Zoë Maughan: This is Zoë Maughan and it is September 9, 2022. I am meeting with Elizabeth Dinh via Zoom today. Elizabeth, we are really glad you are here today. You first recorded your interview with us in June 2021, and I'm wondering if you could begin by reintroducing yourself and maybe giving a brief update.
Elizabeth Dinh: Sure, my name is Elizabeth Dinh, and I am by profession a news anchor and reporter at KOIN-6 PBS affiliate here in Portland, Oregon. I've been here in Portland for a little over six years, and I've been with KOIN for two years.
ZM: Great, thank you. To start, I'm wondering if you could share more about the Northwest Grown stories that you cover each week and what the inspiration for those were, and how they've been received.
ED: Absolutely. That started up last year, I do them each week on Thursdays. And they run the range from restaurants, chefs, farmers, wine, beer, kombucha, drinks, food, that kind of thing. Food is definitely the core of it, but I definitely try to tell stories about what's behind the food, the story behind that person, the farmer, the chef. It's really fun. For me it's very personal because I describe myself as a foodie. I love exploring cities and neighborhoods through food, and I really enjoy getting to know people over food. I think that is a way we connect with people. I'm really glad that outside of the daily news stories we do, each week I get to provide these fascinating stories that are under that umbrella. They are a little bit of my personality but I also get to learn a lot more and hopefully our viewers learn more about our community.
ZM: That's really great. How have the stories been received so far?
ED: I get really great feedback and reactions, it makes me feel really good. I always say if I can impact one person that makes such a difference. I don't usually hear from people about it, but I always hope for the best. I get really great feedback, and I feel good doing these stories because I learn a lot and the people I meet I find very fascinating. The one that ran yesterday: I did a series of stories down in Corvallis at Oregon State University. They have a food science department and I interviewed seven different professors in that one day visit. Yesterday was the third of three hemp-related stories—they have a global hemp center. I'm not an expert on hemp, so that's what I love about my job in general, I get to talk to experts about their field. One guy breeds hemp plants and finds the benefits of them for people—how to make it stronger for use of fiber, or how it can be tweaked for an ailment for somebody. Another guy focuses on the economics of it. Let's say there is a farmer in an area who wants to grow hemp and they are researching the benefits of it: are they going to grow it for medicine? But then maybe the byproduct can be for fiber or for fabric. And how will the community benefit from it? I love that those stories are within Northwest Grown and maybe you wouldn't think that it isn't always about food. But I also have a food one coming next week about a restaurant that is opening up in the Cully Neighborhood, and why that man opened up his business in his neighborhood where he grew up and to show where he grew up some love.
ZM: That's great. I love that local focus. So just more generally: how do you or your team decide what stories to report on? And what does the process look like for selecting, researching, and covering a story?
ED: Each day, as far as daily news, we have our meetings for the different shifts. So for me, I'm in the evening, so we will have our afternoon meeting and we all discuss what is going on, obviously, and if there is something big to go to. Today, for example, is very windy and dry, so there are big fire dangers like we saw two years ago. So I already know colleagues who have already been assigned and if not, then I'll find out in a couple of hours. But, I already know our dayside crews are out gathering their interviews, their videos, their information for their stories. And then our nightside team, like myself, will cover the rest. But on a day like this, those who are already in the newsroom may already have discussions about where to send somebody, because this is something that is impacting our whole community. Our whole area. So they probably have crews spread out, for example, because of the potential danger for fires to start quickly, and the potential for power outages.
But let's say on a day that isn't so busy and we don’t have a lot of notes just yet. Our reporters [bring in ideas]—anyone in the meeting can bring in ideas—that's often what happens. Somebody is talking with their source and they find out about something and then they pitch the ideas about what they are going to pursue. We have discussions about it, everyone talks about the assignment, and then they move on and start working on that.
Let's say there is breaking news—if a reporter has to be moved, then they might be moved to focus on the story that is breaking news. That's how it goes, if that helps. We all discuss it for sure, and then move forward in the day.
ZM: Great, thank you. What type of issues do you think are most important to keep Portland residents informed? What issues do you see as most central right now?
ED: I know peoples' safety is really top of mind. For a while, it was the pandemic, and that is still very important. But definitely safety is top of mind. Certain parts of the city, we talk about shootings all the time, unfortunately, and people want to know what is being done. And they are also very interested in Portland's form of government: there is a charter commission that meets every ten years. And most recently, what they've done is pitched to put this on the ballot in November, and so voters will be deciding in Portland whether to change the style of government. Right now we have a mayor and four city counselors, but they are city-wide, and for this size city, it's a very outdated way of running a city. Whereas this commission is pushing toward having four districts and there would be counselors representing each district and you would have to live in the district that you represent. And fine-tuning how the city is run. So that’s an issue, how the city is run, because we've heard from people a lot over the years that they want something done, whether it's a homeless issue, safety, a question about their neighborhood, they don't really find easy to talk to their city official because they don't have anyone specifically dedicated to them. I hear a lot about that. And like I said, public safety is a concern: we have a very short staff police department in Portland. Other cities are dealing with staffing shortages. Also the economy is really big because of inflation and we're coming out of the pandemic. So there are a lot of issues that I feel are important to people, and we do our best to cover all of that every single day.
ZM: Certainly. So getting a little more specific: what local public or political issues do you think are most important to Portland's Vietnamese community?
ED: I think it's tough to put that one into specifics. I do find that the more Vietnamese people I've met, they're just as diverse as the city itself. Because we have so many who are immigrants who came here right at the end of the war or after. And there are also those who are second or third generation at this point. So they may be a bit more Americanized in how they were raised and what their beliefs are. I have seen a diversity of it. I wouldn't say that one goes right, left, middle. I find that many Vietnamese Americans I meet, regardless of age, background, where they came from, have very different ideals in how they vote and what political interests they have. I do know that I've seen more Vietnamese politicians, especially here in Portland, in Oregon in this past year. Which I think is really incredible for representation because growing up, whether here or elsewhere, I think many would agree that we haven't seen that many Vietnamese Americans taking on political roles in the past. I think that's huge because representation is very important.
ZM: Yeah, I was reading the Willamette Week article about that. I've been working to interview everyone that is going to the legislature; we have our fifth and final interview scheduled in a few weeks.
ED: Who is it?
ZM: Hai Pham.
ED: Yeah, OK, that's great. Like I said, I'm sure they've told you the same thing. I'm guessing they grew up not seeing that and something must've hit them, like, "You know what, I can do this." That's kind of like my story, I didn't really see a lot of Vietnamese people in the news and I wanted to do it. I'm honored when people tell me they love seeing that I am doing it. It's great to represent Vietnamese people, but really in general I just love helping all people. I'm glad that little kids can see that they can do it too.
ZM: Yeah, that representation is really important. During the last conversation we had with you, you talked a little bit about the "Is Portland Over?" series, and I was wondering how you've seen Portland change since the last time we spoke with you. More generally, and then how we've changed in response to the pandemic from 2021 into 2022. I know that's kind of a large question.
ED: That's OK, we get asked that all the time. It's tough, it depends on who you ask. One person told me the other day [that] they like feel the city isn't getting better yet, but it’s still going through a lot and it could get worse. But I talked to someone else who says we're getting better as we speak, it's just not in leaps and bounds, it's slowly but surely. It depends on who you talk to. There definitely are businesses in Portland that have felt the pain of less customers, fewer tourists coming here. But then there are those who have been here for a long time and feel a sense of sticking it through and they're still here. In some instances, the city is reopening, because with the pandemic it is not as restricted as it once was a year ago. Some people are able to travel more and go about. But there are the concerns about public safety like I said. And even if it's not happening 24/7 at this corner, it's the mentality: if you don't live here, maybe you feel scared. Maybe you're not familiar with the city. It's how you interpret it. And that sometimes is a struggle too: is it a hundred percent safe? It depends on who you ask and what their level of safety is, and if they live in the city or they are visiting. I don't think I have seen a lot of change, except that a lot of restrictions have helped businesses reopen and people can travel more easily compared to when we were talking last year. But it's still taking time, and I don't think it can happen that quickly. It's a slow process.
ZM: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm wondering if you have any plans coming up for Mid-Autumn Festival, which is tomorrow. I was just curious if you have any plans or things coming up, or stories you've been covering or anything. I've been in contact with Steven Tonthat at OPB about this a lot. So I was curious if you had any plans.
ED: I'm glad you got to meet him, he's such a vibrant person. I personally am so bad about it. I'm much bigger about the Lunar New Year rather than the Mid-Autumn Festival. So for me, I don't have any major plans to celebrate it. And I hate to admit this, but I never was a big fan of moon cakes. I don't dislike them, but also among the treats out there, it’s not exactly my favorite. But they're beautiful to look at. But my best memory is when I was a kid at our church back in Texas, we would have a lantern fest. Lanterns are really known for the Mid-Autumn Festival, Tết Trung Thu, and I remember singing the song [singing] Tết Trung Thu Rước Đèn Đi Chơi. I was telling a friend about this the other day, and it's about lighting up the lantern and going out to play. I remember my dad took these little sticks and gift wrap—we must have had a Disney Christmas gift wrap—and made them into star shapes with the sticks. And it was big! And we attached it to a longer stick. And we must've had a candle that somehow didn't light on fire. He made one for me and my brother. We had a little thing at church and all the kids would walk around the cafeteria to show off our lanterns. I think there was a contest or something. I was just telling my friend about how cool it was for my dad to do that, and as an adult I can appreciate his craftsmanship. He didn't just go buy one, it was so cool that he could do that. I don't have specific plans for this weekend, but I'm really happy that I have those great memories because my dad put that in my heart.
ZM: Yeah, that's really wonderful. I love the DIY aspect of that.
ED: He's really good.
ZM: That's great. I think that's most of the questions I had for you. My last one is: is there anything that you were wanting to discuss today?
ED: I think that's it. I'm just really glad you're doing this, and I appreciate that I am a part of it. And as not a native Portlander, but someone who obviously calls this my home and has been here for so many years. Especially with the "Is Portland Over Series?" I know it's a tough name to swallow, Portland has great charm and there's a reason people love this city. But there's also reasons why people have a distaste or are feeling unsettled about it. Being the child of immigrants and all the struggles I've seen in life, I personally try to be optimistic. I get it when I hear and see difficult times and issues that we have to live and deal with. I do always try to look for optimism or hope when possible. And sometimes that is really hard in life in general. I think that often helps because I know with news and my job there is a lot of difficult news to share. But I do hope that helps other people too. That's how I do my job, looking for glimpses of hope even in the most difficult times. And stories like Northwest Grown are talking to people about their stories and taking it outside of my situation sometimes helps me to recalibrate and look at things with a fresh set of eyes.
ZM: Thank you so much for sharing that. I will go ahead and close us out. Thank you so much for meeting with me. Again, this has been Zoë Maughan speaking with Elizabeth Dinh via Zoom, on September 9, 2022. Thank you.