On June 1, 2016, UCLA alumna and NBC4 Southern California reporter Hetty Chang returned to campus to cover the dramatic events of the murder-suicide on campus at UCLA.
As a sociology graduate of the Class of 2000, Chang said covering the story at UCLA hit especially close to home. But the incident also gave Chang an opportunity to reconnect with the campus. She spoke with the UCLA College to discuss her trajectory since graduation and some of the defining moments of her broadcasting career to date.
As a child, Hetty Chang rarely missed the evening news, especially Asian American newscasters whom she saw as role models.
“The reporters I saw were pretty, confident, poised and smart,” Chang said. “And they were Asian, which made me believe I could someday be like them.”
Today, the UCLA alumna has her own television role as a reporter for NBC4 Southern California, where she can be seen weekdays during the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, breaking the big stories of the day. Chang covers much of Southern California and, in particular, Long Beach, the South Bay and Orange County.
She has also covered national stories such as the hunt for ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner and the O.J. Simpson robbery case. She has received an Emmy Award, and is the first recipient of the Asian American Journalist Association New Media Fellowship as part of a pilot program with NBC4.
Before she set her sights on journalism, Chang dreamed of attending UCLA; however, after graduating from Whitney High School, one of the top public high schools in the country, the Cerritos native did not get into UCLA the first time around. She was undeterred and after two years of tenacious study at UC Irvine, she was accepted to UCLA in 1998 as a transfer student majoring in sociology and Asian American Studies.
“When people hear UCLA, it’s a tremendous honor,” Chang said. “So I kept my eye on the prize.”
After graduation, she had a brief stint as an intern with Channel 35 News, L.A.’s cable station. She soon realized that she would need to move to a smaller city to get her big break.
“Journalism is a unique field in the sense that you have to move to a smaller market to gain experience,” she said. “Very few reporters actually start out in a large city.”
Chang worked at KRNV, an NBC affiliate in Reno, for nearly four years before landing a job at the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas. There, she covered one of her most memorable stories, an interview with then-Senator Barak Obama—10 days before he won the 2008 presidential election.
“That was an unforgettable experience, to have a precious few minutes with the future president,” Chang said. “It was getting a front row to history being made.”
After covering several major stories in Las Vegas, Chang earned sufficient recognition to be a competitive candidate as a reporter in Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the country. She was hired by NBC4 in 2013.
Getting to meet individuals from all walks of life is Chang’s favorite part of the job at NBC4. In addition to breaking news, she often tells inspiring stories through NBC4’s Life Connected series that airs every Sunday during the NBC4 News at 11 p.m., where she reports on the many unique ways people and communities come together.
Chang recently covered a 94-year-old Torrance, California resident who holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most Olympics attended, with the Rio Olympics being his 19th.
“I get to meet all these interesting and inspiring people I would never cross paths with in any other industry,” Chang said. “I also feel a great responsibility for telling their stories.”
Chang said her studies at UCLA prepared her to approach every story with sensitivity and authenticity.
“I cover a very large swath of Southern California, which is so tremendously diverse, as is UCLA,” she said. “UCLA really gave me a great foundation from which to approach the news stories that I come across every day.”
She said UCLA’s competitive academic environment also helped her learn to face every challenge head-on and never to take ‘no’ for an answer.
“There were a lot of people who told me, ‘This is a very competitive field; you’ll never make it back to L.A.,’” Chang said. “But if I’d listened to them I wouldn’t be here. You have to be persistent.”
Even in the most challenging moments, Chang said she always remembers where she came from to keep her moving forward.
“I want to make my alma mater proud, much like I want to make my hometown proud and my family proud,” Chang said. “I think it really comes down to that great sense of pride.”