By HOWARD HO
LOS ANGELES, March 2005 — As a reporter for nearly a decade at KNBC Channel 4, Ted Chen had seemingly done it all, whether covering natural disasters and political sea changes or the Oscars and the Golden Globes.
In November, Chen significantly updated his resume with his appointment as co-anchor of the weekend editions of the station’s morning talk show ‘Today in L.A.’ Although it was the culmination of his almost 15 years in broadcasting, there was not much fanfare, as Chen had already been an interim anchor for more than a year and a half.
Still, as a male Asian American broadcaster in a Top 25 market, Chen remains part of a relatively small fraternity. He is, in fact, one of 60 AAJA members featured in “The Men of AAJA,” a DVD the organization has produced for news executives and recruiters with the aim of showcasing the talents of reporters and anchors from around the country.
Chen has a theory about why Asian women are making faster inroads to broadcast news ultimate desk jobs
“It’s the Connie Chung syndrome,” Chen said. “They’ve watched her growing up, were inspired by her and decided to go into the business. There hasn’t been a male Connie Chung. Sooner or later, there will be, and that will hopefully be an inspiration to a lot of Asian men.”
Which raises the question: Could he be the one? The veteran that he is, Chen quickly conjured his dry wit to deflect the topic: “Do I want to be Connie Chung? I don’t think I look as good as she does in a dress.”
Chen, an AAJA member since 1990, has traveled around the world to interview heads of state, government officials and other prominent newsmakers. One highlight was the one-on-one interview he scored with then-California Gov. Gray Davis in an understandably nervous state the night before the 2003 recall election.
A few of Chen’s proudest moments involved stories that he personally championed.
Chen reported a triptych of segments for KNBC in 2002 about the Asian American community, dealing with Chinese American World War II veterans, the community’s rising political power and the role of Chinese schools in shaping Chinese American children.
“Yes, I’m a Chinese school dropout,” Chen said.
The stories were honored by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism as exemplary reporting on race and ethnicity
For Chen, it is a conscious choice to be a window to that world
“Hey, we should be doing this story on the Chinese schools — to pitch that story. Otherwise, it might not be told,” Chen said. “It’s something to address, and I think it takes Asian American journalists to make sure that that community is covered”
To Chen’s industry colleagues, it’s commendable that he has succeeded at the No. 2-rated station in the second-largest market in the country without compromising his Chinese-American roots.
“Ted’s a high-profile guy. He could easily shut himself up into his home within his own personal circle and not reach out to the community,” said David Ono, Chen’s friend and sometime rival as a longtime anchorman on KABC Channel 7. “But the fact that he doesn’t, gives him his charm”
Early last year, Chen could be found wandering the pews inside the chambers of the Los Angeles City Council. But his camera crew was nowhere to be found. In fact, he was there to show solidarity for the newly expanded Chinese American Museum.
“I just wanted to be supportive,” Chen said. “I wanted to communicate just by my presence there that this was important to me. But I wasn’t there in my capacity as a journalist”
Chen grew up in a predominantly white area of Berkeley, and he didn’t connect to the Asian Pacific American community until he saw large numbers of other Asian Americans at UCLA.
“Thank God, because it allowed me to identify with my heritage,” he said.
Chen, studying political science, was conflicted about what direction to take but knew that he enjoyed his time at UCLA’s student-run radio station, KLA. After a short time at KCAL Channel 9 in Los Angeles, where he worked as a production and writer’s assistant, Chen won his first full-time job in TV broadcasting at KRNV in Reno.
“It was tough going to a small market but especially going to a small town, far from home, making next to nothing,” Chen recalled, noting that the pay was $7.50 an hour. “It weeds out a lot of people”
After his stint in Reno, Chen moved up the ladder to successively larger markets, joining KSEE in Fresno in 1993 and KGTV in San Diego later that year. He was hired by KNBC in 1995.
After so many years of full-time reporting, Chen acknowledges that he is still growing in his role as ‘Today in L.A.’ co-anchor.
“The thing is I love doing both general-assignment reporting and anchoring. I enjoy shouting the question at Arnold whenever there’s an opportunity,” he said, referring to a certain high-profile figure who, like Chen, has spent time in both political and show-business circles. Chen also serves as one of Channel 4’s main entertainment reporters, even enjoying so-called fluff as a welcome contrast to hard news.
“This business, like so many other businesses, is about flexibility and being able to do multiple things,” Chen said.
Among his versatile successes was helping KNBC to a first-ever win for a broadcast team at last year’s Trivia Bowl, AAJA-LA’s big annual fundraiser.
“Because I had to leave early, I’m just sorry I wasn’t there to rub it in to David Ono,” Chen said, referring to his friend, who as emcee has devoted a fair amount of his time at the microphone to wise-cracking at Chen’s expense.
Both Chen and Ono say they are bachelor friends who invite each other to their parties and support each other’s careers despite their stations’ intense rivalry (for the record, KABC consistently beats KNBC in the ratings except at 11 p.m.).
Last year, during coverage of the Scott Peterson trial, Chen took time to visit relatives still living in the Bay Area. For now, he wants to stay close to them in California rather than consider going off to do network news. After all, he said, the flexibility he is afforded in Los Angeles is worth more.
“You don’t go into this business for the money,” Chen said. “Only in the stratosphere, the Dan Rathers and Katie Courics make a lot of money. I don’t think most people do it unless they love it.”
But then, what if ‘The CBS Evening News’ comes calling for a permanent replacement for the recently departed Rather? “Oh, yeah,” Chen said with a laugh, “I’m sure I’m next in line.”
Here’s hoping he buys a dress just in case.