Turn on the TV and go to KABC7 Eyewitness News on a weekday evening, and David Ono will be relaying the biggest stories of the day.
Ono, who has been a fixture on Los Angeles airwaves for 21 years, took time off deadline to give insights and advice to students at an April 6 U-hour chat hosted by the Cal Poly Pomona chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The winner of 16 Emmys and three Edward R. Murrow Awards has covered major news events around the globe, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015. While recalling the difficulty of covering major news stories, Ono also stressed the importance of internships to a room filled with aspiring journalists.
Before heading back to the newsroom, Ono took time out for five questions.
What is the most difficult story you’ve ever covered?
Probably the Haiti earthquake (in 2010). It was exceptionally tragic. There were many, many fatalities so there lots of bodies on the streets. There was a lack of food, water, electricity, no place to stay. We were sleeping on concrete when we did get to sleep. I would find an old swimming pool in order to run water through my hair just to get presentable for my live shot. It was exceptionally dangerous because people were so desperate. They had no food and water. If they saw a western journalist, they knew that that person probably does have some food and water. At any given time, you had to be cognizant of making sure that you had some protection or you didn’t get too immersed in a crowd that could turn on you. Those were exceptionally difficult times. Right then when people were starving and had no fresh water, it’s very dangerous when you’re around a situation like that.
How much has the media changed in this era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”?
People are becoming more and more aware of what “fake news” is. When it was first coming out and all these weird stories were popping up, it was a real education for Americans because they were believing them. In some ways, it reflected poorly on the media thinking that we’re a source of that. In fact, a lot of “fake news” was designed to turn people against the media. It was very difficult, but at the same time it almost emboldens people who are in legitimate media. It really reinforced our need to stick to what we are doing, fight for what’s right and fight against people who say that we are corrupt only because we won’t report what they want us to report. These are trying times, but it emboldens us to continue what we’re doing and do it right.
Is the future of journalism at a crossroads?
What we have to understand, and we’re getting a better grasp on this, is the fact that legitimate journalism takes a great deal of courage. But you also have to understand where you’re getting your information from as a consumer. You have to have specific sources that you believe, be it the New York Times, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal. And you have to understand their viewpoint. Are they objective or are they slanted? Quite clearly, Fox News has an agenda. There are certain shows on MSNBC that have an agenda. So you have to understand where you’re gathering your information, what their slant is and embrace the fact that they might be slanted a certain way. In my opinion, that’s not journalism. If anything, people have to be more aware of where information is coming from and be more intelligent in how they use it. Journalists, especially if you’re an objective journalist, have to be correct, have to really be careful about the information they’re putting out there.
As a documentary filmmaker, what is your latest project?
It’s going to be an examination of two different artists. One is a Japanese American painter who was in the internment camps during World War II. The other one is a spoken-word rapper who’s young, a national slam poetry champion. Two completely opposite forms of art, but their message is the same about race, racial profiling, looking different but being American as anybody. Through their stories we start examining all sorts of issues in America from Muslim hate to fighting for gay rights in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s to Black Lives Matter. It’s a broad examination of civil rights in America.
What is your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
That’s a tough one. I think the fact that it’s such an incredibly diverse city. If anything happens in the world, we can find a pocket of those people here and talk to them and get a better understanding of what that part of the world is about. Because L.A. is such a melting pot, there’s a lot less ignorance here than there is in a lot of other cities in America. You are around so many different people from different walks of life, from different ethnicities, from different countries, from different religions. It broadens all of our perspectives and all of our horizons. We all have a much better understanding of how different people are yet we’re all still the same. That’s the beautiful thing about L.A.