 1954, in Marysville, Calif., Estes grew up in Atlanta, where both her parents were educators in the Atlanta Public Schools.

After high school, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees as an honors graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and was later inducted as a charter member of the school’s Hall of Achievement.

She began her career in 1977 as an anchor/reporter for Guam Cable TV. Two years later, she returned to Atlanta and was hired by CBS affiliate WAGA, now Fox 5, where she rose through the ranks to executive producer.

“Even though we were competitors, I admired her work. She was a genius at putting together a program,” Pearson said. “She was literally the wind beneath the wings of the people on the anchor desk. She had a great sense of humor. She also suffered no foolishness. She expected you to do your best at your job with no excuses, even in a volunteer capacity.”

During her presidency, NABJ’s membership increased to more than 2,000 journalists, and Ebony magazine included it in its list of Top 100 Black Organizations. She also served as an NABJ regional director and president of the Atlanta chapter.

“Sidmel’s in-your-face leadership style was my introduction to the best of NABJ as a new student member in 1993,” NABJ President Sarah Glover said in a statement. “Sidmel was an admired journalist and loving mother. She was the working woman that media moms could model and aspire to be.”

In 1994, Estes served as a co-creator of the first Unity conference, which brought together the nation’s four largest minority journalism associations. She also helped develop and release Unity’s “Kerner Plus 25: A Call For Action” report, which outlined steps to improve racial diversity in newsrooms.

Passionate about helping young journalists, she volunteered for NABJ workshops and boot camps. She also taught as an adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University and Emory University and as a guest lecturer for the journalism and sports program at Morehouse College.

Elise Durham first met Estes at an NABJ boot camp when she was a college student. She would later work for Estes as a producer on “Good Day.”

“It was at the boot camp that I knew I wanted to be a producer,” said Durham, now acting director of communications at Morehouse. “She was a phenomenal mentor, no holds barred, a no-nonsense consummate journalist and loyal friend.”

After leaving Fox 5 in 2006, Estes founded BreakThrough Inc., a media-consulting firm.

She was named Media Woman of the Year by the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Media Woman, one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony and featured in More magazine’s book “50 over 50.”

Estes also was a recipient of the Silver Circle Award from the Southeast chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and Northwestern’s Alumni Service Award.

Before her death, friends started an online FundRazr drive to help defray medical costs for health conditions as she lacked insurance. Those funds now will be used to pay her funeral expenses and to help her sons. To donate:

Estes is survived by her sons Joshua and Sidney Sumpter of Lithonia, brothers Edward Estes of Washington, D.C., and Christopher Estes of Atlanta, sister Cheryl Estes Hollis of Atlanta, stepmother Barbara Estes of Atlanta and former husband B. Garnett Sumpter of South Carolina.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Sidmel Estes

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