Korean born Washingtonian Eun Yang is one of the few Asian American faces you see delivering local and national news in the metropolitan area. It is her warm, yet professional demeanor and familiar au natural Dove beauty face that keep millions tuning in each weekend on NBC local affiliate WRC-TV (NBC4). Since officially joining the team in 2002, Yang has been the only Asian American woman reporter and anchor on this team. Obviously she knows what it takes to succeed in this competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry. The passion, perseverance, persistence and hard work of this 1995 University of Maryland (College Park) broadcast journalism graduate keeps her on the rise, even while she adjusts to being a first time mom. I recently sat down with Eun Yang at Kramerbooks & Afterwords CafÃ© in Dupont Circle and she speaks candidly on making it in broadcast journalism, motherhood and the future.
It’s interesting; I think Connie Chung definitely has a lot to do with it. It almost became popular or stylish to have an Asian American (AA) woman in your newsroom.
ASIANCE: Is broadcast journalism something you’ve always wanted to do and were your parents supportive?
Eun Yang: When I was six years old I said I was going to be one of those people on TV who read the news, but I didn’t think it was something attainable or even realistic until high school or even college. I thought I would do the dutiful Korean-American thing and go to law school or go to pharmacy school or do something more mainstream, but I felt if I didn’t try to do what I really wanted to do, I would regret it later, so I went for it. I didn’t think I’d have as much success as I have. I laugh at my parents all the time especially my father. When I first told my parents that I was going to be a Journalism major they looked at me like I’d gone insane. “Journalism?” These are traditional Korean immigrants who worked hard, sacrificed a lot and didn’t put their daughter through school so she could be a journalist. At first they thought I was crazy, but because it’s what I wanted to do, they’ve always, in that sense, believed in me. Of course now, they are so proud.
ASIANCE: What do you attribute your success to?
Eun Yang: I think for many industries, not just television, timing is so important. I was very fortunate to be at the right place at the right time in so many phases of my career track. Timing, persistence and of course hard work is key. Also in television you have to have thick skin. You have to be able to handle rejection and criticism. You have to be able to handle failure and continue to pick yourself up because there is a lot of competition out there. There are many people who are going to say you can’t do it or that you can’t make it or that you don’t have what it takes. If you believe that it’s easy to say, “Okay, you know what it’s not worth the sacrifices.” You give up a lot of social time; you give up a lot of time for yourself. In the beginning you work weekends, you work nights, you work early mornings, you work all of them at the same time. So it’s easy to say, “Okay, if I’m going to listen to all this negativity then it’s really not worth the trouble.” You really have to say, “I want this badly.” You have to have that perseverance and that tenacious attitude to really want to get ahead.
ASIANCE: Do you feel your ethnicity has helped or hindered you?
Eun Yang: It’s interesting; I think Connie Chung definitely has a lot to do with it. It almost became popular or stylish to have an Asian American (AA) woman in your newsroom. For television stations, everybody all of a sudden wanted to have an Asian American face. It was the “in thing”, almost a novelty. In many ways it helped a lot of Asian women who wanted to pursue careers in the business. As it goes with any job, you can get your foot in the door by having an interesting background. It’s not just about being an Asian American woman; you have to have some work to back up what you are ethnically. It can help you if that newsroom or manager is looking for someone in particular that is an AA woman, but you have to prove yourself after that. It can be a hindrance because you don’t want to get pigeonholed in doing specific sorts of stories because it’s easy with more Asian American issues in the forefront of the news. It used to be that you didn’t really cover that many, but if there are any AA issues it’s easy to put that person in that job all the time and you don’t want to get stuck doing certain types of stories just because you’re AA or a female.
ASIANCE: Do you feel the playing field has leveled off for Asian American women or is there room for growth?
Eun Yang: Absolutely (there is still room for growth). The other problem though with being a novelty in some sense is that some newsrooms or managers will think, “Well if I already have one Asian American woman, why do I need another one?” So the slots are smaller, unless you’re in Los Angeles or San Francisco where there’s a larger Asian population and there are more AA women on-air. When it comes to different markets like D.C., each station may have one, maybe two, but there’s definitely room for more and there’s definitely room for growth. It’s very competitive and that means you just have to work that much harder. It’s tough because I think Asian American women fill a certain niche and if that’s filled, some news managers may feel they don’t even need to look anymore. In that sense it can be the downside to being in a specific minority group that may be sought after. There’s good and bad.
ASIANCE: Did you feel going to New York City or L.A. was ever a necessary stepping stone?
Eun Yang: I feel very lucky because Washington, D.C., even though it’s not the biggest market in the country, is the seat of the national government. There is so much politics and national news coming right out of D.C. You almost feel like you have national coverage of a lot of different stories. I feel I have the best of both worlds doing local and national stories for a local television station. I feel it’s such a great place to live. I have family in the area too, which makes it hard to leave. They are a real big help with my son and we have a lot of roots in Washington, D.C. and I think that’s why we haven’t moved yet. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t move to New York or Los Angeles for the right job, so that’s how I ended up staying here. If I never move and had a long illustrious career here in Washington I would be very happy with that as well. At this stage in my career, I don’t think I would move for anything else unless it was New York or LA or something big where I wouldn’t want to live, but it’s going to have to be a lot to lure me away from the comforts of my home and the great job I have already.
… I think Asian American women fill a certain niche and if that’s filled, some news managers may feel they don’t even need to look anymore.
ASIANCE: How have you been able to balance work and being a mom?
Eun Yang: To be quite honest I don’t think there really is a balance. Balance means truly equalizing two parts of your life and you really can’t, at least I find that I just can’t do that. It’s hard, you just have to give sometimes and take in another and other times give up time with your child to be at work. Sometimes your work suffers. It is so hard for working moms in so many ways. The hardest part of it, is finding a happy medium between working and being a mom because they are both so demanding and so very important to me. It’s a struggle I have to admit. A lot of times you feel pulled in both directions, sometimes I feel I can’t be 100% at work or at home because there’s so much to do on both ends. So for working moms… I know some moms say you can have it all and you can have it all, but you can’t have it all perfectly. Something has got to give and unfortunately I think a lot of moms think the first thing that’s offered up is the marriage because every article in every magazine and in every book, every expert says the number one thing you can do for your children is to have a good marriage. If most of your focus and energy is drained by work and your child who physically needs you so much because he’s still an infant, then it’s really hard to find time for your husband. To find that intimate time, to find quality time to connect. Those are all things that I continue to work at and struggle with to find time for all those different parts of my life. I don’t think there are any hard clear answers. We do the best we can. The fact that I do love my job and I’m very passionate about what I do helps the blow of being away from my kid. At least I know I’m doing something that I care about. That helps a lot.
ASIANCE: Through your experience, what advice do you have for working mothers?
Eun Yang: Learning to say “no” is very important and realizing that you can’t do everything all the time. If your house is a mess or if you have an appointment or you have dinner with an acquaintance, sometimes you just have to say “no” and make time for yourself or you’ll go crazy and burn out. We don’t listen to our own bodies or own minds when we’re telling ourselves “we’re just taking on too much.” I still have to learn to listen to myself. Learning to say “no” is hard. For example, May is Asian Pacific American heritage month, so I have many speaking and emcee requests. I only have two days off during the week when I can spend with my son, so I really have to pick and choose very carefully as these events require additional time to prepare. You can’t please everyone and you can’t do everything. Otherwise you will suffer and you will regret it, so learn to say “no” and really take the time to prioritize. And again finding a job or being somewhere where you’re happy helps a lot to offset some of the struggles like missing your child.
ASIANCE: What advice do you have for aspiring Asian American female broadcast journalists?
Eun Yang: My biggest concern when I talk to young aspiring journalists, especially in the broadcasting field is that they think it’s all about being on TV. There’s this glamorized, idealized thought of broadcast journalism, meaning you get to be on TV and be a superstar, celebrity type.
I worry the next generation focuses too much on being famous. I always like to tell aspiring journalists if you want to get into this business be passionate about the events that make this world go round, people that make the news, and finding those gems of stories within the events and the people you talk to and really connect to your community. To be a good television reporter and anchor you also have to be a good writer, people forget that. Stories don’t show up, you have to craft your story, produce it and write it yourself especially in the beginning. In television you have little time, so you have to choose your words carefully and have to tell a compelling and meaningful story. Some people think it’s easier, but it’s also harder because you have fewer words to tell that story and tell it effectively. Remember it’s not about the glitz and the glamour. In the beginning you will be working crazy hours. You’re going to have no life, you’ll be waking up in the middle of the night, working weekends, trucking through the mud, chasing after people. It’s that sort of stuff, so it’s not as glamorous as some people like to think. It’s a lot of hard work. You have to really want it and want it for the right reasons to do well.
ASIANCE: With being so busy, what do you do to carve out some time for yourself?
Eun Yang: That’s a really good question. I think what suffers the most is finding time for me. I don’t make enough time for myself to decompress. I do try. Luckily my husband will give me time if I just need to take a nap after a very long day or after an early morning wake-up call to anchor a morning show. My escape… I’m a magazine junkie, so I escape with my magazines like Vogue, Allure or InStyle. We’re also regular churchgoers and that helps. There’s time built into the service for meditation or prayer, so that’s a little bit of time every week that I can spend a little time alone.
ASIANCE: When you’re on the go, what staples are in your handbag?
Eun Yang: Usually I have a granola bar and a cored apple cut into pieces. When you’re on the go constantly, you just don’t have time (to eat). Definitely have notepads and pens, you got to have writing instruments. You never know when you’ll have to write down information. My little make-up kit in case I have to do a live shot or be on the air or do a stand-up, cell phone and album with pictures of my kid.
ASIANCE: does the future hold for you?
Eun Yang: I would love either to eventually anchor full-time or go to the network. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about again and weighing that with family priorities as well. If I do something on the network side I’d be very happy, but if I stay in Washington and become an anchor and stay here for the next many, many years, I’d be very happy with that too. I love my life here and I love this city. There are so many great opportunities. I’m very, very blessed that I have the job that I have in the market that I have, in the city that I have. I feel very lucky.
UPDATE: Eun Yang from NBC4-WRC-TV in Washington, DC is indeed pregnant and is due in late July. The Yang family already has two boys, 3 1/2 and 1 1/2.