Veteran Broadcast Journalist Shares Career Experiences

Michael J. Arvizu
El Vaquero Staff Writer

He was there when bombs were falling in Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991. He was there when Los Angeles was in the heat of riots sparked by the Rodney King beating trial in 1992. He was there when the ground snapped underneath Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. On Thursday, KFWB-AM (980) radio reporter Pete Demetriou visited Glendale College where he highlighted some of his experiences in his 25-year career in journalism and discussed the future role of electronic journalism both as a career and as a newsgathering platform.

“This is not a business for somebody who wants to be nine to five,” said Demetriou, adding that journalism can be both unpredictable and fascinating. He did emphasize, however, that anyone considering journalism as a career should understand that the nature of the job isn’t always pleasant.

He also emphasized that as information gatherers journalists need to be at the forefront of new and expanding technologies. However, he also said that the basics have not changed. The job still means “to burn shoe leather, to talk with people, to drink bad coffee at three o’clock in the morning with homicide detectives over a body that’s still cooling off.”

One example of such a moment came when Demetriou covered the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. As the tape of his report of that day was played for the those at the lecture, the room fell silent. Demetriou remembers that for that report he had no script in which to work from. The facts that he was reporting at the time came from his own knowledge and observation.

“You’re looking at this,” said Demetriou, raising a stopwatch into the air. “You know the facts. They come in at a particular speed and at a particular course.”

And in covering the Challenger explosion, the Los Angeles riots, and the Northridge earthquake, Demetriou remembers that emotions can sometimes be overwhelming because the world that he is used to may be falling apart all around him.

“You’re trying to convey what is happening at the same time that the world is disintegrating around you,” he says. “Sometimes words fail you. Sometimes all you have is that microphone . in a society and city where . there is no logic, no reason, and no rhyme. There is a new and terrifying reality right in front of your eyes, and you’re not quite sure how to handle it.

“People can detect fear, and they can detect uncertainty.”

He says that radio reporters have to be good at giving listeners the sense that they are at the scene, because a reporter may only have 30 or 60 seconds to give the listener the full picture of the event.

News, Demetriou says, is always going to be the local component to what radio stations are about. Those who don’t get to work in the larger markets such as Los Angeles can work in other radio stations in smaller markets that will hire reporters who can report about what is going on locally.

“They [the public] want to know what’s happening locally,” he says. “They could care less about what’s going on in Washington D.C. or Beijing. They want to know what’s going on around the corner.”

As a journalist, Demetriou has learned that covering the news is unpredictable and that the world changes everyday. “Fun thing is, you’re there to see it when the ‘wheel comes around.'”

The more effort that is put into covering a story the better it will come out, Demetriou says. The more effort that is put into a story, the more a reporter wants to see the story covered correctly and accurately, consequently the work is more intense and the hours are longer. Demetriou works a 3 to 11 p.m. shift and sees nights when he doesn’t get home until 2 or 3 in the morning.

“I have to make sure I represent accurately what happened,” he says.

With the buffet of sources of information available to the public, Demetriou comes to the conclusion that radio is the low-tech solution to meet the public’s demand for getting news quickly.

“Click, and you got us,” he says.