Award-winning journalist, Mable Chan, spoke to an engaged group of JMSC students on March 14, 2011 about The Changing Faces of American Television News.
A Hong Kong native, Chan started off her career as an anchor at TVB Pearl, then moved to New York after landing her first network job at CBS. She has since worked at ABC as coordinating producer for Good Morning America, at NBC as associate producer of Dateline, and at ABC, CNN and Fox News.
With 17 years of experience at leading networks, Chan had a lot to offer on what were, in her view, the key changes in American television.
Chan illustrated the first two key changes by showing graphs indicating the declining viewership of evening news and the rising median age of the viewers.
Another change was the provider of breaking news; CNN has replaced network news as the primary source of breaking news. Chan also noted the prevalence of male anchors in American network news. Unlike TVB or other parts of Asia, male and female anchor combinations are a rarity in the United States.
Chan expressed concern about the American networks’ lack of appetite for international news: “Unless you have war coverage or an earthquake, there’s no daily demand for international news.”
She then smiled and recalled the person who was, in her view, the pioneer for foreign news coverage at international networks — Peter Jennings, an ABC anchor for 22 years and her former friend and colleague.
With reverence, Chan showed the tribute for the one whom, in her words, “…really encapsulated what broadcast journalism was all about” and was “the driving force in reviving and pushing for foreign news coverage.”
Chan told the audience about Jennings’ interest in the events leading up to the Hong Kong handover in 1997, events which she said other networks did not bother with.
During the Q&A, Chan was asked about the impact that her time at TVB had on her career. Chan replied that TVB was a great training ground; it pushed her to thrive under daily and hourly pressure. It motivated her to become a more aggressive, focused and overall better writer. When asked about job opportunities at the big networks, Chan said that, as a producer, high-quality storytelling is an asset. She also advised students to remain “in demand” by constantly making yourself aware of what’s of value to the network.
Chan has had a riveting career. She covered the OJ Simpson civil trial in 1997 for Court TV. As the most publicised trial in American history, it caused a sudden shift of audience demand for real life stories and court drama. A few years later, Chan watched as the Twin Towers collapsed before her eyes on September 11th. She was injured in the ensuing stampede as people ran from the rumble. She has won numerous journalistic accolades, including one for her post-Hurricane Katrina coverage for ABC in 2005.
Chan graduated with an MA in Regional Studies East Asia from Harvard University and an MS in Broadcast Management and Production from Syracuse University. Chan now serves as a visiting scholar in Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.