By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
After 25 years at ABC7, the verdict is in on David Ono. He is the Tom Hanks of the nightly news.
Ask leaders of Japanese American organizations about Ono, and his years of devoting his time and talents to community come to mind. Since landing a key position with Los Angeles’ ABC7 Eyewitness News in 1996, Ono has reached beyond his anchor desk to become an award-winning filmmaker, discovering untold stories of people and events around the world.
He has won 28 Emmys and received the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award nine times for outstanding achievement in electronic journalism. His documentary films, made in conjunction with producing partner Jeff MacIntyre, have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalism and the Asian American Journalists Association.
Ono’s curiosity has taken him from the Vatican in Rome to the polar ice caps in Greenland and to the White House, where he interviewed President Barack Obama. He is a familiar figure in the Nikkei community, having emceed major events such as such as the annual So-Phis Charity Fashion Show and the Go For Broke National Education Center “Evening of Aloha.”
“He has become a staple of the Nisei Week Coronation and a testament to community service,” commented James Okazaki, past Nisei Week Festival chairman. “As emcees, he and Tamlyn Tomita are a perfect pair.”
Okazaki explains that he was particularly moved by the sensitivity captured in Ono’s documentary “Legacy of Heart Mountain,” which chronicled the stories of the people who were held in the Wyoming concentration camp during World War II. Okazaki’s relatives were at Heart Mountain for three and a half years.
Born in Germany to a Caucasian father and Japanese mother, Ono took his mother’s maiden name sometime in the 1990s. His father was in the military and served in Japan for several years. The family moved to Texas, where Ono grew up in San Antonio, largely among Latinos, and attended the University of North Texas.
“The first time I heard the term ‘hapa’ was in college when a friend from Hawaii used that term,” he recalled. “‘What’s that?’ I asked. She said, ‘You are. You have the look.’”
In college, Ono was playing sports when an internship led him to a local television station. He was offered a job doing various tasks behind the scenes, such as checking the police scanner and working on the assignment desk. He earned $3 per hour. “But I learned how to produce a (news) show.” That basic knowledge helped Ono move up the ladder and secure his next position on-air at a Dallas TV station.
It wasn’t until he was hired by station KOVR in Sacramento that Ono began connecting with the Japanese American community.
More recently, he is applying his producer skills to researching and conceptualizing in-depth projects, including a multi-part series on climate change and the environment due to be shown by stations across the U.S. and become a documentary. “I think it has become obvious that (climate change) is a major crisis for the world…because we’re seeing the effects everywhere. We’re dealing with extreme heat, temperature changes, weather patterns that different, fires, and massive storms.”
He is also doing pieces on race in America and continuing to explore new aspects of the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, and the long-hidden role Nisei linguists played in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) during World War II.
As the father of a 10-year-old, Ono delights in helping her explore her Japanese culture and connecting with the Nikkei community in Southern California. He notes that his daughter developed a particular fondness for the peanut butter mochi introduced to her by Fugetsu-Do owner Brian Kito when she was a toddler.
The truth is: Ono is more than an anchorman. In 25 years as a broadcast journalist, he has given new dimension to the profession. And, yes, he’s also a good guy.