Judy Hsu, anchor, ABC 7 Chicago, joins Voices from the Field to talk about her journey into broadcasting, what inspires her, how the role of women in the newsroom has evolved and advice for budding journalists.
Edited and Paraphrased for Print
When did you first realize you had a calling for broadcasting? And was there any one or anything in particular, that inspired you?
Gosh, it's been such a long journey. Let's see, was there one moment, I don't know that there was that one great moment, that kind of was the calling for me to come into broadcasting. As I tell a lot of students when I talk to them now, and I also have four kids, so I'm talking to them also about, you know, how do you select that career for yourself, and the moments for me are plural, and I call aha moments. Along the way they compile together and then you realize, well, maybe this is meant for me, that's sort of how it happened for me.
So I'm going to take you back a little bit long journey into the Wayback Machine. I was born in Taiwan. My mom was an elementary school teacher, my dad was a grandmaster of tai chi, which is a form of martial arts. And he was only a one of a handful of masters at that level. So he was invited. When I was from the time I was little, he was invited to teach around the world including the United States. When I was 11, my dad was invited to teach in Chicago and start a school. And so that's how we ended up moving. We emigrated when I was 11 years old, packed up and it was my first time on an aeroplane. I didn't speak a word of English. We landed right in Chicago's Chinatown. So here's the first aha moment when I look back. I didn't realize it then. I tell a lot of people if you've been overseas or living abroad, the best way right to immerse yourself in the new language and the culture is by watching television. And so I was 11 years old, I was going to Chicago public school, I was coming home in the afternoon. Well, what was on TV, but the newscast. And in fact, ironically, again, you don't realize it until your life kind of comes around full circle. I was watching Channel Seven, the 4 p.m. news after school. And that's the same newscast I am on today. If you had said that to me back then when I was 11 and just moved to this country that that would happen, I wouldn't have believed you.
So that was a moment, but it wasn't like I watch TV and said, 'Oh, my gosh, that's what I want to do.'' Because I wasn't sure that I could actually do it. All I wanted was to kind of immerse myself in learning this new language. If one day I could speak flawlessly. And this beautiful new language just like that news anchor I saw on TV. And when I was young, even back in Taiwan, I loved reading, writing and meeting people. Here's the other aha moment: My dad, like I said, ran a martial art school. So from the time I could remember, I was always at his school, always meeting new people, listening to adults talk. But instead of finding it somewhat boring, I found it fascinating. I loved listening to people and why they were coming from so many different backgrounds, coming to this one school and learning this thing called Chinese martial arts. In high school, I ended up joining the high school newspaper, again, not to get into the business, but because I thought I was so new in the community and relatively new to this country, that that would be just a nice way to meet people. But my first assignment was to interview the principal of my high school. Here I am sitting across from his big desk, little me, just immigrated to this country a few years earlier, and I'm like, wow, I get to ask him questions about how the school is run. I'm like, this is the job of a reporter. Maybe I could do something like that. I think I would be interested. So all these little aha moments happened along the way. And I talked my parents into letting me major in journalism, got into the campus radio station fell in love with the broadcasting part of it. But I do want to give a shout out to the Illinois Broadcasters Association. They were the ones who gave me that very first opportunity to have an internship. I took a semester off from college to intern at the CBS station in Chicago. And that was my very first taste of broadcast news in Chicago with that internship,through the Illinois Broadcasters Association. Without that, I'm not so sure that I would be here today. So a shout out to them. A lot of those moments happened for me.
Can you give us a glimpse into what a typical day is like for you?
In news, there's really never a typical day. And that's why we love what we do. So the most consistent part of my day is actually when the newscast is on, which you probably know, so I anchor the 4 p.m. and the 6 p.m. right now. So three o'clock is sort of my cutoff. Everything else, all those other things that we juggle during the day have to take a backseat. And that's when I really have to focus on on the newscast, talking with the producers, reading the notes from the field from reporters because they're all working remotely. They're not even in the station because of COVID. So really going through Slack, meeting and prepping for the show. Before that time is sort of like a free for all. Anything can happen.
A really a big part of my job during the day is anchoring the breaking news anchor desk. So much is happening especially right during COVID. I would say since the pandemic started. Last March, I began anchoring daily special reports in the afternoon, probably from that noon to three o'clock hour, daily press conferences with the governor, with a mayor, with the health department and really keeping everybody updated. And outside of COVID there are other breaking news stories that happened. So I really kind of man/woman that station during the day. And then if you take a step back from that, when I first get into the station, of course there's checking with the producers and seeing what's going on with the editorial team. And this last week has been crazy. This last month, we've done a lot with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. So I've hosted a lot of town halls during that midday hour if we don't have breaking news, that sort of stuff. So in a word, it's really busy. But for those who may be watching who are thinking about getting into the business, it is so fun. It is fascinating. It's different, just about every day. And that's I think for a lot of us who get into this business. That's the reason why we love it.
Is there a favorite part of the job that you really feel lights you up and gives you the most joy? Or are there particular projects that you work on? Either daily or weekly that you're particularly proud of?
I've been with the station for 20 years. I actually just celebrated 20 years this last month, which is crazy for me to think about. And I been part of so many great projects, I like to say they were all special and meaningful. But you know, we are such a 'here and now' business. Right? What was your story yesterday? What's your story today? So I guess I would if I have to pick one, I would say the half hour special that just aired. Really, really proud of that. It's a half hour special that we do every year in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. But this year, you know, it took on special significance because of the hate crimes that have been reported across the country, a very difficult and painful subject for a lot of people. But it's important to address. So we not only addressed that, but we wanted to have our special to be full of uplifting stories that really lift up the community and lift up the voices of the AAPI community. So it took a lot of work. And so many producers are working remotely. And I'm here at the station, some of our crews are remote, just to pull all of that together. And but we were able to do all the interviews in person because the restrictions are loosening up a little bit right now. So we were able to tell those stories in person. Really impactful content, which is what we'd love to be able to deliver. And, a big thank you actually to the station, to the stations that see how important these programs are, and devote the resources to it because it does take a lot of resources to be able to put this half hour special together. So long story to say that that half hour special. For anybody watching this interview, if you want to go online and check it out, they have our special it is at ABC7Chicago.com. It's called 'Our Chicago, Asian Voices.'
It's such a timely topic, as you said, because that's something that we've been certainly putting a spotlight on at the National Association of Broadcasters as well. As a woman and a journalist from an Asian background, how do you feel the industry has changed or adapted over the years to provide opportunities for women like yourself to be in the business and be part of that conversation?
Let's see. I'll give you an example. We have come a long way. When I look out at my newsroom today, when I walk in, not during COVID because our staff is reduced. So pre-pandemic when you walk into ABC7's newsroom, you can see across the board, how diverse that newsroom is in terms of gender, race and background. But when I first started in the business, the first station I worked at, right after graduating from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. There I had no female managers in any capacity. I don't think I had a female producer. I was the only Asian American talent face in the entire market of Champaign Urbana at that time. Today, at this station, ABC7, I was hired by a female general manager. Today, I work for a female news director, female assistant news director, anchor three newscast because our four o'clock is broken up to four o'clock, 4:30 and 6 p.m. Three different producers of the three shows, two of the producers are women. So we really have come a long way in making sure that there is that diversity and opportunity. Can we always do better? of course. I like to say, and we've heard that said before, let's have diversity in our newsrooms. Let's include everybody's voices at the table when those editorial meetings and and decisions are being made.
I want to take you back to something you talked about a little bit at the beginning, which was how you got your start. And what inspired you as a young child. I know, having looked at your background and your bio, that one of the things you'd like to do is talk to schoolchildren, and encourage them to pursue their dreams. What sort of advice would you give a young person maybe a child who was like you were at age 11 and is trying to think about what they can do to be a part of the world and make a decision? What advice would you give them about getting into broadcasting?
My oldest is a college freshman, just starting to think about what he wants to do in life and is a bit confused. And I always tell him, my other kids and all of the students I talked to that, really, first of all, you have to believe in yourself, you really do. Doesn't matter what you end up wanting to do along the way. You'll have some naysayers. We've all experienced that. Don't let others define what your dream is going to be. So you have to know yourself, believe in yourself. Certainly, you have to be resilient. You have to have that grit because you're going to have to knock on a lot of doors. I'll just share that when I was looking for an internship before I got the internship opportunity with the Illinois Broadcasters Association, I sent out so many letters and made many phone calls. And there were so many no's, there were so many rejections, just not the right timing, not the right fit. So you've got to be resilient. But I also want to say, if you want to get into broadcast, if you want to get into news, you have to be interested. I think you just have to be interested in the world around you. As I look back, I was interested in the people who came into my dad's school. Who are they? Why do they want to take martial arts? What does it mean to them? When I would do the internship in Chicago, I lived in the suburbs, my mom would drop me off at the train. I would take the train - the red line - all the way into the city. It was a long ride. And if you know Chicago, the elevated tracks come really close to the big apartment buildings. And I just remember every day, going by those apartment buildings, and I would see these windows, and some had air conditioning units and some didn't. And I would wonder, who are those people who lives here? What's their story? How long have they been here? What do they do for a living? It was just something that fascinated me. So I would say, be interested in the community that you live in, in the community that you don't live in, and find out something new, and see if it's the right fit. But in terms of this job - this is really important - you have to stay objective. So you have to know that you can be objective in doing this job, no matter what your biases are. And we all havethings that make us cry a little bit more than than other things. Whether you're a pet lover or a cat lover, we have to remember that our job is to be objective. And sometimes that's very challenging.
My last question for you is kind of a two-parter. And you touched on a little bit of this, but one of the things that we try to do is always make the case for the importance of local broadcasting and local journalism, and how it helps to inform and support the local community. What role do you feel like stations in general have there and in particular, your station in Chicago. You've done so many wonderful things - just speaking recently about the half hour special. But what do you think is the most important thing for viewers to keep in mind about the importance of local journalism? And what makes it so unique and critical to our lives on a daily basis?
I think the COVID-19 pandemic has really demonstrated and probably reiterated the importance and the role of local broadcasting or journalism, whether it's broadcast or print. I think when something major as the pandemic, when there was so much confusion, especially in the beginning. What is happening? What is going on? What are the details, and what are the facts? That's what gives us purpose, every single day. But those of us in the news business know that we didn't just do that for the pandemic, just like, I'm not just telling stories of the AAPI community during the month of May for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. We do it on a daily basis. We tell these stories that make a difference in our community every single day. And for me, I've been doing it for 20 years. There are people here who have been doing it for 30 years at the station. But I think our audience will recognize periodically, they will come back and go 'Oh, that's right. You know, this is why I turn on ABC7. This is why I turn on the four o'clock news in the afternoon. To find out what's going on in my community.'
And especially when something as confusing as a pandemic happens when even experts are learning as they were going. What's happening with these case numbers? Are they going up? Or are they going downward of the symptoms. Things kept changing. That is the role that we serve. And when I mentioned that during the pandemic, I was on that breaking news anchor desk every day, that was new information that we were delivering to our viewers, and it really is an awesome sense of responsibility. And sometimes it brings me back to that that little kid who was interviewing my principal. That was my first taste of wow journalism. It is a such a sense of responsibility I have when those words come out on that little newspaper article for the school. And now when the words come out when we present these stories and information to our viewers on a daily basis.
Thank you so much, Judy. We're very, very honored to have you. I'm very grateful for your time. And thank you so very much for all you've done and continue to do for your local community in Chicago.
Thank you! Happy to be talking with all of you.
Emmy award winning anchor Judy Hsu anchors ABC 7's top-rated 4 p.m. and the 6 p.m. news in Chicago. Additionally, Judy hosts a long format interview segment that airs on Sunday mornings called "Newsviews", offering unique perspectives from Chicago area newsmakers as they address local and national topics pertinent to our community. Judy also serves as the primary host of ABC7's signature half-hour program Asian Influences, which highlights extraordinary contributions by Chicagoans of Asian Pacific American descent, while examining issues impacting the community.
Judy was thrilled to return to her hometown in 2001 to join ABC 7 as the weekday anchor of the station's morning 4:30-7 AM block of news programming. She helped lead the morning show for 15 years before her promotion to the afternoon and early evening.
Judy's roots in the Windy City takes her back to elementary school. Her family immigrated to Chicago from Taiwan when she was 11 years old. From living in Chicago's Chinatown, to Rogers Park, to Morton Grove, to later attending University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and then landing an on-air reporting job the day after graduation, Judy truly embodies the spirit of the American Dream success story.
During her tenure at ABC 7, Judy has been a part of just about every major story in Chicago either reporting in the neighborhoods or anchoring from the news desk. She also reported live from the White House bringing ABC7 viewers extensive coverage of her one-on-one interview with President Barack Obama just before he left the Oval Office. While a rookie reporter in California, she covered the O.J. Simpson verdict live from the L.A. courthouse and she was one of the youngest reporters to fly with the Blue Angels!
Judy's on-air work has garnered multiple Emmys including awards for breaking news coverage and for her work on ABC 7's programming specials Asian Influences and the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. To date, Judy has received nearly two dozen Emmy nomination including "Outstanding Performance" as a news anchor.
Before joining ABC 7, Hsu anchored the 4PM weekday newscast at KFMB-TV in San Diego, CA. She served as KFMB's weekend anchor and general assignment reporter prior.
Since coming back to Chicago, Judy has worked with dozens of charities throughout the region highlighting issues important to local families. Judy chairs the Advisory Board for Chicago's Chinese American Service League, and has been a leading voice in American Cancer Society's annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement. She was also honored to join the Community Memorial Foundation's Regional Health and Human Services Advisory Council in the western suburbs and was named a Woman of Distinction in 2017.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Judy remains fluent in Mandarin and brings Chicago news a global perspective. She received her B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and began her broadcasting career at the campus radio station, WPGU-FM. Following an internship with legendary Chicago anchor Walter Jacobson, Judy landed her first TV job with WCIA in Champaign. One of her passions today is speaking to schoolchildren about the importance for pursuing their dreams.
Speaking of kids, even while on maternity leave, Judy continued to bring us "breaking news"! She became the subject of national headlines for the "expressway baby" story when her fourth child was born on Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway.
Judy resides in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and four children.
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