“That’s a Wrap!” for Barbara Ciara

Barbara Ciara

Well-known local media personality leaves a legacy of advocacy, tenacity and journalistic excellence in Coastal Virginia  

Since 1981, Barbara Ciara has been a fixture of broadcast news in Coastal Virginia. On December 1, Ciara did her last broadcast for Channel 3 WTKR. After 23 years with the station and 50 years in journalism, Ciara is retiring.

Throughout her career, Ciara has interviewed world leaders, reported from global conflict zones, investigated major stories and advocated for numerous causes. And she has done the majority of her work from her home base in Coastal Virginia. 

Ciara grew up in Pittsburgh. Her introduction to journalism came at the age of 13, when the girls at her middle school hosted a sit-in protesting the school’s dress code, which prohibited girls from wearing slacks except on snow days.

“It was the ’60s, and there were protests all the time that I’d see on television—whether it was peace protests about the war in Vietnam, or civil rights protests. So, the girls at my school decided to protest the policy,” Ciara remembers. 

To Ciara’s chagrin, the protest did not make it into the school paper. She confronted the editor about it.

“I told her this was the biggest thing since pizza in the cafeteria! And I can’t believe you didn’t do a story on it. She said ‘if you’re so smart, why don’t you work on the paper?’ And honestly, that’s when my love of media, print journalism and storytelling began.”

Ciara’s journalism career started at KZAZ-TV in Tucson, Arizona, in 1976. Two years later, she was the youngest female and first African-American in the Southwest to become a news director of a commercial TV station. In 1981, she moved to Norfolk to join Channel 13 WVEC.

“I thought I’d be here for a couple years, but there’s something magical about this place. It felt like home.” Ciara says. “For me, the magic initially was the camaraderie I had in my newsroom. Then that spread out into the community, making friends there. My son brought his family here in the ’90s, so I was able to watch my family grow and thrive here too.”

Early on in her career, Ciara built relationships with leaders at the three local TV stations. By maintaining these strong connections in the area, she was able to take new opportunities as they arose. In 1989, she moved to WAVY 10. In 1991, she went back to WVEC, where she stayed for the next nine years. Her last stop was Channel 3 WTKR, where she spent the next 23 years.

In her 42-year career in Coastal Virginia, Ciara certainly made a mark. Ciara reported from Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11th attacks. She has interviewed the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush. 

Ciara served as the president of the National Association of Black Journalists from 2007-2009. She has won myriad coveted journalism accolades, including several Capital Regional Emmy Awards. She has been recognized as the Best Local Female TV News Anchor by Coastal Virginia Magazine readers.

While she has reported on monumental global issues and interviewed some of the world’s most powerful people, Ciara says the story that still resonates most deeply with her is one she did more than 20 years ago about a local business owner named Tony. He had reached out to Ciara after he found out his insurance company was not going to cover his cancer treatment.

“I hadn’t had much experience being an investigative reporter at that point,” Ciara says. “I chased after his insurance company, and through the reporting, we were able to get them to cover him. Tony thought that he would go to his grave bankrupting his family for his cancer care. Instead, he died knowing his family would be OK.

“Yes, I have interviewed presidents and celebrities. But when you can really make a positive difference in someone’s life, when you can advocate for people who don’t have a voice, that is so meaningful. That’s why this story is the one that bubbles to the surface for me.”

Ciara has used her voice countless times over her 50-year journalism career to advocate for others. When her father was diagnosed with diabetes, she began fundraising and advocating for the American Diabetes Association. She has also worked to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and served with various organizations, including the local nonprofit For Kids and the Virginia Aquarium board. 

“When it became clear that people would listen more if I was advocating for something, I was all over it. In the 80s, I got involved with raising money for causes like AIDS, which wasn’t very popular to do at that time. I wanted to make sure I could elevate the conversation about these issues to make a difference,” Ciara says.

Although Ciara is retiring from TV news, she plans to continue her advocacy work and keep using her voice to speak up for others. She also has big plans to travel the world. She and her husband Dr. James Martin tied the knot on New Year’s Eve, and they will be taking on the ABC Islands, Italy and southeast Asia this year.

“It’ll be fun to be able to travel without a notebook!” Ciara says.

Flashing Back

Revisiting the 2000 premiere issue of Hampton Roads MONTHLY with Barbara Ciara

Barbara Ciara cover HR Monthly

In November 2000, the first issue of Hampton Roads Monthly (now Coastal Virginia Magazine) was published, and Barbara Ciara was on the cover. The story was “Who Wants to Be the President?” and featured interviews with local personalities about their views on the issues. We revisited some of Ciara’s answers from that interview 23 years ago.

Coastal Virginia Magazine: In the issue of Hampton Roads Monthly that was released in 2000, you were asked what you thought the biggest problem facing Hampton Roads was, and you said name identification. Lo and behold, all these years later we’ve rebranded this magazine to Coastal Virginia Magazine, and Coastal Virginia is becoming a more popular moniker for the area. Do you think it’s a better fit?

Barbara Ciara I do! I like Coastal Virginia because it helps people understand our geography. We are very water-centric, so I think it’s a closer fit.

What do you think is the number one issue facing Coastal Virginia today?
When you’ve watched an area develop as I have from my point of view, since 1981, the biggest issue I’ve seen is growth and transportation management. We have not managed our growth and our transportation needs in the seven cities. The majority of the state budget for transportation goes to Northern Virginia, which means we don’t get to update our roadways and highway systems at the same pace, even though our growth has been unbelievable. 

You said your weakness that would give the paparazzi the most glory was the fact that you are a notorious plant killer. Have you become a better plant parent in the past 23 years?
I am happy to report that I’ve become a lot better at keeping plants alive. I’ve had some wonderful neighbors and friends who have had mercy on me and taught me how to take care of my plants. I’ve even found that it’s therapeutic to do something that reconnects you with the earth. 

Chelsea Sherman
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