Dion Lim ‘06 on Making it as a Broadcast Journalist

November 15, 2022

Thumbnail of Dion Lim for the Making it Big in 30 Minutes Podcast

After earning a reputation as a feel-good news anchor, Dion Lim found her serious side in the wake of the pandemic and the rise in violence and bigotry toward the AAPI community.  On the surface, she might have a perfect smile, hairdo, and face of makeup -- in addition to an aesthetically pleasing Zoom backdrop -- but make no mistake, Dion is so much more than the face you see on your TV. She and Georgette delve into her life as a reporter, her new role as author and how some of the most important things she learned at Emerson didn’t come from her text books. Recorded on August 10, 2022.

Find more of Dion on IG/Twitter @DionLimTV and dionlim.com
More of Georgette at georgettepierre.com

Transcript: Season 5, Episode 6

Dion Lim


Georgette Pierre: 
Dion Lim  is an Emmy award-winning TV news anchor and reporter at ABC7 KGO TV in San Francisco and author of Make Your Moment, The Savvy Woman's Communication Playbook to Getting the Success you Want. She knows a thing or two about navigating the world through various lenses as at first Asian American woman to host a weekday newscast in major markets. Passionate about amplifying voices of color, Dion made it a point to shed light on the hate and assaults targeting Asian Americans in the Bay Area, as well as discrimination and xenophobia in Asian-American and Black communities. Knowing what you want and going after it takes tenacity. What I enjoyed about Dion's story was the parallels we shared in the challenges faced on our career journeys, among other things. Here to share more is Dion on making it as a broadcast journalist. Dion, how are you?

Dion Lim:  
Hi. I'm so excited to be here.

Georgette: 
Oh, absolutely. And we were raving about your background. I was just like, aesthetics is everything. I was like, you see her Emmy's, you see her book, you see color coded... Yeah.

Dion:
And this is coming from a TV person, so I'm always very cognizant of color and the background, because the last thing you want is something inappropriate. So I try to zhuzh it up when possible.

Georgette: 
Absolutely. And speaking of, what's a lighthearted or a quirky way of describing what you do for a living?

Dion: 
Oh lord. There is no quirky way to describe what I do, especially with the subjects I cover. But I guess you could say I talk to people for a living. That's it.

Georgette: 
Fair enough. You do.

Dion: 
It sure beats being behind the desk and crunching numbers all day.

Georgette: 
You do it and you do it well. What surprises you most about the work you're doing now?

Dion: 
The work I'm doing now, I had no idea was going to be like this when I first got in the business and also when I was at Emerson. Because granted, I was never one of those people who said, "All I want to do is be on TV," because if that's the case then you should not go into journalism at all. But there was actually a poster put up at my station in San Francisco a number of years ago that says, "Dion finds the good," because I was all about doing happy stories and featuring some of the great things that are happening in our community. And to me that was super fun. I got to go to the Oscars three years in a row, cover the Golden State Warriors as they made their NBA finals runs, things like that. Go smell the world's smelliest flower, which by the way smells like rotten flesh and gym socks. I thought that was going to be my career for the longest time.

And then when the pandemic broke out, I realized what it meant to have a seat at the table and how to use that. Something switched in my brain and starting to cover API hate and to also amplify the voices that were always underrepresented in our community became my purpose.

Georgette: 
Yeah, I think with Emerson you kind of find more of what you are connected to or love when you're there, because it's almost like this... some people have called it hippie moment, depending on the year that they went to Emerson, but there's this free aspect that you have. No one's really limiting you in any aspect of anything. They're pushing you to dream or like stretch what could be possible for you. Did you kind of gauge that as well?

Dion: 
A million percent. I mean, growing up, especially as the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, academics was always the path to success. I talk about this often when I'm doing speaking engagements. You're supposed to keep your head down, your nose clean and don't cause a stink. But Emerson is this magical place where you really think anything is possible, and you're surrounded by people who are shooting for the moon. I mean, I roomed with people who were actors and dancers and in the creative space, and I just thought to myself, there was so much hunger and I had that hunger, and I still do to a different degree, to just really be successful in whatever I pursued. And even if I was not, I knew that there was another dream that I could go chase.

Georgette: 
Absolutely. Now, name a piece of advice tattooed to your heart, whether it was during your time at Emerson or even just over the years of your career.

Dion: 
Oh, so many good ones. I had a professor at Emerson who told me that it is better to be a master of just a few things than spread yourself too thin. And for me, when I was in college, I remember wanting to do it all. Because here you are in Boston, the world is at your disposal. I volunteered at food shelters, I tried to be part of the radio and then WEBN and all of these extracurriculars. I tried these different sports that were played in the Boston Common, et cetera, et cetera. And I was burning myself, I mean, to a crisp it felt like. And I was so stressed and I had such bad anxiety.

That's when my professor said, "Why don't you focus on the things that you really love instead of trying to be everything to everybody." And that's something that's really played out in my career also, because when you're in the public eye, when you are covering a breadth of stories, people are coming to you at all hours of the day. There's only so much you can do, and you have to realize that it's okay to cut back on certain things and be unapologetic about it. Just because I want to help you doesn't mean I always can. Doesn't mean I always can dedicate my time to it, but it's more productive if I am able to pick and choose.

Georgette:
Along your journey, because I know people have to start off in small markets when they're doing anchoring before they can get to major markets and be in multiple major markets. Have you ever had a job that made you really question what you were doing, and if you did, what did you do about it?

Dion: 
Oh yeah. I'm very transparent about this. When I got to the Bay Area, I thought I had made it. Really great platform to have. But it grimes on you. Right? You go to mass shootings, you go to cover some of the worst wildfires in California history. I remember, and I tell this story often, that I was about to go to Disneyland for the very first time, I woke up that morning and got a call from my news desk saying, "Hey, I know you're supposed to be at the happiest place in the world, but can you go cover and help KABC with some wildfires in Malibu and in Thousand Oaks?" And then there was also a shooting that very same week at a country western bar and I was starting to burn out and I thought, yes, I can tell these people's stories, but it is feeling like anybody can just cover these stories if you have the experience.

I didn't feel very fulfilled. I was starting to burn out because being on the road and in a fire zone surrounded by smoke and wearing a fire retardant vest and suit, whatever you call it, really grinds on you. And I admittedly debated getting out of the business, because I thought to myself, anybody with a journalism degree nowadays can do this. Because frankly you don't have to necessarily pay your dues in so many markets nowadays with the way that media is shifting.

So then when the pandemic broke out and then there was this outpouring of people crying out because of the attacks on Asian Americans, that felt personal, that reignited the spark and reminded me why I needed to double down and do what I do. So yeah, that was a turning point. I remember applying for, oh, also when I got laid off in Tampa too, a bunch of us, it was like a firing range. I describe it, pew, pew, pew. We were all called into our general manager's office and I thought, why am I putting myself in this? I put my blood, sweat and tears into my job only to be laid off. And I started applying for PR jobs and communications jobs at Amazon and Google and these big tech companies, only to realize I was not qualified for them and I probably would've hated it. So yeah, to say the least, there were many times I questioned what I was doing.

Georgette: 
Yeah, it was funny. I had a conversation with a company, a production company that I had worked with, and when I worked with them I had worked at a company that completely obliterated my confidence. The person that had hired me was just reaming me about my experience in broadcast because it was a publishing company that was doing more digital work. But I was like, the worlds didn't mesh because they weren't really trying to understand video, even though they were getting in the business. And so when I was talking to them, similar to you, I was like, am I supposed to be doing this? What am I supposed to be doing? I am not seeing the signs, I am not feeling like myself to keep going. And so I love the transparency about how you thought about quitting and how you're like, because in my mind, the moment y'all find me a job, I may just go all the way left from what I want to do.

So sometimes I feel like certain things happen to keep you grounded in what your purpose is. I'm slowly getting back to what that's supposed to be for me, but just to hear how you're like, "No, I applied for PR jobs and I was just like, well that wasn't for me. I got to back to being an anchor or telling stories and representing the voiceless."

Dion: 
Yeah, and I should also point out too that my whole career, up until coming to San Francisco, I was just an anchor, because technically I'm an anchor reporter. And I thought that anchoring was going to be the way to go. Because again, full transparency, you make better money being the face of a television station. And also this was everything I knew. I had a set time every day, every day was the same routine. And yes, did I do appearances in public? Did I report? Yes, every once in a while, but not like this, not timely breaking news. I mean, crime, homelessness, social justice issues. And I discovered that what I want to do, I enjoy reporting just as much if not more a lot of the times. Because I get to go down, be boots on the ground and get to the inner workings and a soul of a person. Because when they are at the lowest low of their lives or celebrating their accomplishments, I mean, that's a big responsibility. It's a privilege, it's fascinating and it's exciting.

Then to be able to amplify that in a story that nobody else can do, because again, yeah, most people know how to read, and especially from a teleprompter if you're good at it. But if you could put your own spin and craft it. So it goes back to what you said and kind of finding that sometimes it's unexpected, sometimes it is given to you, sometimes it's assigned to you. But that's played a really big role in the past few years for me, and also correlates directly to my success, because I would not have the following and the opportunities that I have today if it were not for the reporting, not the anchoring.

Georgette: 
And can you share the difference between the two? Because I think in my mind it's also interchangeable, but the fact that there is a difference, what's the difference between anchoring or being an anchor or being a reporter?

Dion: 
Yeah, I think on the surface the obvious part is the person who is sitting at the desk and reading and is that talking head. But I've always said throughout my career that the best anchors also know how to report, are the ones that get embedded into the community. That's the first recommendation I have for anybody who wants to do this job, is that when you get to a new city, for me it was Kansas City, then Charlotte, then Tampa Bay, take every public appearance that comes your way, seek them out. Because the more you can align with community leaders and people who are so in tuned with the problems, and they understand that you are on not necessarily their side but are listening, that's what will set you apart.

And then to me, also the difference of being a reporter is you are on the front lines when it happens. Because there is a layer of disattachment when you are an anchor, because you're not the one asking the questions necessarily, unless it's a talk back with an emergency personnel or law enforcement agent live on the air. But you are the one who is gathering sources, you're meeting with people in parking lots, getting police reports, all kinds of things like that. So to me it's a more personal, more raw, more, I guess, real way of doing things, if that makes sense.

Georgette: 
Yeah, no it does. And the image that comes to mind, and I know this is not funny, but when we would see the reporters out there during the storms and they're blowing along with whatever wind is hitting.

Dion: 
Crazy.

Georgette: 
So I was like, oh, those are the reporters, right? Those are the ones right in front of the tsunami that is on its way to the camera. It's like, oh no, are they going to be okay?

Dion: 
Yes. And that's it. Because you don't have that experience until you're on the ground and you are being blown away, or see somebody canoeing in the background of a major street, then how do you really effectively tell the story unless you've done it before? I think that authenticity factor is best when you have both perspectives.

Georgette: 
It's huge. That makes perfect sense. Now, if you could go back in time to your Emerson self, what would you say?

Dion: 
Ooh, this is a big question. There's a lot of things I would say. I probably should have paid attention more in class. Ooh. Shouldn't admit with that. But I was so into the internships and all the things that were around me in Boston and being in the city, that I focused all of my time on that.

One of the things that I would've told my Emerson self was senior year I was so rip roaring ready to go, start my job, and it was so super competitive, still is super competitive to get that first on-air job, that I applied for a reporting position in Springfield, Massachusetts. So about 90 minutes away from Boston depending on how you drive. And I got the job and I bulked all my classes into couple days a week and then reported the rest of the week. And I would've told myself, hold your horses. There is nothing to rush about.

I missed out on so many great senior year activities. I was making 12.50 an hour thinking I was the shit. And really I was nobody and it was not a lot of fun. So I would say make the most of your experience at Emerson, but don't be in a hurry to get out there, because I know y'all are really rip roaring and motivated and driven because I was and continue to be. But you got to enjoy the college experience, because it is so fast. I look back and I'm thinking, man, it's been what, 20 years since I was a freshman? And if I could do it all over again, I would've had more college experience for sure.

Georgette: 
Yeah, I almost feel like everyone's similar. There's some similarity to everyone's story about what they would say, "Slow down, don't be so in a rush to adult, make more friends." But I think everyone that went to Emerson has that spirit of we can do it. We can do it all.

Dion: 
Yeah. And I think we just want to succeed and there are so many successful Emerson alum, you just want to get right to it. Yeah.

Georgette: 
Yeah. Is there anything you learned at Emerson that you didn't deem relevant or important at the time, but it later turned out to be?

Dion:
Maybe not in specifics, but I do recall the need for more discipline and being more well rounded, because there was an audio editing class. Look, back in my day, there was an overall broadcast journalism major, but now I'm pretty sure it's specialized for print and for digital, et cetera, et cetera. So I recall taking these classes in radio thinking, why do I need this? I'm never going to be an editor. I'm never going to have to shoot my own video either. Lo and behold, we're all being trained on multi-platform everything.

And yes, I was a little bit ahead of the curve and I could go to my stations even in Kansas and in Charlotte and be like, "Hey, yeah, I know how to do this in point out point and I know how to tape to tape edit," but I think I probably should have taken it more seriously. I should have thought a little bit more ahead and really picked the brains of the people who are around me, because they are amazing. Paul Niwa and Janet Kolodzy and Marsha Della-Giustina. I mean, they had remarkable careers and I think I was just so focused on mastering as much as I could that I didn't learn enough about their story and really pick their brains about some of the challenges of being in the industry.

Georgette: 
Shout out to everyone that still remembers their professor's names, the fact that you all are going first name, last name, but truly, truly, truly. But I think that speaks volumes to the intimacy of the school being so small and being intentional about how many students to teach a ratio existed.

Dion: 
Oh, that's amazing. Because my husband went to University of Massachusetts, he had those big stadium type classes, and I don't even know if he remembers some of his professors, but there was actually a time that did not happen in the classroom, Paul Niwa took, and don't get me wrong, we're not close or anything, but this sticks out in my mind now that we're on the topic of it. He took me and several of my peers to Shabu Shabu, which is basically an Asian soup base and you cook everything at the table. And it was just down the street in Chinatown, and he taught us about culture and that AAPI lens and experience that he had. He wanted to introduce us to this type of cuisine.

And by the way, I eat shabu shabu and hot pot almost every week now living in San Francisco. But it's those non-tangible, non-academic things that really sparked my love of food and trying to learn about my own culture. Because I never had hot pot as a kid growing up in these very rural, non-diverse places. So for him to also take me and then my best friend from college who is Black, and then I think another woman who is South Asian to this place that was totally foreign, I mean that's hands on. That's as hands on as you can get.

Georgette: 
I'm just like, oh gosh, Emerson, the fact that these teachers are just thinking so wildly outside of the box to teach students life. It kind of geeks me out a little bit. I'm like, damn, what did I miss in undergrad going to Emerson?

Dion: 
Whether it's intentional or not, it goes to show their thinking because you are in many ways, yes, still the student, but you are also just seen as a human being that is contributing, and I wouldn't say equal, but as someone who is equally respected. That yeah, I want to open up my world and show you what I went through all these things.

And there were so many times that there were things that were not in the curriculum that we learned about that I wish there was even more of. I mean, you know how it goes. When you are in high school, you don't learn about so many different facets of American history. I didn't learn anything about the case of Vincent Chin or Latasha Harlins and what happened in the LA Riots or so many different cases. And these are the stories that get pulled out in those non-traditional class settings. I had another professor who, I actually don't remember his name, but we did go for a walk in the park and he would point out landmarks and it was a non-traditional way of just getting you to realize the world is not a textbook.

There's so much out there. And I hold that very dear to me now, is that the things that I find myself the strongest to be, having that human interaction, that emotional intelligence, being able to talk to people from all walks of life, did not come from a book. It did not come from sitting in a classroom. It came from being out in the world.

Georgette: 
Yeah, no, I love that. Oh man, golly, y'all went on a walk through the park. I'm just thinking, God. But then having an appreciation for non-traditional access of learning things just is something that's standing out to me more. And to your point, I think there needs to be more of that for at least a generation coming up now. Because there's a lot of things that are actually being omitted from textbooks. So when you take students out, depending, no matter their age and you're teaching them something, it just adds more humanity to the cultures or stories that they're not learning about inside [inaudible 00:22:44].

Dion: 
Oh my God. I mean, most of what I learned on the job was not in a book and not in a course curriculum. And I would give this piece of advice too, is that when you get out of school, maybe you have a dream of what your career is going to look like. And for me it was staying within this New England radius, I would go from Springfield to Connecticut to Providence or maybe Providence to Connecticut, then to Boston, then to New York, and then to network in New York. And during this journey of learning about people in the Midwest and in the South and in Florida, you realize that humanity and storytelling is best done when you have all those different perspectives. And had I stayed in New England, I don't think I would've gotten all of that. I mean, dealing with racism, dealing with people who are ignorant, dealing with people who have radical ideas and taking away some of that as, hey, really helpful and beneficial to society. That perspective is to me so incredibly precious.

Georgette: 
Yeah, I love it. So we got to get to this book that is perfectly nestled on the back of your background. Women have been socialized to not always speak up for ourselves and we're seen as aggressive when we do. You have a book called Make Your Moment, the Savvy Woman's Communication Playbook for Getting the Success you Want. What tips can you share from your book that can help women that sometimes struggle to advocate for themselves? Me being one of them, I've really been moving through setting boundaries, but really communicating that without choosing to feel bad about it.

Dion: 
Yes. And I think women in general get typecast, especially in the industries that we are in, that you see me smiling and I'm covering happy things, but that means I can be a pushover. And that means I have to say yes to absolutely everything. The answer is no. You may feel like you are powerless and you have to take every single assignment, but it is your approach in how you do it. Because I used to be very combative. I learned the hard way that you cannot go into an editorial meeting guns blazing saying, We need to do this. I am so furious at X, Y, and Z." There was a billboard that read Jap Maples for sale when I was in North Carolina. And for folks who don't know, Jap is considered a derogatory term that dates back in history back to war times. And people in the south in where I lived in Charlotte didn't understand that and neither did the people surrounding me because, this is no secret either, that diversity has always been something that newsrooms need to work on, especially in the positions of power.

So I remember I came in, I was so angry, I said, "This billboard's got to come down, we got to cover this." And it overshadowed the story itself. I did not lay out the education, the history behind it, and why the audience would care and made it all about me. And I think the emotions sometimes get in the way. And you have to realize, in order for people to listen to you and hear you and truly understand your point of view, you've got to get them to understand why this matters to you and to the people that they care about. So that's one thing that I think is super important.

Georgette: 
What led you to write the book? Was that something that was always on your heart, or things that you started seeing that you thought people could benefit from in your career as a news anchor and reporter?

Dion: 
All of those things. But it was almost therapeutic. So it helped me in many ways too. And by the way, shout out to mental health and therapy because I'm super transparent about this now because it was something very shameful, I feel, to talk about many years ago. The bulk of it was written when I was in Tampa and the first year that I was in San Francisco, and I was very heavily into community events. I was talking to young women at networking events, career fairs, and I realized we all had the same struggles of being seen, being heard, and challenges with identity no matter what color we are. But yet there was no book because there was no book that spelled it all out and did it in a way that wasn't like you know those posters that are on the wall that say soar like an eagle? And I'm just like, what the hell does that mean? But I wanted people to feel like, here's a guidebook, a handbook, a playbook of what you can do tangibly to feel like you can soar and succeed.

So I also wanted people to know that even though I got real white teeth, thank you Crest White Strips, and I got this background that looks so perfect and my hair looks like this. Really I go through the same stuff you guys do.

Georgette: 
Yeah, I love that. Congrats on that book. Ooh, I can't wait. [inaudible 00:27:43].

Dion: 
We'll see. Fingers crossed. This is a long ass process.

Georgette: 
I know. How has your experience being the first Asian American woman at the helm of a weekday newscast in major markets shaped your view on what you deemed possible for yourself and maybe others that look like you?

Dion: 
Yeah, having a seat at the table I've always said is great. And up until I think here being in the Bay Area, did I realize the power of what you can do with that seat. Because representation is one thing. Yes, people called me Connie Chung when I walked through the streets of Kansas City and in Charlotte, but I realized it was a lot of ignorance, it was not malicious intent. And instead of me getting angry and rip roar about it, why don't I use that with the platform that I have to reach hundreds of thousands of people to use that as an education tool and tell my story.

So I think it was a lot of getting used to the fact that my viewpoints on the world were different, but that they should be valued. And I didn't understand that, because I just assumed, okay, I'm filling a hole as the token Asian person. That's why I got my foot in the door, that's why I have a leg up in this industry. The reason is because I'm good at my job. It's because I'm good, I deserve to be there.

I remember being in my general manager's office one day, maybe he was the VP of news, I don't even remember at this point in Kansas. And he asked me a question after I had flubbed up on the newscast. He said, "Do you know why I hired you?" And I said, specifically, "Because I'm Asian, because I'm cheap." And he actually laughed and he said, "No, the reason why I hired you is because of you and what you can bring to the table. Your attitude, your personality, your gifts that have not yet been unleashed and unvarnished. You have unique gifts that are for the world." And that was a turning point. That was when I started realizing, okay, I'm more than just an Asian face. Someone whose eyes look like this. The whole point of being in a newsroom is bringing different perspectives and sharing your struggles. And if you can do that, I think then you have a strong, cohesive team.

Georgette: 
No, I think about with your perspective, you may bring a different level of compassion to a story that somebody else may just report in a monotone way just because they need to report it. So absolutely can understand that. And it's so illuminating and just empowering to hear that we shrink ourselves and we're not able to see ourselves the way others see us. And the fact that he was like, "That's why you think I hired you? No, you're good at your job." So it's amazing that that was what clicked in you to be like, "You know what, let me take this a different approach and take myself more seriously, because I know I'm here." But again, sometimes you just need that situation or incident or someone to just really be like, "No, you got this."

Dion: 
Yeah, and I say this in my book and I maybe should temper it a little bit, because I used to say, "You don't need affirmation from others to show your value and to understand what you bring to the table." But it does help. I used to say that I hate awards, and I still hate awards. Shout out to the Emmys because I know you got one too. But it really is a way to recognize that what you do is worthy and has a place. So it does not have to be in Emmy. I don't have to go chase it. I'm not one of those people whose life goal is to have a whole display showing my accomplishments.

Georgette: 
Absolutely. Well, what's one thing that you'd like to try next that you haven't and why?

Dion: 
Ooh, career-wise or in Lifewise?

Georgette: 
Anything.

Dion: 
I want to try to truly unplug. I have on my list to go to New Zealand and Australia at some point in maybe January, maybe December, when it's nice and toasty out, down under. And actually try checking my phone only once. Because even though everybody's like, "Oh, just disconnect." I mean, easier said than done, and I want to try that.

I also want to expand into what's next, because I've raised so much awareness for the attacks on Asian Americans. How do we begin to heal and how do we begin to solve more problems? I think the way to do that, I don't have all the answers, but I think is by making people of color not seem like the foreigner. Incorporating stories that are not necessarily Asian American, but can you have a Japanese or a Vietnamese face be in it? And that's what I'd really like to focus on career wise, and still find a way to still get the engagement and the attention, because I've gotten a lot of national attention for my stories, but it's because it's bad news. A video of an older woman getting beat up in her housing complex. Yeah, it's going to turn heads, but what's next? That's a bigger question.

Georgette: 
Lastly, what does it mean for you to make it, and how will Dion know when she gets there?

Dion: 
I used to have a monetary goal of what I thought making it was, I've surpassed that, yay, full closure. I used to also have that goal of being a network correspondent. I realized that was not the path that I wanted to take given all these things about wanting to have a normal life. To me, truly, 100,000% making it is about being proud of who you are and the work that you do, not feeling threatened by any of the white noise around you, and being comfortable. Because I struggled so much with self-esteem and so much with imposter syndrome. The past couple years got me to realize, yes, I'm good at what I do. I'm going to own it and I'm going to run with it. And you know something, if there are other people who want to try and they want to imitate what I do, it's fine because I'm okay with the way that I tell my stories.

There's nobody in the market who can get to the heart of a victim's story like I do, and I'm okay with saying that. It sounds maybe egotistical, but it's not. And I think that's part of being a woman in this industry, is realizing your place. And now that I know my place, I know what I can accomplish, I know what I bring to the table and I'm proud of it, and it doesn't matter all the white noise around me. That to me is truly making it.

Georgette: 
I love it. Dion, thank you so much for your candidness, your transparency. Just thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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