Interview with Reporter John Hashimoto

[caption id="attachment2054" align="alignleft" width="216"]<a href="">John Hashimoto John Hashimoto reporting[/caption]

Recently I was fortunate enough to talk with former Ten O'Clock News reporter John Hashimoto. He answered some of my questions about his work on the TOCN and changes in the news industry since the early 1990s.

John is currently the Senior Director of Product Management at CNN Digital in Atlanta.

Sadie Roosa: How long did you work on the Ten O'Clock News?

John Hashimoto: From 1990-1991. I believe I was the last reporter hired by TOCN before its unfortunate cancellation after 15 years on the air.

SR: How did working on TOCN compare to other news reporting you did before or have done after?

JH: By the time I joined WGBH as a cub on-air reporter I had already spent nearly a decade in local TV news -- but behind the camera. I produced newscasts and field reports in San Diego, Los Angeles and at WNEV-TV (now WHDH-TV) in Boston before joining TOCN as a general assignment -- and very unpolished -- reporter.

As you might expect, The Ten O'Clock News was unlike any local TV news operation I had experienced. The newsroom was small (maybe 10 desks in a cramped room), the equipment dated and the atmosphere decidedly quaint compared to the "Action News" world I left behind.

But what TOCN lacked in sizzle it more than made up for in substance. Under the leadership of Chris Lydon and John VanScoyoc, TOCN reporters (including already well-established "stars" such as David Boeri and Christy George) were encouraged to dig deeper -- and go longer -- on truly local and regional stories that many TV news executives had forsaken: education, local business, community affairs and the arts.

While other stations "covered" Boston in 90-second stories, our nightly reports sometimes ran six to eight minutes in length -- interminable by TV news standards. For me, it was liberating -- and occasionally daunting.

SR: Take me through the process of creating a story for the air. What was your favorite part of that process?

JH: The mechanics of TV news reporting at the time were universal -- and I'm sure the process fundamentally remains the same. The assignment desk hands you a story, you make calls to firm up interviews, you jump in the van with the camera crew, you spend half the day in the "field" shooting your story, you return to the station to write and voice track your script, you work with a video editor to weave it all together into a coherent, if not concise story.

The hardest part of the process for me: taping a standup. Multiple and increasingly frustrating retakes were the norm. I was never a natural on camera and it showed in every conceivable way.

My favorite part: Working with video editors to put it all together. Video editors, like their brethren in the film world, are the master chefs of television news -- able to turn mash into a fine meal. Two of TOCN's best editors, the husband-and-wife team of Damon Meharg and Linda Saether, later had illustrious, award-winning careers at CNN in Atlanta where I reunited with them in the 1990s.

SR: Can you comment on the changes in technology used for news reporting from the time of TOCN to the present?

JH: Like all media, the transition from analog to digital has had a profound impact on TV news. The cameras are tiny (soon enough, to be replaced by Google Glass, it would seem), tape has been discarded in favor of discs and cards and editing is now non-linear. The classic scene of a TV crew -- reporter, photographer and audio tech with boom mike -- arriving on the scene in a van now seems almost Industrial Age. The fact is: Anderson Cooper can do everything with a smart phone.

Just as dramatically is the rise of online and mobile media. Imagine how different TOCN would have been with a website and app, where brilliant writing by Chris Lydon, Carmen Fields and Hope Kelly would have added yet more dimension and depth to TOCN's unique local coverage.

SR: Do you remember any particularly good/funny/interesting "around the office" stories?

JH: You don't spend time under the tutelage of a Christopher Lydon without colorful front page-like memories. It was not quite William Shawn's New Yorker, but Chris imbued our newsroom with a combination of Yankee high-mindedness and intellectual vigor, along with a dose of South Boston combativeness

That's not to say TOCN was without humor. Reporter Marcus Jones and his wonderfully nerdy passions alone ensured a good measure of daily levity.

But unlike any other TV newsroom I had worked in, TOCN was a place where reporting and writing were foundational. The fact that WGBH could never afford a satellite truck was probably a blessing. It kept us focused on story-telling, not performance.

SR: What is your favorite story you worked on, or the one of which you are the proudest?

JH: The story of which I was most proud was, in fact, somewhat international in scope. But this only underscores how different -- and independent -- TOCN was from the media mainstream.

At the height of the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. deployed Patriot missiles -- built by contractor Raytheon in Massachusetts -- to intercept Scud attacks launched at Israel by Saddam Hussein. At that early point in the conflict, the success of the Patriot defense was barely questioned by the mainstream U.S. media. I was assigned to interview experts at MIT and Harvard who raised concerns that the Patriots were causing more damage from explosive debris than if the system had never been deployed.

The story aired months before the efficacy of the Patriot was questioned during formal congressional testimony, challenging Bush Administration claims that the missle was a successful demonstration of anti-missle defense.

As the second Iraq conflict proved, media skepticism about U.S. defense strategy is rare in the fog of war. This is especially true if you work in a local TV station, where commercial interests are paramount. TOCN was that rare place where television journalism could be pursued (carefully, mind you) without fear or favor.

Here are some of John's stories that we've digitized already, and check out the catalog of stories we're still trying to preserve. Email us if you're interested in sponsoring one of these or any of our undigitized news stories.