Welcome to Five Questions, an occasional series at the Alhambra Source, where we ask cool people with cool jobs about how they got to where they are today. First up, Cary Chow, anchor at ESPN and one-time Alhambra resident.
What was the moment that made you decide that you wanted to go into journalism, particularly sports journalism?
Since 5th grade, when I wrote a paper about the “Gumbynator”—a combination of Gumby meets the Terminator—I’ve always loved writing and telling stories. Being able to inform or entertain others emotionally or intellectually is both a tremendous honor and incredibly gratifying. It’s a feeling I wanted to multiply. That’s why I got into journalism. (Disclaimer: Gumbynator is not a true story!)
I’ve also always been a huge sports fan and was so envious of Bob Costas growing up. He attended all the biggest sporting events in the world and interviewed the biggest athletes, especially Michael Jordan. I was a crazy Jordan fan. I knew I would never be a professional athlete, but being Bob Costas would seem to be the next best thing.
What was your road to ESPN like? What was the most challenging moment?
It’s been an roller coaster ride to ESPN, which included two bouts of unemployment—one when I graduated college, the second when I turned 30. The media jobs I’ve had before coming to ESPN: movie critic at a weekly newspaper in Santa Barbara; production assistant at KABC-TV in LA; cable access show host/producer; news anchor/reporter at KCWY-TV in Wyoming; sports anchor/news reporter at WALA-TV in Alabama; food critic for a regional magazine; news reporter at KGTV in San Diego and host/producer at Fox Sports San Diego.
There were many challenging moments, but the most challenging was in 2011. I decided not to renew my contract in Alabama because I wanted to travel. I didn’t have a ton of money saved up, but I had enough to make a few trips. This was in the midst of a terrible economy and it wasn’t the most logical decision, but in life, you never know what can happen, and I didn’t want to look back at my life 30 years from now and regret not doing some of the things I’ve always wanted to do. As I traveled, I wrote a blog (tcarychow.blogspot.com) about what was going through my mind.
After a couple months of travel, which included visiting places I hoped to work, I moved back to my mom’s house in California. I was 30, single, and living back at my mom’s house. I feverishly searched for another job from the house, but mentally it was taxing. I felt like a failure. Then fortune smiled on me. An ESPN.com editor at the time, Lynn Hoppes, who I had previously met through the Asian American Journalists Association, read my travel blog and said he liked it. I then pitched him countless story ideas and he agreed to publish some of them. From my freelance work with ESPN.com, I was able to get a job in San Diego, and in the fall of 2012, ESPN came calling.
A photo posted by Cary Chow (@tcarychow) on
Dec 17, 2014 at 2:18pm PST
What is it like being one of the only Asian Americans in your particular field? What advice do you have for anyone who wants to enter a field where they're a minority?
Being one of few Asian-American males in broadcast journalism, and one of the even fewer Asian sports journalists, I do feel like I have to carry a mantle of sorts for my culture. There are very few Asians in Wyoming and Alabama, so when I was there, I represented the opportunity to educate viewers about my culture. If I put my best self forward, this could hopefully enlighten others who don’t know anything about Asian Americans except for the stereotypical portrayals they may see on TV and movies. Call it the Yellow Man’s Burden, except instead of being a burden, it was a privilege.
When you enter a field where you’re a minority, inevitably, you will be judged by others on your race and appearance. So to prove that you belong, you have to study twice as hard and know your material better than the next person. If you’re thinking of entering a field when you’re a minority, I’d suggest researching minority affinity organizations in your field. For me, the Asian American Journalists Association has been invaluable to my success. If you’re Asian and looking to get into sports, I run a mentorship network for the Sports Task Force, which is a part of AAJA. If you’re still in school and looking to get into a field where you’re a minority, there’s a non-profit called Gladeo.org that is specifically for you. Gladeo provides free resources to help students of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels learn about various careers. Chances are, whatever the field—you’re never alone and there are people out there who are willing to help.
What was your favorite story to cover at ESPN, and in your career in general?
My favorite segment I’ve done at ESPN was with Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Barry was my favorite football player growing up and I totally idolized him. To get to sit and chat with him for 20 minutes or so and tape a show with him about his life and career was truly a dream come true moment for me. Arguably my favorite story I’ve ever done was a piece about former Red Sox player Bernie Carbo, who had a promising career that was derailed by drugs. Decades later, Bernie’s career was long-ruined but he was able to put his life back together. It was a piece that my producers originally didn’t want, so I shot, wrote and edited the piece completely on my own in my spare time. When they saw the finished product, they decided to run it. The story would go on to win an Edward R. Murrow Award.
You said you lived in Alhambra for a couple of months back in the day. Anything that sticks out from that time?
I lived in Alhambra for a few months at my aunt’s house. That’s when I used to work in Glendale, but my permanent home was still in Orange. I don’t remember too much except that I was surrounded by fantastic Chinese food. I ate well when I lived there!