Move over Connie Chung, Kent Ninomiya has arrived. Ninomiya, 36, has been named co-anchor of Channel 15 news in Minneapolis, Minn., a promotion many journalists say will pave the way for other Asian Pacific American males to break into broadcasting.
Ninomiya joins Harris Faulkner, an award-winning anchor who is African American. Together, they will present the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news on the ABC affiliate.
Ninomiya, whose career spans over 15 years, is wrapping up his duties as a weekend anchorman at KCOP-TV (UPN) in Los Angeles. Born in San Francisco, Ninomiya grew up in San Diego and graduated from UC Berkeley, following in the footsteps of his parents.
He says, “I always had a passion for television journalism since I was young. My sister used to watch cartoons, while I watched the news. When I grew up, I decided this is what I wanted to do.”
Ninomiya credits KTVU associate news director Janice Gin for being his mentor and pointing out the possibilities of becoming a television anchor. Ninomiya had interned at the Oakland television station when she was a news producer there.
Gin says, “On a tape he sent me to critique, he included an example of his anchoring, a five-minute cut-in on a network broadcast. Not everyone can be an anchor, but there was a certain kind of spark and presence I thought he had.”
She convinced Ninomiya he had what it takes. Looking back, he says, “Janice told me, ‘Kent, you need to be an anchor,’ and I said, ‘Nah! I don’t want to be an anchor. I want to be out in the field.’
“It turns out she was right.”
One of his first jobs was at KIEM-TV in Eureka, Calif., where the rookie videotaped, wrote, narrated and edited his own stories. He laughs about his short tenure there.
“It rains a lot up there,” he says. “I was out shooting this story about a missing hiker. I was walking through the forest with my television camera, wearing a suit. It started pouring. I was soaking wet. As I tried to get to my car, I stepped in a deep mud puddle and literally ran out of my shoes. I screamed, ‘I’m going to get out of this market!’ And I did.”
Ninomiya’s career blossomed when he returned to his hometown of San Diego to report the news for KGTV. He spent five years at WLS-TV, the ABC owned-station in Chicago, and returned to the West Coast to do a stint as a morning anchorman at KGO-TV in San Francisco and finally at KCOP-TV in Los Angeles.
In a yearlong process, KSTP auditioned and tested hundreds of television anchors with Ninomiya finally emerging as the chosen one.
“They hired me despite my race and not because of my race,” he says. They weren’t looking for a particular race; they were just looking for the best guy for the job.”
Rob Fukuzaki, who is the lead sports anchor for KABC-TV, Los Angeles, believes Ninomiya’s success “will be a monumental step for APA males.”
Last year the Asian American Journalism Association released a study that concludes, “there is a critical shortage of Asian American male broadcast journalists” in the industry, and there is “a lack of key Asian American male broadcast role models.”
Robert Handa, a Bay Area-KTVU reporter, says, “I would hate to see [Kent] in a Jackie Robinson kind of situation, where if he succeeds it’s a small step forward. And if he fails, it’s a huge step backward. I’m encouraged that he has a long-term contract.”
Ninomiya knows that there are plenty of challenges ahead. He is a newcomer to the market. His station is in third place in the news ratings race. He plans to get involved with the community and demonstrate he’s an integral part of it.
He says, “I feel my experience can go a long way toward making the news product better. This is an opportunity that I have been working on for my entire career, the opportunity to be the main guy. It’s very exciting to do that.”