Growing up in South Texas, Alan Wang didn’t have many Asian role models but from an early age he knew he wanted to be a voice for others like him. After high school, Alan moved to Austin to study print journalism at the University of Texas and worked to build a craft at journalism. Early into his career, a professor saw talent and encouraged Alan to not just be behind the page but in front of the camera.
After years of traveling for work and reporting assignments in Laredo, Dallas, Fresno and Atlanta, he has settled in to become one of the most recognized news anchors in the Bay Area today representing over 1.6 million Asian Americans.
His role as an Asian American community leader prompted him to expose the Hepatitis B epidemic (a disease that disproportionately affects 1/10 Asians around the world and is directly linked to the Bay Area’s high level of liver cancer) and courageously talk about his own struggles with the virus. Alan’s veteran experience and tenacity has made him the thoughtful, compassionate, Emmy award winning journalist, ABC7 Weekend News anchor, husband, father, and community advocate he is today. You can find him on Twitter @AlanWangABC7 and Facebook.
What is the story you are most proud of covering; the most difficult?
This is the one I’m most proud of covering and it’s also the most difficult. While working at the ABC affiliate in Atlanta, I started following the murder of a 2-year old boy, and it kept unfolding until I found myself uncovering the core of a major tax fraud ring. I remember seeing the boy lying in a miniature casket surrounded by Sponge Bob toys, balloons, and stuffed animals. My own son was 2-years old at the time, and I was battling back the tears. The boy had been playing in his living room when two men burst in the door and sprayed the house with bullets. One bullet pierced his neck. He cried for his mother and died in her arms. It was such an emotional scene with the mother wailing in front of the camera and begging everyone to find the killer. It was enough for her to pull me aside and tell me the whole exclusive story. She said a man and woman came through their low income apartment complex asking unemployed people for their social security numbers. They would create fake W-2 forms then file a standard 1040 tax return and split the Federal refund when it arrived. But they needed the people to cash the check so they could take their share. So when the mother of the boy refused to give them their share, they decided to teach her a lesson. I ran a series of stories exposing the ring… from the recruiters, who ran from our camera, to the Certified Public Accountant who was generating hundreds of fake tax documents. I was so ahead of the story the police were calling me for information so they could make an arrest. Meanwhile, the culprits were still free and, to say the least, they were not happy with my stories. It would be a month of sleepless nights and security at my home before one of the ring members, who worked at the tax firm, made an anonymous call. He gave me information that led to the arrest of the trigger man, and from there the police were able to connect the dots and bring down the entire ring.
How does an Asian boy in Texas fulfill a dream to someday be a major market news anchor?
When you’re an Asian boy growing up in Texas you don’t dream of being a news anchor because there’s no other Asian news anchor around to put that in your head. It was never an option I considered. But I figured I could definitely do something behind the scenes, so I studied Radio, TV and Film at the University of Texas. In my senior year, a broadcast news student failed to show up for our college newscast so I was asked to come out from behind the camera and fill in. Later, the professor encouraged me to get into the business pointing out there were few Asian male TV newscasters. I grew up watching Hollywood ridicule the image of the Asian man (remember Long Duc Dong from Sixteen Candles?) so it was important for me to try and balance out the negative images with a positive one.
How important are role models to you?
I never had a role model in this business. But if I had a role model (specifically a mentor) I would not have bumped into as many obstacles in my career. Part of my reluctance to seek out a mentor stems from my cultural background. I was always taught not to burden others, work hard, and wait my turn. In hindsight, I don’t see any shame in reaching out for help. It’s the way the game is played and I’ve come to realize that most successful people have a strong professional network.
What is your role as “role model” now for the community?
I remember when Connie Chung appeared on the network news in the late 70’s. My whole family ran to the TV and we watched with so much pride. We were used to seeing stereotypical Asian images on TV, so it was refreshing to see an accurate portrayal of us in an authoritative position. As the only Asian male news anchor in a region with the highest concentration of Asians in the U.S., I understand how important it is. Especially for other Asian men who have seen their image lampooned and castrated in Hollywood for years. The television is the stage of legitimacy in our society, so I understand why my presence on the news gives other Asians a true sense of pride. I felt that same sense of pride when Jeremy Lin exploded onto the NBA scene, and I feel that pride when I see Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor David Chiu, Senator Leland Yee and all of the other high profile Asian American women leaders like you [Fiona Ma] and Mayor Jean Quan that are coming into their own.
What are the most important skills for being a news anchor?
Staying on top of every story and understanding how things really work in this world. During a live newscast, you have to be on the ball at all times because it’s constantly changing. There’s breaking news, story changes, equipment malfunctions and human error to deal with. There’s always a surprise factor and the anchor’s job is to hold it all together and guide the viewers through the newscast.
How is covering news different in SF where 40% of population is Asian vs. covering news in your old Texas market?
I was surprised to find there really isn’t much difference. Despite their numbers, Asian Americans in the Bay Area face many of the same racial barriers that I encountered in Texas. But most of these barriers are based on ignorance, not racial animosity. I still see a lack of cultural and historical understanding which leads to decisions that are marginalizing the Asian community. I was surprised to find very little Asian history in California’s educational curriculum. We should ask why we learn so much about the Roman Empire, but not much about the Chinese Empire which was connected to it through the Silk Road. We should also ask why we learn so much about Egyptian civilization, yet we seemingly ignore 5,000 years of Chinese civilization? These are some of the underlying issues that create the barriers many Asians are facing today, and that is why I believe leadership and action are the keys to solving these problems.
What is the future of Asian Americans in television news?
I see plenty of Asian women coming up through the ranks, but the number of Asian men in this business hasn’t changed much. I’m still one of a handful of Asian men in broadcast news, and one of an even smaller number of Asian male news anchors. The same issue exists for both male and female Asian Americans at the management level where the real decisions are made. But I see this in almost every part of corporate America, especially the high tech world of Silicon Valley where there’s a disproportionate number of Asian workers compared to those at the executive level. The key is leadership. Asian Americans have to take a more active role in the decisions that are affecting our jobs and our families. But often times, our cultural upbringing impedes our progress. In western society the “squeaky wheel” gets fixed first. In Asian culture the loudest duck gets shot. Asian kids are taught to work hard, keep a low profile, and wait to be chosen for a promotion. But characteristics can be translated into signs of weakness. Asians simply have a different style of leadership. But until more Asian Americans make it to the top, this country will never benefit from the style of leadership we have to offer.
What’s your motto?
While you’re climbing, don’t forget to throw the rope back down.