Deborah Wang’s whirlwind career has taken her around the world, to the shores of international crises and most recently has landed her in the Pacific Northwest.
Today she is the host of IN Close, a weekly current affairs series on KCTS 9 that features in-depth reporting on weighty topics pertinent to the region. Seattle audiences recognize her voice and name from KUOW Public Radio, where she is the news and feature reporter. As an award-winning journalist who has worked in both radio and television, Wang brings with her nearly two decades worth of fascinating experience in the field.
“I just feel really lucky that I happened upon this life because I’ve been able to have the most interesting career and the most interesting life,” Wang said.
When she was 14 years old, Wang said she realized what she wanted to do with her life after reading All the President’s Men. The book is written by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two investigative journalists who exposed the Watergate Scandal and ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Wang began her career at a small public radio station in western Massachusetts. She then took on the role of Asia correspondent for National Public Radio.
“What’s my role as an Asian American covering Asia?” she asks.
“The way I saw it, I was there because I could speak an Asian language and had an understanding of the history and culture because I studied East Asian history in college so it was a good fit with my expertise,” said Wang.
From there, Wang was hired by ABC News as a foreign correspondent. While in Beijing in 1997, she covered the celebrations over the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China. She said she was surprised by the recent protests in Hong Kong, describing it as very business-oriented country where “people keep their heads down” and aren’t politically open.
“But it’s also worrisome because I also understand how inflexible the Chinese are on these issues. I think they will be very careful with Hong Kong because there’s so much at stake for them,” she said.
After getting married and having a child, Wang decided to stay in Hong Kong but quit her TV gig to freelance for CNN and other organizations.
Upon return to the United States, her family decided to settle in Seattle, where she said she has come “full circle” working for public radio once again.
I got to speak at length with Deborah and she graciously answered my questions below:
On covering international crises… Among the major conflicts Wang covered internationally was the First Gulf War in 1991. According to her, covering conflict in the Middle East was an entirely different experience than it is today.
“There were good guys and bad guys back then. There was the Iraqi regime which had invaded Kuwait and had launched attacks at the Kurds and then the allies who had come to save the Kurds in Northern Iraq and create a safe haven zone.
Unlike today, she said there weren’t “improvised explosives” or “homegrown insurgencies targeting Westerners or Americans.”
“Today it’s just deadly for everybody. I wouldn’t go back today, having a family and knowing the dangers and having had friends who have been killed.”
Advice for people of minority backgrounds trying to make it in the journalism field… “Don’t think you have to be the standard broadcast news person because the value of your voice is that it’s yours. Authentically yours. So don’t be ashamed of that. It’s something to your advantage.”
Her advice is to not shy away from one’s background, whether it’s ethnic, income level, or disability because news rooms require multiple perspectives in order to properly cover the entire society.
Advice for people wanting to enter international reporting… Learn a language and freelance because foreign correspondent jobs are becoming scarce.
“Just go and become an expert on where it is you’re going and wait for the moment you become successful. When the earthquake hits or the riot hits you’re on the ground and you will be very valuable for an organization to get the facts. It’s hard work but if you’re young and single especially, why not?”
Challenges of being a foreign correspondent… “You’re basically at the mercy of the network. “They call you up at four in the morning and say go to the airport right now. Somewhere something is happening.
Least favorite part of the job… “That moment when you’re about to go out on a story you know nothing about and there’s that anxiety. And then you get to whatever it is you’re covering and all those reporter instincts kick in and you start asking questions and then slowly you start feeling understanding flowing over you.”
A question you always ask when interviewing… Wang’s advice is to open up with an open-ended question like “what is the most important thing about this” and “Why do people care about this.”
Favorite platform… “TV can be extremely powerful and impactful, but it’s really time and resource-consuming,” she said. “I love radio because it can bring out the emotion and passion when you hear someone’s voice. You have a different connection with that person than if you just read their quotes.”
Wang has won many awards for her reporting, including the Alfred I. DuPont Silver Baton for coverage of the first Gulf War, and the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award for best radio documentary on Cambodia. Her show IN Close airs weekly on Thursdays, 7:00 pm on KCTS 9.
Editor’s Note (1/5/2015 at 6:09 p.m.): A new version of this story that more closely resembles the writer’s original work has replaced the version that originally appeared on January 3. This new version corrects several errors that were made during the editorial process.