By Starla Sampaco
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
These days, reporters have to do more with less.
In TV markets across the country, news staffs are shrinking. As a result, many broadcast journalists have taken on more roles within their stations.
“Before, smaller markets would have one-man bands or one-woman bands,” said Ryan Takeo, of KING 5. “But now, that’s something that’s taking shape in larger markets like Seattle, too.” Takeo is what the industry refers to as an MMJ — a multimedia journalist. In addition to appearing on-screen to report his stories, Takeo often shoots and edits videos as well.
But that’s not all.
Producing the TV product is just one part of his job. Takeo, like many MMJs, is also responsible for producing stories for online audiences. He often writes web versions of his TV stories and posts news content to Twitter and Facebook.
Several local TV journalists said posting stories to Twitter and Facebook is now a necessity. When journalists first started using social media to promote their work, it was something they did only if they had time. Social media has now become part of the storytelling process.
“The most dramatic change is our competition — television news is competing against the internet,” said Lori Matsukawa, KING 5 anchor. “It’s really turned the industry on its head.” Matsukawa has worked in television news for nearly 40 years. She has embraced this shift to social media and digital storytelling. “It helps me do my job better,” Matsukawa said. “That’s where a lot of our viewers are.”
As a result of this shift from traditional TV journalism to digital storytelling, the expectations placed on TV journalists have changed dramatically.
“When I was in college, we didn’t even talk about social media,” said Brian Flores, Q13 Fox reporter and weekend anchor. “We only talked about how to put stories together for TV.”
News consumers are increasingly turning to mobile devices and laptops for news consumption, and TV stations are now facing the challenge of keeping up with their audiences.
Michelle Li, a reporter and weekend morning anchor for KING 5, said the relationships between TV news reporters and their audiences have had to evolve as a result. Li is active on social media and has won several Emmys for her interactive reporting. When she is not on TV, she often uses Facebook Live streaming to report information while she is out working on stories.
“Before, people waited for the news to air on TV to see the story,” Li said. “Now we take the viewer on a journey of discovery and find out what the story is, together.” Li said social media also allows for more opportunities to participate in two-way conversations with viewers at home. During a Facebook Live stream, for example, reporters are able to respond to viewer comments in real time, whether they are reporting live in the field or from the studio.
Siemny Kim, a reporter and anchor for KIRO 7, enjoys some of the engagement that results from this feature.
When she interviews experts on Facebook Live, for example, there is time for viewers at home to get their questions answered by the experts themselves. Facebook does not have the same time constraints as TV.
In addition to giving viewers more ways to access information, social media is also an avenue to providing feedback to journalists. Of course, social media is often a breeding ground for nasty comments. But constructive dialogue can result from digital interactions.
“It’s worth listening to, and it holds you accountable as a reporter,” said Hana Kim, Q13 Fox reporter. “Even if people don’t agree with you, they’ll engage in a positive way.”
Monique Ming Laven, KIRO 7 anchor, said viewer engagement is often rewarding and inspirational. She received positive viewer feedback from her feel-good series, #SeattleAntiFreeze, which is dedicated to thawing Seattle’s reputation for being chilly to strangers. The series airs on KIRO 7 and is posted to Laven’s Facebook page.
In one of those stories, Laven featured Carol Rockstad, who was rescued by two dozen strangers after falling on rocks while hiking on a trail. When the story first aired, Laven knew only Rockstad’s first name and where she was from, so Laven was unable to contact her. The story was shared more than 460 times on Facebook and it reached hundreds of thousands of users’ news feeds, including Rockstad’s. Laven was later able to reconnect Rockstad to one of her rescuers on a follow-up #SeattleAntifreeze story, thanks to digital crowdsourcing.
Aaron Levine, Q13 Fox sports director and host of “Q It Up Sports,” also values digital engagement. He has used social media to gather viewers’ opinions on his televised commentaries and initiate dialogues on sports-related topics. “Social media gives everybody a voice,” Levine said.
Experiences shape who are and how we tell stories
For many Asian journalists, cultural and ethnic backgrounds played a significant role in their careers.
Siemny Kim was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her family, who is of Cambodian and Chinese descent, fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. “My parents wore the scars of that,” Kim said.
She was almost a year old when her family moved to the United States and has no recollection of the refugee camp. However, Kim was always conscious of her family’s background. “It drove me into journalism,” Kim said. “I respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I liked the idea that a free press holds government accountable.”
Kim recognizes the importance of giving underrepresented communities a voice. Recently, she covered a forum on the deportation of Cambodian Americans. KIRO 7 was the only TV news station present at this forum. Kim said she is not sure if the organizers invited other TV reporters to cover the event, but she assumes they felt comfortable approaching her because of her ties to the Cambodian community.
After the story was posted on Facebook, Kim was surprised to see high engagement with the story on social media, not just locally but also on a national level. “Sometimes these immigrant communities feel marginalized, and their stories don’t get covered in the mainstream,” Kim said. “It just goes to show why it’s important to have diverse voices in media to advocate for these stories, when others might not recognize the importance of a story like that.”
Involvement in ethnic communities also allows journalists to cover stories and issues that are often overlooked in mainstream media.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re kind of an ambassador to the Asian community because you have this forum where you can talk about community issues that maybe wouldn’t get covered by the news,” said Ryan Yamamoto, KOMO 4 anchor.
In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Japanese internment, Yamamoto produced a story featuring Japanese communities in Ontario, Ore., a city close to the Idaho border. This was one of the first cities in the United States that allowed Japanese internees to leave the camps to work on farms.
“These were real human beings whose lives were turned upside down,” Yamamoto said. “There are groups that are scared it could happen again.”
Yamamoto said it is important for newsrooms to reflect the diversity of their communities. A person’s perspective on an ethnic community — and the way they cover it — will be enhanced by their experiences with or within that community. “It’s not that non-Asians can’t cover Asian issues, but I’m going to have a different perspective than someone else might have in the newsroom,” he said. “My experience is going to be different because I grew up in that community.”
Li also said her unique cultural background influences her approach to her work. Li was born in Korea and was adopted by a Missouri family. In school, she knew only two other Asians, and most of Li’s friends and family growing up were white. Li did not connect with her biological, Korean family until she was 18 years old.
For most of her life, Li considered herself an all-American girl. But many people have assumed otherwise. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘You speak such good English,’” Li said.
As a journalist, these experiences taught Li not to jump to conclusions when producing news stories.
“I’m a living, breathing reminder that you can’t judge someone because you just don’t know their experience,” Li said.
Exposure to different cultures also impacted the career of KIRO 7’s Patranya Bhoolsuwan. She was born in Thailand and traveled frequently as a diplomatic brat. She has lived in Thailand, Saudi Arabia, India, and Israel.
Being exposed to different groups of people made Bhoolsuwan want to be a reporter. She moved to the United States to pursue her career in journalism.
“I really like the journalism culture here,” Bhoolsuwan said. “As long as you work hard and are passionate, you can make it.”
While attending the University of San Francisco, Bhoolsuwan interned at almost every TV news station in the city. During her internships, she formed strong relationships with journalism mentors. “I was really drawn to the women of color, especially Asian American reporters,” Bhoolsuwan said. “I felt like they were my role models.”Race and ethnicity are not the only factors that led Seattle’s TV journalists to the industry.
For Flores, journalism runs in the family. Flores is a third-generation journalist — his grandfather was a journalist in the Philippines and his father wrote for the Arizona Republic before starting the Filipino Press in San Diego.
“When I got my (driver’s) license, I delivered newspapers for my dad,” Flores said. “It was my first official journalism job. I stuffed my ‘91 Honda Accord to the brim and drove all over San Diego.”
For other journalists, working in news was not the original plan.
Levine’s career in broadcasting was the result of his love of sports. He played golf throughout his teenage years and tried to walk on the golf team at Stanford University. He was cut from the team after three weeks.
“It was the best decision that’s ever been made because I was really able to expand my horizons,” Levine said.
As a sports journalist, Levine has a deep appreciation for the fan bases of Seattle sports teams. “I consider myself a fan advocate,” Levine said. “I’m just as passionate about the teams as the fans are.”
The future of TV news
When asked what they think the future of TV news will look like, most journalists interviewed for this story answered, “I have no idea!”
With so many rapid changes in storytelling, it is difficult to predict what the industry will look like in the next five or 10 years. Many assume there will be an even greater emphasis on social media, live streaming, and small screens.
In addition to technological changes, changes in the job market have also rattled the industry. In the past year alone, downsizing has taken place in several local newsrooms, including KOMO 4, The Seattle Times, and, most recently, The News Tribune. NWCN also aired its last newscast in January.
The uncertainty is intimidating, but for the most part, many journalists remain hopeful. “For a while, many people were saying the news industry is dying, but I really think we’re going to see a resurgence within the coming years,” Yamamoto said.
Typically, on-air reporters start in smaller TV news markets after graduating from college and work their way up to bigger markets by relocating every few years.
While this formula worked for almost every journalist interviewed for this story, some on-air reporters took nontraditional routes. Hana Kim began working for a public access station based in Maryland, where she covered the state legislature and the area surrounding the District of Columbia.
From there, she landed a job with the CBS affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., which is ranked by Nielsen as the 38th largest TV market. Kim worked her way up to Knoxville, Tenn. before landing in Seattle, which is the 14th largest market. “In this business, there is not just one way to get where you want to be,” Kim said.
Although there are different paths to success, some qualities are must-haves for young reporters, including hard work and thick skin.
Siemny Kim advised aspiring on-air reporters to make sure they are pursuing broadcast journalism for the right reasons.
“There’s still a number of people who think TV is glamorous,” she said with a laugh. “That’s one of the biggest misconceptions that should be squashed right now. This job requires grit.”
Navigating the broadcast news industry is not an easy road. In addition to moving constantly, many reporters have had to work odd hours. Some worked early morning shifts, which required them to arrive at the station as early as 2 or 3 a.m.
On the other hand, the industry comes with meaningful and life-changing experiences.
Levine covered the Seahawks during their 2014 Super Bowl Championship run, which was a highlight of his career. Before making it in Seattle 10 years ago, Levine worked as a one-man band in Bakersfield, Calif. “I remember toiling away in Bakersfield, just begging for an opportunity to work in a metropolitan city,” Levine said. “Seattle has been everything I could have dreamed of and more.”
As a reporter based in Madison, Wis., Laven reported from New York after the 9/11 attacks and said it was the most powerful experience of her career.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., Takeo produced a story that led to changes in state law. He exposed a legal loophole that would allow teachers and high school students to engage in sexual relationships.
Matsukawa said serious journalism is more important than ever. The industry, she said, needs people who are willing to ask tough questions and present multiple viewpoints, not just single viewpoints. She encourages journalism students to continue pursuing this careers with conviction.
“Don’t be afraid of the future,” Matsukawa said.
Starla can be reached at email@example.com.