John Sasaki, 34, is a reporter with KTVU-TV, the FOX affiliate in Oakland, Calif. Prior to joining KTVU in 1996, John was a weekend anchor and weekday reporter at KTVN, the CBS affiliate in Reno, Neveda. Sasaki landed his first job as an associate producer at KNSD, the NBC affiliate in San Diego. Sasaki is a member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and has won several journalism awards from the Associated Press. Sasaki received a degree in psychology from San Diego State University. He spoke with JournalismJobs.com recently about broadcast news coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area.
John Sasaki: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I've seen lots of news in L.A., news in New York, and in D.C., and a lot of it is very, very bad. L.A. is so focused on entertainment and high speed car chases that there is very little room for big news -- some real news. We're definitely on par, if not better. The Bay Area is a very sophisticated place, highly educated, so I think our viewers demand a lot more than some of the other places do.
JournalismJobs.com: Is the rush to be 'first' with the story causing more errors in reporting?
John Sasaki: I think it can. I think most of the people here in the Bay Area are pretty good about getting things right. Everybody makes mistakes at one time or another. I think by and large the rush to beat everybody else doesn't preclude us from being correct. I would say no. I think that's kind of the nature of news. Trying to get the story on, you may sacrifice quality, but in the interests of getting it on now. I think it has the potential to happen, and I think it happens periodically to everyone. But again, I don't think that necessarily equates to getting things wrong.
JournalismJobs.com: Was the dog mauling story in San Francisco overplayed?
John Sasaki: I talked to a couple of police officers in San Francisco who were really sick of all the coverage that we gave to the dog mauling. And part of their gripe was the fact that in the months after it there was a pretty big gang war between Big Block and West Mob in the Bayview-Hunter's Point area. They didn't believe we were giving enough coverage to that while at the same time giving too much coverage to the dog mauling.
Does that mean that we gave it too much? At times there certainly was overall too much coverage of it, but only because there were plenty of other important things to cover. It doesn't mean that it wasn't important. Frankly, in retrospect, I think that it really has been the kind of story that a lot of people have been very interested in. It captivated audiences, certainly while the trial was going on. I think [defense attorney] Nedra Ruiz kind of contributed to that with her theatrics.
It kind of depends on what standard you use as what's too much. Is it something that fascinates the audience, and is that the reason to cover it? If that's your standard, then no. We didn't cover it too much because I think that by and large people really were fascinated with that story. The most scary thing that came out of the incident and the aftermath were the advertisements that came out in some of the newspapers for puppies of these 'killer dogs.' And that's how they were billed. The other thing it raised was the whole issue of gay rights and couples -- Sharon Smith and her lawsuit and wanting compensation for her loss. And I think that's a reasonable thing for her to pursue as well.
JournalismJobs.com: TV journalists are sometimes criticized for relying on newspaper and wire copy for story ideas. Is this a valid criticism, and why is this the case?
John Sasaki: In some cases, yeah, it's a valid criticism. Newspapers are a great resource. Wire copy can be a good resource. We certainly rely on scanners and word-of-mouth and things that we see as any journalist does. We rely on as many areas as we possibly can. It is a problem at times. The reason for that is it's certainly easy to open the paper and see a big story that you didn't get the previous day and say 'Hey, we have got to go cover that.' That's very easy to do, and it makes sense. You're certainly not going to see a big story in the paper, and not cover it just because it's in the newspaper. And it's about getting all the information about all the stories that you possibly can to your viewers. Not all of our viewers read the paper. Not all the people who read the paper watch our show. So there's going to be variation in what people see and what people read. The criticism -- is it really fair? I wouldn't say so because we in journalism by and large get our news from a wide-variety of spaces.
JournalismJobs.com: What do viewers complain about most?
John Sasaki: Probably the biggest complaint I get is: Why do we do so much bad news? It's all crime, it's all terrible stuff. I would say to people who have that criticism that we only get calls when bad things happen. We rarely get calls when good things happen. Far more often if there is a shooting going on, or a big fire, or a family was flooded out of their home, that's when we get calls. The same people who are at, for example, the school who are angry that we are there because there was a shooting and complain that were not there for the good things, don't call us. I wish that people -- especially the people who really desire our presence -- would make more of a concerted effort to get us out there on those occasions.
JournalismJobs.com: What do you know now that you wished you knew earlier in your career? What sort of advice would you give to a reporter just starting out -- what to expect, how to build sources, etc?
John Sasaki: I would tell young journalists to do it for the right reasons. Get into journalism for the right reasons. Periodically I will talk to an intern or a young person at a conference and they will say, "Oh, yeah, I want to be an anchor." If your desire is to be on TV, this is not the right job for you. Because there are far too many things that you have to do that can be potentially frustrating. Things like, a lack of money when you're first starting out, moving all over the country, working in a small market where the equipment just doesn't work, working around other people who just don't work, or aren't very good. That's what small markets are all about. This is far too much work if all you want to do is be on TV. If that's what you want, you should go be an actor.
You can't get to know your sources too well. I have a habit of whenever I talk to a police officer, a firefighter, or an attorney, I'll do the interview and chat with them 10-15 minutes afterwards. It never hurts to ask people more questions than you need for your story. The more you cultivate that, the more they're going to rely on you. The better impression you make on them, the more they're going to call you and say "Hey, I have a story for you." Or you'll see them at another story and they'll be more likely to talk to you than to the other reporter there who has never talked to them before.
Part of what we do is PR. At times I kind of feel like a politician. I'm trying to make a good impression not only on viewers -- who you see periodically, too -- but on those who you're working with in covering the story. I'm not saying I won't ask people tough questions because I'm afraid of upsetting them. They know I'm asking it because it's my job -- I have to. At the same time they know that they can trust me -- that I won't exploit them, that I won't get the story wrong. Getting back to your question about getting the story wrong, that's probably my biggest motivation. Aside from the fact that I hate being wrong. I certainly don't want to do something wrong and hurt someone that I have a respect for in the process. That is just about the worst feeling you can have. There are 'journalists' -- and I use that term loosely -- out there who will burn a source to get a story. Most stories are not worth burning an important source for me.
JournalismJobs.com: What's the most interesting story you've covered?
John Sasaki: I have to boil it down to kind of an amalgam. I have a degree in psychology. One of my favorite kinds of stories -- and I apologize for sounding somewhat morbid -- is covering the deaths of someone, whether it was a child or an adult, an accident or a fire, because I like talking to people and seeing how they are and seeing how they are relating to each other and seeing how they're dealing with things. Part of my job -- I mentioned I'm a politician -- but I'm also kind of a therapist. In that I deal with a lot of people in the most trying of times. That's my psychology degree kind of helping me there. If there's one thing I learned in that subject it's empathy. I can feel their pain. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to over the years who have lost loved ones. Easily hundreds, if not a thousand or more. In doing that I feel that I'm making a difference in my own little way. I'm not making a big impact, but I know that talking about trauma is cathartic. On top of that I'm telling the rest of world about this person who is gone.
JournalismJobs.com: Did you always want to be a journalist?
John Sasaki: No, when I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I was in college I wanted to be a psychologist. Oddly enough, I decided I didn't want to listen to people's problems all day, so I decided to become a journalist. The greatest thing about this job is I get to see, feel, touch, taste, experience all that this world has to offer. All the great things, all the bad things, all the scary things. I see and am in the middle of all of it. I've got a front row seat to everything in this world, and that's a great honor and a great blessing.
Copyright © 2002 JournalismJobs.com. All rights reserved.
Other JournalismJobs.com interviews: