By Yeong Lim
It takes less than 30 seconds for them to press the eject button, look me in the eyes, and suggest I work behind the camera.
Those who’ve reviewed my reporter demo reel all say the same thing – I need to get rid of my Korean accent and sound more American.
Why? The answer is not simple.
Is it possible for journalists, with foreign accents, to make it as broadcast journalists in America?
It’s a sensitive topic that “nobody wants to talk about,” said Bernie Han, Vice President of News at New York 1 News. She added that journalists with accents can be successful, but it’s very difficult.
I’ve lived in the United States half of my life and I speak English with no problem. I am a Korean-American born in Japan. I moved to the U.S. when I was 12 years old and was naturalized at 18. I grew up speaking Japanese and Korean. English became my third language.
My multicultural background gives me the ability to acclimate to new environments quickly and always stay curious with an open mind. But apparently, some think I should focus more on fixing my accent.
I gave it a shot. I socialized exclusively with Americans and stayed distant from peers who spoke accented English or foreign languages. I hurt some feelings in the process, but I prioritized my career over personal connections. My English started to sound more Americanized.
Then I started to question my efforts. While my English improved, I felt my Korean and Japanese identities slip away.
America is rich with a diversity of accents, but not all accents are appreciated, especially on broadcast TV.
“Television is much more concerned about a reporter’s image (in the sense of overall impression,” said Lars Hoel, a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor and a former executive producer for NPR’s Morning and Weekend Editions.
“It’s a medium that’s very wary of perceived credibility.”
According to Hoel, standard American English is often associated with the Midwestern accents and is, often, the preferred newscast speaking style in America.
“The norm still tends to be the accent-less speech of much of the Midwest United States,” he said. “It’s flat and broad, without any of the noticeable characteristics that mark its neighbors to the south, north, east and west.”
On the streets of New York, American viewers were quick with opinions.
“We see newscasters with regional accents all the time,” said Greg Suhr, 45, from Brooklyn.
One of his examples is HLN’s Nancy Grace, known for her Southern accent. British accents are seen with anchors like Christiane Amanpour, a former CNN chief international correspondent who now anchors ABC’s “This Week,” and Martin Bashir, anchor of ABC’s “Nightline.” I’ve also heard numerous newscasters with Spanish accents.
Do Americans really care or favor certain accents on TV?
“Why not (other accents)?” Suhr said. “As long as they are understandable, I don’t see a problem.”
At the end of the day, in journalism, it’s the quality of a story that matters to viewers and not the accents that they hear through the TV speakers.
Tags: voices 2010