USA instructor Andrew Hongo brings home Emmy award

By: Richard Narramore | EIC

“To know I have the capability to be a journalist at the highest level and be recognised for that, it does make me want to push harder and push for excellence in all the stories I do,” Andrew Hongo, an instructor at the University of South Alabama, said about winning his first Emmy. “However, for me, the motivation has primarily been the story itself. The character.”

Hongo brought home the Emmy for his work as a field producer on NBC Dateline’s interview with former president Barack Obama titled “The Reality of Hope.” The interview took place in Chicago after Obama’s farewell speech. As a field producer Hongo helped with filming B-roll, coordinating the interview and getting media back to New York.  

Hongo said he became passionate about documentary film after working two years for a non-profit agency in Vietnam.

“I felt the one thing I could do that nationals could not was to tell their stories to a wider world, because they have a communist government and do not have freedom of the press, but I was an American,” Hongo said. “I love storytelling and there was so many stories there”

This pushed Hongo to return to graduate school at New York University. After completing NYU’s documentary film track he went back to Southeast Asia and began chronicling the lives of street kids in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime that took hold in Cambodia in the late 70s and carried out the Cambodian genocide.

“The kids I was profiling, their parents were survivors of this genocide,” Hongo said. “So, the parents had a lot of wounds and scars physically as well as mentally and emotionally. A lot of the kids had not been parented adequately and as such they ended up on the streets. Those were the ones I was following.”

Though Hongo’s passion was to be a documentary filmmaker, he jested he could not make it work financially which is how he ended up joining NBC through the News Associate Program. His time there would amount to seven Emmy nominations and now an Emmy which sits on a shelf in his office.

Hongo received nominations for his coverage on the 2016 terror attack in Nice, France where a truck drove through a crowd of people on Bastille Day. Honogo recounted the emotional toll of covering such a tragic story.

“It was a lot to take in emotionally to cover those sorts of events, but as a journalist you think, it’s really important to get these stories out there,” Hongo said. “These are the important stories we need to cover.”

Hongo’s other nominations include a special titled “A Bronx Tale” that tells the story of the wrongful murder conviction of Eric Glisson, who served 25 years in prison before his case was vacated. Hongo said this story meant the most to him because he connected to it and its character Sister Joanna Chan, a Catholic nun hailing from Hong Kong.

Chan was not originally intended to be included, but Hongo fought for Chan’s inclusion because she was the first person to hear Glisson’s story and help. Chan’s interview was so moving that it wound up opening and closing the special.

Amid his accomplishments, Hongo remains humble and holds tight to his passion of storytelling.

“Whenever I am working on a story, what excites me is not the thought of an award, though they are an honor, but it is seeing that story unfold and seeing that person come to life,” Hongo said. “That is what I love as a filmmaker and a storyteller.”