Journalist/First Generation/Chinese American/Self-determined/Survivor

I am a first generation Asian American and I inhabit a space and path that is not what most Asian Americans travel down. There is a common joke that Asians want to be doctors and lawyers. Most parents don’t come to the States to have their kids not succeed professionally and financially because it really is an investment for parents to come to the States. In all reality, money buys freedom, which is what immigrant parents want for their kids…freedom. This is why both of my parents have always placed an emphasis on education. For instance, both of them are very well educated. My parents were part of the first wave out of students that were officially sanctioned by the Communist Party in China to study abroad.  From this opportunity, they both earned a Phd (one in math and the other in computer engineering) in Japan and completed post doctoral work at UCLA.  In addition to their level of educational success, they are both highly technical people. This has consequently led to me being the black sheep in the family because I went to school for globalization studies and pursued a career in the less lucrative route of journalism and broadcast media.

For a long time, I was pushed to do science, technology, engineering, and math, but I decided to be my own person. I found out early that these pushed and emphasized concentrations and careers just weren’t for me. As a first generation American, I did not have a lot of connections. I didn’t have parents that worked in my industry and could connect me to jobs and opportunities. I am self made. I did the work, put out applications, went against the grain, took a risk, and am therefore, very happy with the work that I am currently doing as a tape producer for the news show, “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC.

Now, I did not always know that I wanted to work in journalism, let alone national, politically focused journalism. That spark and drive ultimately was created when I was studying at University of California Santa Barbara. While I was studying there, there were two experiences that made me realize that journalism was my wheelhouse. For one, I was an active member of Model  United Nation, competitive simulation of working of United Nations. As a member, I had to take the position of a county I was assigned to and participate in a simulation of a committee in the United Nations  I had to debate certain issues and topics and emulate the position of the country while advocating for certain policy directions for the mock United Nations to vote on.  This brought my awareness to UN system, and gave me practice with presenting material and researching and analyzing policies and initiatives. The second experience was the school riot and shooting that both occurred in the Spring 2014.  A person named Elliot Rodgers shot a bunch of people and stabbed his Chinese roommate and there was a school riot as a result of unrest during a college party with the police. I was the photo editor at the time of both the riots and the shooting. A student attacked a police officer when  the police officer was trying to break up a party. The kid then was handcuffed and people became upset which led to the police throwing out tear gas and pepper spray. I heard about what was going down and rushed over there to take photos. My photos and coverage resonated with people and were front page of school paper and went up and down the west coast. It was the visual picture that made people realize this has gotten way out of control. Local residents will no longer let people stay there with them and pushed against having outsiders come down to party. I covered this things that needed to be fixed in our school coverage. As a journalist I want to create social change and uncover injustices.

My time at USCB showed me that journalism was something I wanted to do and was still trying to determine if I could really do it. Getting into journalism is just something you have to do on your own. There are no entry tests like passing the bar exam to be a lawyer. I joined the Asian American Journalism Association. When I first joined, people liked my background as a  photojournalist and people encouraged me to do other multimedia . Going to that first conference in San Francisco helped show me that I could having a real career in journalism. The fact that I was around people that shared my same ethnic background and passion was very pivotal for me. I really enjoy the AAJA conferences because I always feel empowered and  a lot of the discussion that happens around minority journalists, can only happen in those conferences like racism in the workplace, harassment, token minority journalists.

For the past year, I have  been working as a tape producer for “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC which airs everyday at 5pm Eastern. What I do is not necessarily sexy, but is necessary. I do a lot of the behind the scenes work that isn’t undertaken by writers. I put together or video roll or our sounds. My responsibilities include ensuring that the featured videos are up to date and accurate, so that when director says, “Roll video!” or a particular sound, that the video and sounds are aligned, look good and add to the overall story.We create hour long newscast every single day. Our brand is very hard politics because we do a lot of political analysis and national coverage.  I really like politics. It’s definitely not an easy thing, not a lot of people like it, but I like that it’s a very important national issue. There are certain fields in journalism that I find unpalatable like human interest or community stories. Now don’t get me wrong, those stories are important but I used to have a radio show on foreign policy and affairs, so I gravitate towards more macro issues and policy.

Down the road, I want to be an executive or senior producer for a newscast. I have graphics, editorial, and research/analysis experience, so next I want to be a segment producer. Segment producers are the ones who write the scripts and order the videos or graphics. Eventually, I want to be the guy who makes the editorial decisions and creates the power team. They call the shots for a particular show for an hour. I want to be guy who hires people and bring people up. I want to address diversity issues and institutional racism and difficulty with gaining access. NBCUniversal does a fantastic job for making internships accessible to people of color. Half of of our team are women/people of color and both of my senior producers are women.  I want to continue to achieve gender and minority representation in the world of political journalism. In the politics section in news it is especially important because if we don’t have someone with specific view or background, the political optics will be warped. For example, if we had all men on our team, they may not see the Women’s march as social justice movement, or if we did not have any African Americans on staff, they may not view BLM as a legitimate political movement. We’ve spent multiple days discussing NFL and taking a knee where we didn’t take the approach of this being an act of “disrespecting the flag” but of one that is being used to stir up the conversation of systemic racism, racial profiling, and the abuse of African Americans by the police. If we do not have people who have a similar background or affinity to the people in our society, then the stories will not be written, edited, and produces and ultimately not shown on air. This is very important to all newsrooms, but national ones as well. In national media, by in large, Asian Americans do not have it as bad. In my opinion, African Americans and Latinos have it way worse in the media. With that being said, the New York times, did a piece on Boba recently. They were saying, “What is this crazy new thing?”. If they had just one Asian editor, they could have avoided being roasted by Asian Americans for the tone deaf story.  Or another example is when Jesse Watters went to Chinatown to interview residents and he did taekwondo, which isn’t even Chinese. He also went to random Chinese grandmas and grandpas who couldn’t even speak English. By having diverse voices, they could hopefully avoid this symptom of tone deaf work and be more inclusive and responsive in the stories being shared and aired.

I am only 23 years old, but I have quickly learned the importance of making every moment on this Earth count. I encourage people to start early with honing their craft. It is important for us to find something we are passionate about. Even if your current job or major is not what you are passionate about,  slowly incorporate it into your life. The more time we have to spend on our passion, the more time we have to integrate that into our careers and life. This was even more illuminated to me when I had a short brush with testicular cancer with stage 1 seminoma. I do not drink or smoke, yet I am 23 and had my first bout with cancer.  A lot of health discussions do not happen with immigrant families and thus, I did not prioritize it. I was lucky enough to get a promotion and thus, was able to schedule what I thought of as a routine check-up that ultimately saved my life. If you can afford to go to doctors, please go at least once a year and if you are a man, please do cancer screenings on yourself. People should be aware that just because young does not mean you are invincible. I am a huge advocate of us living our life to the fullest and grabbing hold of every minute and opportunity.

Want to stay connected to Ben and his work?

Personal blog: http://benjaminpu.com/blog/

Show information: https://www.facebook.com/MeetThePress/