The Archway Interviews John Quiñones

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On March 20th, 2019, I was granted the opportunity by SPB, and the staff of John Quiñones to interview Mr. Quiñones. I would like to thank them all including Mr. Quiñones for letting me have the privilege and the honor to speak with him about his career and being a member of the media. 

Carvalho: My first question I want to ask you is as a member of the media, how were you able to get your start into it? 

Quiñones: I always wanted to be a reporter ever since I was a kid. I wanted to tell stories, especially stories about the Hispanic community because I grew up in a really poor neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas. All the stories that I heard were negative and about gangs and drugs, and I knew that there were better stories out there and I just kind of wanted to shine a light on the heroes in my community. So, I started writing for my high school newspaper when I was thirteen and I was bitten by the bug. I loved writing and I became the Chief of Editorials for the newspaper. So, I’ve been doing this most of my life ever since I was thirteen years old. When I graduated from college, I was an intern in a radio station and I would practice my delivery on an old tape recorder there and a little cassette recorder because I had a very heavy Mexican accent. But radio, and then I tried to get a job in TV in Texas, and no one would hire me because I was a radio reporter. After graduating from Saint Mary’s University, I went back to grad school and I got a masters at Columbia University in New York. The best journalism school in the world, I think. I was very lucky to get in, and after a got a masters at Columbia, I got a job in Chicago as a local TV reporter for local CBS station in Chicago. I did stories there and I did very well, and I won an Emmy Award in Chicago. Then Central America was was blowing up, there was wars going on in Nicaragua and El Salvador and Panama, and the networks were looking for someone that spoke Spanish to cover that region. I’m Mexican-American so I got to cover that region. So, I worked with Peter Jennings, you are probably to young to remember him, but he was a great anchorman. Then I worked for 20/20 and that’s how I got here. 

Carvalho: The next question I want to ask you is, for you, what was probably the most memorable piece of news that you were a correspondent for? 

Quiñones: A couple. I’ve done hundreds of stories for- I’ve been at ABC for over thirty-seven years now. So, when I covered Central America, things were really scary because there were wars going on in Nicaragua and El Salvador. There was a group called the Contra rebels of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. It was tense, we were caught under gunfire a lot, it was dangerous. In Panama, my producer, who worked with me, was kidnapped by the military in Panama. So, that was the most memorable one because it was very scary, and it was twenty-four hours before we got him out again. But for those twenty-four hours, we thought he might have been killed. So, that was one of the most memorable ones of course, because it was dangerous, and it was just crazy down there. But one of my favorite stories was one that I did on Jane Goodall, the woman that studied chimpanzees in Africa and Tanzania. She studied for thirty years, lived by herself in the jungle and the rainforest, just documenting the lives of chimpanzees. I went back to Tanzania with her to Gombe National Park, where she studied them. We met some of the old chimps that were there when she was there, thirty years ago. Just spending two weeks in Tanzania and a photographic safari and seeing the wonderful animals, not only the chimps but the elephants, and giraffes, and just spending two weeks with her discussing what life was like for her was just fascinating. So, that’s one of my favorites, those two are my favorites. 

Carvalho: Now, another question I want to ask you is: President Donald Trump refers to the media as “the enemy of the people”. Now, as a member of the media, what are your thoughts on that and how do you think that will affect our country going forward? 

Quiñones: It’s very disturbing. I think it’s dangerous. We’re not the enemy, simply because we dig and we report on stories that people may not like or politicians might not like doesn’t make us the enemy. I think those reporters who are digging up those kinds of stories are heroic. Quite the opposite, they’re heroes for shining a light on corruption, and evil doing, and civil rights violations, and human rights violations. Stories that need to be reported. I like to refer to journalism as the candle in the darkness. Imagine this room is pitch dark and we can’t see our hands in front of our faces and we’re stumbling around. The journalist, he or she, is the one with the little flashlight or the little candle. They can shine it on the darkest corners of the room to illuminate corruption, and human rights violations, and civil rights violations. I think when it’s done right, those are the kinds of stories that journalists can bring to the table. So, it’s very insulting. I work very hard, studied really hard, and worked radio for many years, and then local television, and got a master’s in journalism at Columbia, to be ridiculed and called the enemy. I love this country. I think any journalist wants to make it better. You scratch any journalist, and under the surface you’ll find a reformer. Not the enemy, but someone that wants to make things better.  

Carvalho: Now, you’re also the host of a TV show: What Would You Do? Doing that show, what are your usual duties of doing that show and just how has it had an effect on you? How is it? 

Quiñones: Well I created the show twelve years ago, so I’m very proud of it. We thought we wouldn’t get too many stories, we thought we’d just do a few scenarios and then we’d be done because how many can you come up with. Well we’ve done eight-hundred scenarios over twelve years. You’ve seen them all, right? (Laughs). So, I created it because I wanted a new way of telling stories. We know these things happen in real life: discrimination, racism, bullying. But they happen usually in the darkness, when people aren’t watching. So, we wanted to bring out into the open, and what better way to do that than with hidden cameras, right? So, in a public place, it’s all legal- we can’t do it in Massachusetts by the way because every state has different laws. I don’t know what Rhode Island’s laws are. In most states, we can, in a public place. We get to see what people are really like. It’s not scientific, we don’t claim to be a scientific show that tells you exactly where America sits right now on race and religion. I like to say it doesn’t give you the pie, but it gives you a slice of the pie. It gives you an indication of where people are thinking, and it also varies from state to state. Up here in the liberal northeast, people are more accepting of gays, and transgenders, and Muslims, and Jewish people. When you go to Oklahoma, or Utah, or Wyoming, and middle America where people have never someone who’s different from them, the reactions are different. So, it’s a great opportunity to showcase how people are thinking these days and I’ve been encouraged by what we’ve found over these years. I think in the end, people are generally good. Generally good, there’re a few bad folks out there. But most folks- I think we all want to do the right thing, we just are more timid and most of us don’t want to get involved unless we’re really pushed. Women, we found, are better at jumping in and sounding the alarm than men. We worry about it becoming physical, and women, maybe it’s the maternal instinct or they’re just braver than we are, they’re not afraid. They’ll yell and kick and scream, especially in New Jersey. Those women in New Jersey are loud. So, I’m encouraged and I’m glad we’re doing it and ABC has just announced that they will want us back. They gave a new air date: May 3rd. So, What Would You Do? will be back on Friday nights on ABC at nine o’clock eastern starting May 3rd and we’ll run all summer on Friday nights. Of course, kids, college kids watch the show on YouTube. It’s very popular, and even younger kids. I’m just amazed when I’m running through an airport by the number of kids who run up to me and say, “I love your show”, and they’re like seven, eight years old. It’s important, I think it teaches us important life lessons and it reminds us that despite all the progress we’ve made in this country with regard to gay rights and accepting people who are different, and Muslims and Jewish people, despite all that, there’s work to be done. We see that- especially today more than ever, and I think that politicians who have been dividing this country more recently with ugly tweets and insults have made things worse because it’s almost as if people have been given permission to resort to their darkest impulses and it’s sad. So, in the last two years, we have seen more people express their anger, and their divisiveness, and their racism more than ever before. Of course, hate crimes have gone up by almost twenty percent in the last two years in this country. So, it’s been proven scientifically that things are worse for us. So, it’s really important in this day in age, right now in this country, that this show will be on the air. Glad we’re doing it. 

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