Our latest #HerStory Q&A is with Juju Chang, co-anchor of ABC News Nightline. In this interview Juju shares how her upbringing shaped her journey into journalism, and the importance of empowering women to tell their stories.
You’ve worked at ABC News, on “Good Morning America,” and now “Nightline.” What drew you to journalism originally?
Juju: I was born in Seoul and I grew up in a struggling immigrant family in California. I think that informs a lot of who I am to this day — who we are reflects how we tell stories and who we see. So I'm a mom, I'm a working mom, I'm Asian American, I'm a woman. All those things inform the way that I tell stories and the types of stories I like to see.
When I was in eighth grade, hostages were released in Iran after nearly a year of captivity and — this is how old I am — I got on my 10-speed bike and I cycled around the neighborhood yelling, “The hostages are free! The hostages are free!” This was clearly before Twitter, because I'm that person who wants to tell everybody things, and I think that's why I became a journalist.
What kind of stories do you most like to cover on “Nightline”?
I do stories that are personal narratives, stories that illuminate some aspect of a national crisis, issue, or a flashpoint, so using personal narratives to get deeper into concepts. One of the things we say at “Nightline” is “show me, don't tell me.” Don't tell me a statistic — show me the people who are involved.
As a female journalist yourself, what advice do you have for others?
Don't shy away from being a woman when you are telling your stories and when you're giving your perspective, because all stories have a framework and it’s a net bonus that we’re female. I think in the old days we used to be like, “We're just like men,” and I think the truth is we are not just like men — we're different. Not better, not worse, just different.
How do you use Twitter in your work, and how many times a day would you say you’re on it?
I check it right before I go to sleep, which then takes me into a Twitter hole that keeps me up for another hour because it's either highly entertaining or deeply annoying, and fills me with outrage or uplift. I use Twitter as my smartest research associate because I feel like it is the perfectly curated set of information headed to me. Sometimes it's about what Cardi B is doing, but sometimes it's about the latest breaking news, or the best perspective in a New Yorker article that I hadn't thought of. And because I've curated it, it's tailor-made to what will get me intrigued, what will help me get through the morning editorial meeting.
Who are your favorite female journalists to follow on Twitter?
I follow so many great reporters on Twitter and what I find is there are always more recommended to me, so then I follow even more, right? But my favorite females — not ranked in any order — are Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, because she often drops bombs on Twitter. Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post, because she's fun and quirky and often drops bombs as well — she breaks news routinely on Twitter. Maureen Dowd, because I hate to miss a Maureen Dowd column, ever. My colleague Cecilia Vega at the White House is smart, sassy, and so full of insights that I always try to catch every one of her Tweets. And then just in terms of storytellers more broadly, one of my favorite people on Twitter is J.K. Rowling. So those are just a few of my faves.
#HerStory was launched to help empower and celebrate female journalists. What are your thoughts on press freedom here in the US and around the world?
I think that press freedoms are under assault, and more precious than ever. Yet if you look at the global landscape, it's far darker even than it is here in the United States. There are organizations like the International Women's Media Foundation that does the Courage in Journalism Award, and whenever you go to their lunch you see that women literally put their lives on the line in the name of truth, and that that is precisely why most journalists have become journalists.
People like me who become journalists to speak truth to power, to give a voice to the voiceless and powerless. Hearkening back to women's strength, they're often drawn to those stories and they're often able to tell those stories. I know that I've spent a lot of time post #MeToo telling the stories of sexual assault survivors, and it is in fact easier for a woman sexual assault survivor to talk to another woman about it. And so we get to amplify those voices, but female reporters, female journalists around the world are under attack, so it's important that we at least recognize it and do everything we can to lift our voices to help.
Final question, but it's a very broad one — what's your experience as a female journalist and as a woman of color who's traveled the world?
I think being a woman of color and being an immigrant to this country has informed my perspective around the world. Recently I went to Honduras and did a story about femicide and looked at the plight of women. There's a statistic that was released a couple of years ago that Honduras was the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, and we wanted to take a deeper dive into why that was. Women would disappear and there would be no investigation. There was no such thing as a restraining order or consequences for anyone who beat their wife or girlfriend. It’s that kind of toxic masculinity, what's known often as machismo, that endangers women around the world. And so you see it's not a Honduran story, it's a universal story.
I went to Africa, traveling through Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria, and we were on the search for the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, the #BringBackOurGirls girls. We really wanted to go there, but it was so difficult because of the security risks – you can't go after a terrorist organization and think everything's going to be okay. We went to interview girls who had been traumatized beyond your wildest nightmares, and to just bring home the universality of what it was like before the terror.
I think that to bring those stories back and make them universal — that these are stories of daughters and sisters and mothers — there's a universality to it that we can all relate to.