Valdosta Daily Times

January 20, 2013

In the Shadow of Giants

Step-grandson of Mike Wallace aspires to create own TV legacy

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Eames Hamilton Yates Jr., Valdosta bureau reporter for WCTV News, operates on a single principle — his father once told him, "No one owes you anything." And from this principle, he has developed a work ethic of strong, consistent effort and devotion to his craft.

It seems like a typical story of fathers and sons, but perhaps Yates' aversion to entitlement is all the more poignant in that he was born into a family of high-profile news reporters, and that he chose to settle in the Deep South to begin a career in the shadow of giants.

Yates, 26, is the step-grandson of the late Mike Wallace, the legendary host and interviewer of the TV news magazine "60 Minutes," who died last year at 93. Wallace was known to the world as one of the most inimitable and dogged inquisitors of the century, and he left behind him a career that is a beacon of excellence to which all journalists aspire.

Journalists like Yates, who makes an effort to connect with people as himself rather than the relative of a legend. And Wallace is not the only high-profile member of his family.

Yates' father is known for numerous documentary films — including "Crank: Made in America" (2003) and "Dead Blue: Surviving Depression" (1998) — and his biological grandfather is the late Ted Yates, a producer for NBC who was shot and killed covering the Six-Day War in the Middle East. Still, Yates seems to be recognized most often for his relation to Wallace.

At Wallace's memorial in New York, Yates spoke before an audience of 1,000 about his step-grandfather. In the audience, he recognized Donald and Melania Trump and Mitt Romney. CBS captured a quote from his speech and re-aired it the morning of New Year's Day.

"I think that he (Wallace) really felt that without a dedicated community of journalists, the world would be a poorer place," Yates said. "That people would be ripped off, that people would be taken advantage of."

Yates brings these values he acquired from his father, grandfather and step-grandfather to establish a meaningful career of quality journalism back in Valdosta.

"I feel lucky to be able to grow up with someone who is so good at what they do," Yates said of Wallace.

The circumstances of the death of the man he calls his "blood grandfather" Ted, who died before Yates was born, may provide more depth to his family's legacy, but Yates finds true inspiration from yet another.

"I really wish I could have met my blood grandfather, but my personal hero is my grandmother, his wife, Mary Olberg Yates Wallace," Yates said. "Because she had the right outlook on life."

Mary Wallace took Yates around the world when he was young, to Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma — before it "really opened up to the public," Yates said. This experience provided Yates with a greater education than any college, as well as a unique perspective of the world.

"I was able to see other cultures, and not by them exposing their culture to me. It was just me being a fly on the wall in their environment, and in their world," Yates said. "It gave me a different way of appreciating that we all have fundamentally the same kinds of goals. We all want to do well and succeed, and it's just interesting. It gave me an ability to connect in the sense of relating to people from totally different cultures."

Of his perspective of America after having traveled across Asia, Yates said, "It showed me how lucky we are."

His Asian experience inspired him to raise capital for a start-up company with a friend, called Bright Media. Yates hoped to begin a series titled "Boy Meets Asia," where Yates would share his travels first-person and profile some of the region's most successful business leaders.

However, due to the rocky economy, the show failed, and Yates returned to New York to resume his studies at The New School. He graduated with a degree in cultural and media studies and began working at financial news agency Bloomberg. He did the evening shift beginning at 2 a.m. for a year, but still felt unsatisfied.

"I liked working at Bloomberg because it was all financial news, and I saw how much of a variable that is in the world," Yates said. "But I realized how much I like the personal stories that really come just from good old reporting. Stories that are much more human-oriented."

Yates always knew he wanted to be in television, saying, "It's all my family has done," but his obsession with TV goes deeper than perpetuating the family business.

"This is my own goal. I feel really lucky to have been able to ask advice and learn from people in my family who have been in the television game, but it has always been my personal goal to do this," Yates said. "And at the same time, I want to make my dad proud, and I think he is proud of me, but I want to follow in my own path, and that's why I'm in Valdosta."

Yates never asked for professional favors from his family, and while he comes from money, he establishes relationships based on common ground and keeps his history and fortune close to his heart.

"Money doesn't play into anything; it doesn't relate; it doesn't matter," he said. "It's not going to change how I relate to someone, or change anything. It's never really a factor."

So Yates took it upon himself to cold-call about 100 different news directors across the country looking for an open position as a reporter, finding their office numbers online.

"I would get that contact information, and I would just bug them early in the morning before I went to work," Yates said. "Nobody got me this job, except me."

His tenacity paid off when former WCTV News Director Triston Sanders offered him a job. Yates spoke with his boss at Bloomberg, packed everything he had into his Honda and drove down to Valdosta to begin work.

While it's too soon for Yates to say what his long-term aspirations are, he makes it a daily goal to try and tell a good story as well as he can.

"I want to be a really good reporter. I think that means telling the truth, and letting people connect to the story emotionally," Yates said. "Most of the time, the stories we see, we deal with situations like that in our lives all the time, whether it's a house that caught fire, someone that was killed, a tragic car accident, a burglary. Somehow or another, we are connected to events like that."

Truth and story go hand-in-hand for Yates, who hopes to create his own legacy through his work. Quality and patience are paramount, according to Yates, and the work should always speak for itself.

"You have to think about how Mike got '60 Minutes' when he was in his early 50s, and that's where he did his best work," Yates said. "The reason he was so good is because there was a fear of failure, and that made him work harder than anyone. I never want to compare myself to Mike Wallace, because he's Mike Wallace, but I do try and work really hard because if you don't, you're just not going to be very good. You've got to earn it."

Coming from New York, Yates is enjoying his time in Valdosta, where his greatest reward of the day is telling stories well. And while he has been halfway around the world and has lived among some of the most influential people of the 20th century, he is beginning to call Valdosta his home.