It's said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. For WWL-TV news anchor Sheba Turk, that meant keeping her eye on the prize through great expectations and crushing disappointments — knowing that if the breaks ever went her way, she’d be ready.

Turk graduated from St. Mary's Dominican High School and headed off to college, but the thrill of being accepted to New York University was short-lived. The rug was pulled out from under her by sophomore year, when she could no longer afford tuition. Returning to New Orleans, she pounded the pavement looking for jobs, then saved to pay tuition at the University of New Orleans the following year.

But being forced to leave New York may have been the best thing that could have happened to Turk, because the trajectory of her life was about to change, thanks to a pushy mother, a couple of critical mentors and a benefactor who popped in at exactly the right time.

Turk’s odyssey is chronicled in her memoir, “Off Air... My Journey to the Anchor Desk.” Just 28 years old, Turk said she wrote the book to encourage other young people who feel they face big obstacles to their dreams.

“I often wonder how different my life would have been if I hadn’t enrolled at UNO,” Turk recalled. “I was pretty depressed at that point, as I just couldn’t make ends meet. I was working at a shop Uptown, which made T-shirts for sororities and fraternities, but after I paid for my books, I barely had enough for tuition."

Turk was one of three children of John, an Amtrak employee, and Sharon, a stay-at-home mom. Her parents still live in New Orleans. While Turk never failed to work diligently at any project she set her mind to, she also says it's important to know when to make a change.

"I loved writing and wanted to major in journalism, but UNO didn’t have a program. So I switched to English and enrolled in a class called 'Inside the Newsroom.' The professor was a former NBC News executive producer named Kim Bondy.”

“Sheba was somewhat quiet in my class but was always my best student,” said Bondy, now the head of content for Starfish Media Group. "She very quickly picked up on how to pitch a story idea and actually advocate for it. But it was Sheba's mom who really connected us. She zoomed in on me in the parking lot one day and asked me to mentor her daughter. It didn’t take much convincing.”

Noted journalists would frequently Skype into Bondy’s class, and one day, Soledad O’Brien, who had worked for Bondy previously at both NBC News and CNN, showed up in the class.

“Kim had already told me what a hard worker Sheba was," O'Brien said. "But, what impressed me most was that Sheba could have felt sorry for the hand she was dealt, but she didn’t. It’s not her mindset to wallow in despair. ”

O’Brien, who was then working at CNN, invited Turk to intern there between her junior and senior years, while arranging with her newly minted PowHERful Foundation to write a check for the remainder of Turk's tuition at UNO. 

Upon graduation in 2011, Turk interned at WDSU, hoping to eventually land a spot there as an associate producer, but a position was never offered.

“While at WDSU, Bondy had set me up to do event planning at night so I could earn some money,” Turk said. “Eventually, she contacted someone in HR at WWL, who suggested to news director Bill Siegel to try me out on the overnight shift as a writer. I made $10 an hour, so after I got off in the morning, I went off to do full-time event planning.”

On weekends, Turk worked on her on-air demo reel by heading out on stories with the reporters. 

“I knew Sheba wanted to become a reporter, so suggested she go to a smaller market to hone her reportorial chops. I set her up with the news director in Lafayette,” said Siegel, now the senior director of Content Strategy for E.W. Scripps, headquartered in Cincinnati. “But within days of being offered a job there, our own traffic reporter abruptly left, and I realized this job would give Sheba on-air experience. She accepted the job, even doing traffic reports from the field.”

Turk gained the 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. anchor position alongside Mike Hoss in 2013. The two also were an active part of the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. show with Eric Paulsen and Sally-Ann Roberts. With Sally’s recent retirement, Turk has had big shoes to fill.

“Sheba has fairly quickly formed an incredible rapport with Eric,” said Keith Esparros, news director at WWL-TV. “She’s one of the hardest workers around here. When she walks in the door, she not only knows, for instance, that (President Donald) Trump has threatened to veto a spending bill. … She knows what’s in that bill. She gets here in the middle of the night and at her breaks is writing 'The 504,' her daily nighttime show, which tapes when she finishes her late morning shift.”

“Sheba’s a 7th Ward girl with deep roots to the community and family here. A larger market may come calling down the road, or even the network with national exposure, but for as long as we can keep her, we’d like to and will do what we can do ensure she can have a long career here.”


Book signing

2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (April 8)

Terrance Osborne Gallery

3029 Magazine St., New Orleans