On September 20th, 2019, I was given the absolute pleasure to sit down with and interview Kim Kalunian, who is a reporter and fill-in anchor for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. I would like to thank her once again for the fantastic interview and for what was a great tour of the studio.
Carvalho: What is it that made you want to get into broadcast journalism?
Kalunian: That’s a great question. Well, I took a kind of strange path into journalism. I always loved to write, and when I was in high school, I had to do a senior project. At the time I thought, “Okay, I’m going to do something that’s outside of my comfort zone.” I was very much into musical theater and performing and I thought that I would be on Broadway someday, lofty goal. It didn’t happen, spoiler alert. But for my senior project, I knew that I didn’t want to do something that involved theater because I was doing that elsewhere, and so I thought, “Okay, I’ll go to my local newspaper, The Warwick Beacon…” I grew up in Warwick, I’m a native Rhode Islander, “… and I’ll go to The Warwick Beacon and write theater reviews for them.” Well, I didn’t write a single theater review, but I learned a whole lot about journalism. The editor there, John Howell, is a dear friend and mentor of mine, and he took me under his wing and taught me, I call in the John Howell School of Journalism. I learned so much in so little time, and basically, I sort of got the bug. They say you get the acting bug, I had already gotten that, but I got the journalism bug. I realized that there was nothing quite like having a front row seat to events as they were happening, knowing things before other people know them. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. There’s that thrill of chasing breaking news or getting the exclusive, or interviewing someone you wouldn’t have otherwise met, and I was hooked. So, at the time, I’m in high school at this point, and I graduate, and John says, “Would you like to be a freelancer?” I thought, “Oh yes! This is like the greatest thing since sliced bread! I’m going to be a freelancer; I’m going to be a published journalist in a real newspaper.” So, I freelanced for a really long time, and then eventually, one day, he called me. I had just finished doing a show in Virginia, and I came back and he called me and said, “Kim, can you come in and work for two weeks? We had just had someone leave, I’m going on vacation, we just need someone to fill a reporter position for two weeks full time.” I said, “Sure”, and two weeks turned into two years, and at that point I knew that I had to make a decision between this idea of going to be on Broadway, and a journalism career. I decided, broadcast journalism is a little bit like entertainment, there is that performance aspect to it, you have to be presentational and a storyteller. Whenever I talk to people about transitioning from theater into journalism, I say “it’s all storytelling.” So, I just had a natural inclination to move onto broadcast. So, from The Warwick Beacon, I moved to WPRO radio as a digital reporter and eventually moved to an on-air reporter position, and then to an afternoon anchor position which was incredible. Then I left WPRO radio, set my sights on television, and was very fortunate that the folks here at Channel Twelve took a shot on me because I had no television experience, but I had a lot of reporting experience from Rhode Island, and said “give me a chance”, and they did. The rest is history, so, that is sort of my long answer for how I got into broadcasting.
Carvalho: When it comes to reporting on breaking news and whatnot and going out to the scene, what is the process when you’re doing something like that?
Kalunian: So, basically, I’ll walk you through how a typical day would work. So, today, for example, I cam in at nine thirty [in the morning], we got a press release about some breaking news, and my assignment desk said, “head there.” In this case, ‘there’ was Lincoln. So, we went out to Lincoln, and basically, once you are there, depending on what it is you are trying to gather, you’re calling police, or checking the court website for documents, or calling the court clerk saying “what kind of documents are in the case file.” If you’re going to breaking news, spot news that’s happening, that’s developing when you’re arriving on scene like a fire, or some sort of violent crime, you have to sort of get the lay of the land. In television news, you have to make sure you get compelling video. So, if something is visual and developing, we had a big fire in North Kingstown a couple weeks ago, and the first thing the people who arrived on scene at the time did was break out their cameras and capture that momentous moment that was happening. So, it sort of depends on what’s going on, but basically, you’re just adapting to whatever the situation is throwing at you. If you’re in a situation where there’s stuff happening in front of you, you’re trying to absorb it, talk to the people. If you need information and no one’s around, you’re calling people, or Googleing, or on social media, it plays a big role in what we do every day, and then just trying to go through what you know and what you don’t know, and try to get the answers to the questions that you still have because of course the viewers at home are going to have those too. So, everyday is a little bit different and the process is a little bit different every day too, but I think that’s why I like journalism so much because it’s never the same, there’s never a dull moment, and everyday you just think, “Okay, let’s do this, let’s see what goes on.”
Carvalho: As a member of the press, you’re on television informing viewers and whatnot, and you have a lot of influence on people and their regular day lives. How much power do you feel the press has on the ordinary person and how do you function with having all that on your plate?
Kalunian: They say, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Basically, I do think about it every day. I think Jack White said this, and Tim White of course is our chief investigator, Jack was his father and an incredible investigator himself, I think he’s the one that said, “You’re encountering people on their best days or their worst days.” So, you have to think about that when you’re interacting with the people everyday that you’re telling their stories, but then on the flip side too, there are the people that are watching at home who are absorbing what you’re saying to be factual and important. I think where we have the most power is deciding what is important today because basically, we’re saying, “Okay viewers, sit back and relax, we have decided what you need to know and what you need to know about those things tonight.” A lot of power rests in the hands of the reporters, the producers, the editors, who all decide what a news cast is going to look like, how those stories are told. So, I try and keep that in mind every single day, and of course there are moments where you’re just rushing to the scene of a crime, or you’re up against deadline and you’re mind isn’t laser focused on that, but it’s always in the back of my head that what we’re doing is important, we’re informing people, people are making decisions based off of what we are telling them, and that’s why I think we all have to, every day, strive for accuracy, for empathy, and to just always be on our toes because the second you lose sight of that is a slippery slope.
Carvalho: Being part of the press, the president has always referred to the press as “the enemy of the people.” How do you respond to the president calling the press “the enemy of the people” and how does that affect you as a regular reporter with functioning with the citizens and whatnot and how does that change their reaction to you?
Kaluniain: I certainly don’t think that we’re the enemy of the people. I think without a free press, it scares me to think of what our society would be like without a free press. I can understand why people get angry with the media. I think a lot of that anger is directed more so at national media or outlets that slant one way or the other, but we do experience it here in local journalism as well. I think people should try and set us apart from the national outlets and the network affiliates because we’re here in the community every single day. We’re your neighbors, we’re at the supermarket with you, we’re going to community events, our kids go to the same schools. So, to say that the people who are living and working in your own community are the enemy, I just don’t think it’s true and I think, of course I can’t speak for every person out there who’s working in news media, but I can say the people here at Channel Twelve have the best intentions and come into work everyday with a sense of how important our roles are in this community. We are all Rhode Islanders and Massachusetts residents who care greatly about the stories we tell, the topics that we’re reporting about, the people that we’re meeting, and the lives that are impacted by our coverage. So, I think we’re all very conscious of that.
Carvalho: Arguably, the biggest issue in the state right now is the case of EEE with all the mosquitos. How do you guys report on that sort of case with something that’s just constantly changing every single minute of the day, and just how has this case been for you guys?
Kalunian: It’s been heartbreaking honestly. I was out in Fairhaven the day after a woman passed away, I think it was the first fatality from EEE in the area this season. My photographer and I were just talking about it. It’s scary, it’s really scary. We have this fine line where we have to inform people and let them make their own decisions without scaring them, but sometimes when an issue like this is evolving, you do want to sound the alarm and let people know that it’s very serious. Like any story that evolves over a longer period of time, or is developing, or is constantly at the top of the news every night, it’s just important for us to try and find new information and present it in a way that’s not going to lose people’s interest because it’s so important. In terms of EEE, it’s just been really heartbreaking, and like I said, frankly kind of scary to watch how this is all developing. All we can do is trust the people who are researching this, who are testing these mosquitos, who are tracking these illnesses to keep us updated and informed and to relay that information in as timely a fashion as possible to our viewers.
Carvalho: A few people I’ve spoken to have said they have acted with you before. One of those people is Katie Hughs who is the staff advisor for the newspaper.
Kalunian: Yes! Put this on the record, Katie Hughs is an amazing human being. There’s a lot of amazing people in theater, even if you don’t think you’re going to pursue it for the rest of your life, I encourage you to try it. It gets you out of your comfort zone, it makes you a better public speaker and builds your confidence, you make lifelong friends, it’s fun. Even though I didn’t end of pursuing theater as a career, up until this point I did do it professionally for several years, I would never change the fact that I devoted so many hours as a child to singing and dancing and community theater and summer camp theater. It made me who I am today. It’s the best.