A Message For Frank Somerville

I’ve always been a fan of KTVU, but more so because of Frank Somerville. I grew up on KTVU news, and Somerville was a familiar face that I saw everyday at 5 PM. He would share little tidbits about his life during his segments, and throughout the years, it made me feel like I knew him personally. It wasn’t until I went to school for journalism did I realize how controversial and bold he was as a journalist. He was the definition of a traditional journalist in the actual sense, given his position at KTVU news, but at the same time, how he went about being a journalist was pretty progressive.

Towards the end of 2021, KTVU cut ties with Somerville over a disagreement. Now, real Bay Area folks know that Frank Somerville was the face of KTVU. Like many others, I waited for the news of his return back on the screen. However, it never happened. And just like that, the show went on. I was shocked to learn that he would no longer be their news anchor. And I was even more shocked a few months later to learn that he received a DUI days before Christmas. The video of the DUI incident was floating around the internet, and it made me so sad to see someone I respected and watched for so many years hit rock bottom. After that incident, any news of Somerville went radio silent. I would often find myself wondering if he was back on Facebook, as he posted frequently in the past.

Recently, Somerville posted on Facebook explaining his DUI in 2021. But before I jump into his recent fall from grace, I want to share a little back story as to why I originally wrote this blog post in the first place. In fact, I started this blog post way before Somerville’s recent statements:

When I first declared my major as “Journalism,” in 2015, I felt relieved. I declared my major so I could finally transfer to SF State in 2016. I spent years as “undeclared.” Before that, I dipped my feet into Early Childhood Education, Criminology, and even Psychology. I knew I wanted to be a writer. Write what exactly? I couldn’t tell you. My mind was all over the place. All I knew was I wanted to write books. I felt like my heart was in Creative Writing, but thought declaring Journalism as my major would give me more to work with in the “real world.”

I declared journalism as my major kind of on a whim, not even really knowing what the job and role entailed. In my head I was like, fuck it, yeah, journalism. I’ll be a writer with more credibility under my belt. Journalism wasn’t love at first class, since I originally wanted to do Creative Writing. But I quickly started to identify as a journalist. What I wanted to write about quickly changed as I started to go through with the journalism courses at my community college. I originally wanted to write fiction, but I found myself wanting to write about real people, real experiences, real stories. I wanted to write with a purpose, make people feel things, and shed light on topics I thought were important.

I remember going to some journalism meeting, or event, or I don’t even remember what. I forget who was even talking, what the meeting was for, or why I had to be there. Was it a class, a meeting, a mandatory event? Brain fart… I just remember what I took away from the presentation. Up until that point, everyone’s cliché response to why they wanted to be a journalist was that they wanted to “give people a voice.” The speaker explained why they disagreed with that statement. They said everyone has a voice. You are not “giving” anyone anything, for people already have a voice of their own. Our role as journalists is to simply seek out the truth and those voices that want to be heard from different backgrounds. Though I can’t remember the event, or even the person that said it, what was said stuck with me. Journalists don’t give people a voice, they give those that want to be a heard an outlet to share their stories.

One of the first things you learn as a journalist is that your job is to tell the story completely unbiased and impartial. That is something I definitely struggled with in the beginning because I have an opinion about every-fucking-thing. Of course, it depended on the topic. Certainly I could remain unbiased and impartial with plenty of topics, but when it came to controversial news, that’s when I struggled. Journalists were supposed to remain professional, neutral, and never break that character. Yes, you can have your own views and opinions, but it should never really be public knowledge where you stand on certain things.

Your social media was strictly business, it was always professional, and clean of any personal biases. At the time, I found it hard to distinguish my professional self with my real self. They advised that our socials be public so any journalistic work we put out can be found and seen by everyone. But that also meant that random people and anyone on the platform could see my personal things as well. That’s because I refused to make a whole other social media handle for my “professional” work. I didn’t know how I felt about it. We were advised to either make a new account from scratch that would act as the professional account, while any personal account would remain private. The alternative was to clean up any existing social media accounts and make it a professional account going forward. I was always conflicted about my presence on social media. Why did they have to be separate? Why did I have to choose between being professional and being myself, why couldn’t both be displayed in a tasteful way? Now, years later, it doesn’t even matter because all I post is my writing content anyways, but at the time, early 20’s Marinelle couldn’t fathom the idea of not posting her personal life – especially my views on controversial news.

Somerville has a big social media presence on Facebook. I don’t even remember when I followed him on Facebook, but that added to the layer of familiarity. Not only did I get a feel of his personality through him sharing on TV, but he gave us all a glimpse into his personal life as well on social media. I liked Frank for the simple fact that he was real as fuck. He would add his personal commentary to news and wear his emotions on his sleeve. This is what my professors have advised us not to do, but for me, it made me feel like I could relate to him. He wasn’t just doing a job. He actually cared. He wanted to help others and bring attention to certain stories. And when I became a journalist, it made me respect Somerville’s professional style even more. He wanted to help others with his platform and bring attention to social injustices.

I started to analyze the way Frank Somerville posted on social media – sharing personal stories, talking about his journey with adoption, and so on. Even on air he would share personal information that made viewers feel like he was just like us. He wasn’t a robot journalist that displayed no emotion, he wore his heart on his sleeve and did it so tastefully. That’s the kind of journalist I wanted to be. He was very different than other news anchors, and I felt like I had a new found respect for him because at the time, I was going through my journalism courses, knowing that my professors would advise against sharing personal information on social media and on air. But it was what I admired most about Frank Somerville, he let you know that he was more than just a news anchor reading off news. He was a real person, and most importantly a person that cared.

When I was in the thick of finishing my journalism degree, that’s when Trump was running for president and then eventually became president. I’ll never forget the day after the election. It was a very somber day, not only for the majority of the Bay Area, but specifically the Journalism department at SF State. Professors were in tears, letting us know that we picked a very difficult time to be a journalist, but we were needed now more than ever. I kind of knew early on that with my writing style, I probably wouldn’t go down the traditional journalist route, and the election solidified that decision. I always gravitated towards opinion writing, or writing about certain topics that I found important. I was never really a breaking news writer anyways. I could definitely write it and was perfectly capable, but it wasn’t where my heart was at. My passion was in telling the stories of your everyday person. The type of story that will have you thinking about life and will have you reflecting at 1 am.

Seeing Frank Somerville’s style of posting and sharing encouraged me to still pursue journalism, even though I was unsure if I “fit in” the professional journalism world. Even though he was still covering hard news, his different approach to interacting with the community is something that I admired. He did some things traditionally, and other things were more progressive. I respected that.

So fast forward to December 2021, Somerville made headlines for DUI charges. In the viral video, it shows a supposed Frank Somerville exiting his car after rear ending another vehicle. I was in total disbelief. Reports were claiming that it was Somerville, but a big part of me was hoping it wasn’t. It was tough to see a news anchor I loved, respected, and basically grew up with hit an all-time low. I really felt for him and wondered how he got to that point. It was not the same Frank Somerville that I had been watching on the news for more than 15+ years.

Recently, Frank posted a Facebook post that explained his actions one year ago. This is the first public statement where Somerville shares what transpired that day. On December 17, 2022, Somerville posted:

“So it was almost a year ago that I was arrested for a dui. I had already been let go by KTVU over a disagreement. The dui had no bearing on that. What it was was an accumulation of a lot of different things. Including serious mental health issues. I couldn’t leave work at work. Instead I took it home and obsessed about it. It started with me going to seven funerals for young black men and women who were killed on the streets on Oakland. I went on my own time and it was devastating. Seeing the open caskets. Hugging the mom of one of the victims and feeling her legs buckle as she said ‘I don’t know how I can move on.’ I also went to the viewings for a  Bart police officer and a Fremont officer on my own time. It destroyed me seeing the flag draped coffins and their boots sitting next to them. The problem was I didn’t feel I had anywhere to go or anyone to talk to. Yet I felt it was my duty to be at all those funerals to let people know that I cared and that KTVU cared. And also to be able to post about it on my Facebook page because I didn’t want those Oakland deaths to be reported as just another number. I wanted people to know that they had a mom and a dad etc. But over time I realized that I felt like I was under a pall of sadness. I felt like I had ptsd. And I really needed someone to talk to. But the last thing I was going to do was tell the station that I was hurting. Main anchors don’t do that. So I tried to deal with it on my own. Prescription drugs. Alcohol. It was the worst decision I ever made but I felt that I had no other choice. I literally felt helpless. I also felt who am I to feel sorry for myself? I didn’t lose anyone. It’s the families who deserve sympathy. Not me. I was just totally stuck. For the record as messed up as I was I didn’t drink on the air. The time I was sent home for being drunk on the air I had actually taken two Ambien  by accident. How I even made it home that night is beyond me. Skip forward to today. I’m almost done with all the dui requirements. It’s cost a fortune. But that’s my punishment. I can only hope that another station will hire me. I’m a damn good anchor and everyone knows that. At the same time I made some serious mistakes. So I will totally understand if that doesn’t happen. I’ve NEVER been in trouble with the law and I never will be again. This dui will not define me. I’ve always believed in second chances and that’s what I’m asking for now. I also want to say sorry to all my co workers and all the viewers. I let them all down. And finally I wanted to say that I’m sorry to the driver I hit. Thankfully he wasn’t seriously injured. I would never be able to forgive myself if he was. – F”

Somerville opens up about his mental health struggles, and how his professional-self would not allow him to open up and admit he needed help. So instead, he self-medicated to deal with the immense pain and sorrow he was feeling when paying his respects to the families of the departed. Somerville’s desire to connect with the community backfired when he realized he didn’t know how to effectively deal with the pain that comes with connecting with the community. In no way is he trying to justify his actions, but get others to see where he was mentally.

3 days after he posted on Facebook about his DUI, he posted a supporting post explaining that he doesn’t want or expect any sympathy. His intentions for sharing his struggles publicly was to be real with his audience, and encourage others to ask for help if they need it. This act of transparency is the exact reason why I applaud Frank’s professionalism and stance as a journalist. Taking accountability for his actions lets his followers know that he may have been on TV, but he’s still a real person, with a real life, and has real problems like you and I.

It’s unfortunate how everything played out because I know I’m not the only one that misses seeing Frank on the screen. His reporting style and desire to connect with his viewers and followers on a personal level definitely inspired me in my earlier years when I first started taking journalism courses. I was very unsure if I could be a “traditional” journalist, but growing up watching Frank on the screen let me know that there is space for me in the journalism world. It may not be in breaking news, but I do have a place here somewhere. I applaud his courageous decision to open up about his struggles and DUI, because other professionals may be in the same boat.

If on the slim chance that Frank Somerville stumbles upon this post and made it this far in the read, I would just like to say that there are a lot of people out there that are still rooting for you. There’s still a place for you out there too.

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