If you flip through the channels during the 5 o’clock news every evening, you will see that the faces of Seattle television news broadcasters has changed.
Twenty years ago, the female anchors on the weeknight 5 o’clock newscasts on KIRO 7 (Susan Hutchison), KOMO 4 (Kathi Goertzen), and KING 5 (Jean Enersen) were all blonde and white. KCPQ (Q13) did not have a news operation at that time. When they did, they hired Leslie Miller, another blonde and white anchor.
Those white blonde women have now been replaced with Asian American women — Lori Matsukawa at KING, Molly Shen at KOMO, and Monique Ming Laven at KIRO 7. Also notable at KOMO, Mary Nam co-anchors the 4 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m. newscasts.
In a 1999 interview with The Seattle Times, Matsukawa said, “I was part of that wave where it was very vogue to hire a woman. But I think there were concerns over hiring an Asian American woman. Connie Chung was the only big one at the time. It was like, weekends and mornings are fine, but do you want a woman of color as your primetime standard-bearer for the station?”
Fast forward to today, Asian American women are now the face you see on primetime television, at least in the Seattle market.
Things have certainly progressed.
There was a time when the Northwest Asian Weekly would publish job announcements whenever a local television station hired on-air talent of Asian American descent. Now, it’s not such an anomaly anymore that we’ve stopped.
I spent more than 20 years in TV news before I came to helm as editor of the Northwest Asian Weekly. The station where I worked my first job in Fresno, Calif., had a Filipino female anchor in the late night news slot. As an intern, I shadowed a reporter of Filipino descent. Toward the end of my seven years with this station, I longed to make the jump to a big market and an opportunity opened up in Seattle for me in 2000.
The coveted primetime and late night anchor chairs at all four stations were mostly occupied by whites. There was more diversity on morning shows at that time — Christine Chen at Q13 and Joyce Taylor on KIRO. I’ve always considered Seattle to be a “San Francisco on a smaller scale” and was a little surprised at the lack of diversity in 2000. I recalled lots of Asian faces on San Francisco TV news stations.
As an Asian American journalist, it’s very satisfying to see faces like mine represented in Seattle. As we celebrate this progress, we must remember not to be complacent. Behind the scenes, there have always been plenty of Asian Americans working as writers, producers, directors, photographers, editors, and assignment editors. But to make real change, Asian Americans need to advance to positions where the real power lies — as news managers and media executives.
Currently in Seattle, three of the news directors in Seattle are white — two of them women. The fourth news director is a Jewish male. News directors are the boss of a TV newsroom and they are the ones making the hiring decisions.
Eighty-seven-point-five percent of television news directors are white, according to a 2015 study commissioned by Radio Television Digital News Association. While there has been a slight increase over the last decade, the percentage of Asian American television news directors has risen only from 1.3 percent to 1.8 percent.
If any market is capable of making this kind of progress, it’s Seattle.