On-Air: The Bay Area’s Asian American Newscasters

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Forty years ago, there were few Asian Americans on the television news. Today, there isn’t one news station in the Bay Area without at least one reporter or anchor of Asian descent. With cultural diversity in the Bay Area landscape, the doors have opened for many to enter the field of television broadcasting. AsianWeek queried five notables in the broadcasting realm — Lloyd LaCuesta, Robert Handa, Alan Wang, Kristen Sze and Janelle Wang — on their working lives before the camera.

LaCuesta, the veteran of the group, has spent 35 years as a writer, assignment editor, producer and reporter. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, he took a journalism class in high school and “became hooked.” He went on to earn a B.A. in journalism at San Jose State with an emphasis on radio and TV.

LaCuesta’s daily schedule includes exercising in the morning while watching TV news or listening to news radio before teaching broadcast journalism at San Jose State University. At 3 p.m., he starts work at KTVU Channel 2’s South Bay news bureau, with meetings deciding what stories need coverage. He then goes out to report on assignments for the 10 p.m. news, or if there is breaking news, for the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. shows or the new 7 p.m. show on Channel 36.  Usually his work ends around midnight.

“My job is fun and frustrating at the same time,” LaCuesta laughs. “It is different every day and can be extremely stressful, but above all, my job is rewarding.”

Handa, now in his 10th year as a reporter at KTVU Channel 2, has been on local television for more than 30 years and still says that his job “is never boring.” Starting as an intern at KNTV Channel 11 while attending San Jose State University, he was hired full time in 1977 as a weekday photographer and weekend reporter at age 22. He won the Peninsula Press Club’s award for Best Documentary News Series for his coverage of South Bay gangs the following year.  Since then, he’s covered stories like the California medfly crisis in the early 1980s and has contributed to the The MacNeil/ Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, spent years at KQED as a newsmagazine reporter and worked for KPIX Channel 5, San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, for eight years.

Handa’s typical day begins with putting together story ideas for daily morning meetings with assignment editors and producers. Once a story is chosen, usually within the next hour, he’s off and running, setting up interviews for planned and unplanned events.  “The most interesting thing is that I never really know exactly what I will be doing,” Handa said.

Alan Wang worked in local TV for 15 years before convincing news directors at ABC7 that he would be a good anchor. Growing up in Texas in the ’70s, Wang saw few positive Asian male role models on TV, so the thought of working in front of the camera never entered his mind. Instead, he edited his high school newspaper and wrote for local papers. “The most crucial experiences that prepared me for broadcasting were learned being the sole Asian in my social circles,” Wang said. “Being the odd man out strengthened my objective mind, which enables a journalist to look at both sides of an issue with fairness. Being subjected to racial slurs from early years living in the Midwest forced me to ask why things are the way they are at an early age, which sharpened my analytical mind for news broadcasting.”

Explaining the dearth of Asian males in the anchor chairs, Wang said,  “Not only are there fewer open positions, but these positions represent the face or identity of the station, so there’s a lot at stake.  I doubt there are many TV stations that are actively searching for Asian male anchors.”

The low salaries many journalists receive is also a factor. “I think the majority of Asian parents try to direct their sons into professions they believe have higher earning potential,” Wang said. “In my first job, I was making $13,000 a year in Texas, and my father was chewing his nails off while trying to be supportive.”

Kristen Sze and Janelle Wang, who both work at ABC7, grew up as childhood friends in the South Bay and in Taiwan. Sze started her career writing for Aragon High’s newspaper in San Mateo and then worked at UC Berkeley’s radio station. Her early career took her to Philadelphia and New York, before she returned to San Francisco to be ABC7’s morning news co-anchor. Describing a typical day, Sze says: “I get up at 2:30 a.m., at work by 3:30 to go over top stories before writing up to 10 stories for the morning newscast, which airs from 5 to 7 a.m. During the next two hours, we anchor quick local updates during Good Morning America, then prep for the midday newscast at 11:00 a.m.” After that, her day is devoted to her two young children until she collapses near their bedtime at 9 p.m.

Janelle Wang helped launch a newspaper as a college freshman and did TV internships in her senior year. As a Bay Area native, it was her dream to work in San Francisco, but first she worked in Oregon as a reporter, photographer, editor and eventually a morning anchor. She did stints in Salinas and in Portland as a top anchor, before finally returning to San Francisco. As someone who used to work the graveyard shift, she loves her current View From the Bay schedule. She starts her workday at 9:30 a.m. with writing, researching and studying for the six to eight segments, followed by a 1 p.m. rehearsal and 3 p.m. showtime. The rest of the day is filled with booking, producing and recording promos for upcoming shows. “I hope to bring smiles to viewers faces as they watch us daily,” Wang said.

Tune In

Robert Handa
KTVU Channel 2 News at
5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Lloyd LaCuesta
KTVU Channel 2 News at
5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Kristen Sze
ABC7 Morning News (5-7 a.m.), ABC7 Midday News (11 a.m.) and Assignment 7 on ABC7 News at 6 p.m.

Alan Wang
ABC7’s Saturday morning
newscast at 6 a.m.

Janelle Wang
ABC7’s The View From the Bay
at 3 p.m.

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