Today in Ted Chen’s L.A.
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
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
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.
|| Ted Chen at
AAJA-LA's Trivia Bowl |
“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
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
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.
“Sometimes it takes our enthusiasm to say, ‘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,”
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
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
“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
“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.