MEET DANA KING, and you are instantly her new best friend. She laughs easily and loves to talk (really loves to talk), which is surprising because the 51-year-old doesn’t have time to spare. King is currently leading two lives. By day she is an emerging — some might say accomplished — sculptor, working out of a jam-packed studio in Sausalito’s ICB Building. By night, King — who has been in front of the camera for 25 years — anchors the six o’clock, ten o’clock and 11 o’clock local news on CBS Channel 5, from studios near The Embarcadero in the city. “I can get by on four hours sleep,” she says. “But six and I’m more fun to be around.”
As for King’s Murrow and Emmy award winning career in television journalism, assignments for CBS have taken her to Afghanistan, Ghana, Rwanda, Turkey, Taiwan, Albania, Kosovo and twice to Honduras, where her weeklong reporting brought attention to the victims of 1998’s Hurricane Mitch and inspired nearly a million dollars of aid.
King has lived in Marin for 15 years and says she loves everything about it. The mom of two grown children, she has been amicably separated from their father for several years and lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
First, would you share a bit about your background?
I was born to a black man from Arkansas and a white woman from Cleveland. Dad was the maître d’ at the country club in town, and because of the racial laws at the time, they had to get secretly married in Mexico in the ’50s. My dad died when I was 18 months old, so here was my white mom, who is Jewish by the way, with these two little brown kids, my older brother and me. My mom has an incredible history of going against the grain. She joined the Peace Corps when she was 50 and has not lived in the U.S. since; she’s now living in the Turks and Caicos islands.
How did you get started in television journalism?
Trust me, it was not a straight path. My degree is in marketing from a small college in Michigan, and I wanted to run a station, not be in front of the camera. However, one day the manager needed a reporter and asked me to do the job. I fi lled in, but it did not come naturally; I was nervous. Twenty-fi ve years later, I still get nervous. It was hard. However, I read UCLA’s course study in journalism, asked stupid questions, made mistakes and, to a large extent over time, taught myself.
What was your most memorable assignment?
It was going to Honduras in 1998. Hurricane Mitch had hung over that country and just ground it to dust. Much of the news we were doing was just our talking over videos showing the destruction. I needed to know what life was like for the people, so I went there with Claudia Lombana, who speaks Spanish, and together we did 17 stories in 10 days. When we were through, a Honduran woman came up and said, “Thank you for believing in us.” When I asked what she meant — and I’ll never forget this — she said, “Thank you for believing this happened to us and for telling our stories.” We raised almost a million dollars to help these people. A year later, I went back and found all but one of those I’d interviewed. They took me into their homes and shared their most intimate thoughts. That’s the beautiful part of my job, meeting everyday people who are so incredibly strong. That’s the sweetest, most beautiful part of my job. I’ve been so fortunate.
How far will you go for a good story?
I was the first Bay Area broadcast journalist to reach ground zero on 9/11. Nobody, not even the pilots, knows how we got there, but we did. We took off in a private jet from Gnoss Field up in Novato.
Is there a negative side to the business of journalism?
I think the news has a responsibility to reflect the culture of the people it serves. That can get depressing. On a larger scale, I recently read the speech President Roosevelt gave at his 1933 inauguration. Everything he talked about then is happening again today, almost 80 years later. Banks are in trouble; there is a need for regulations and business ethics; people need to be put back to work; and we need to contribute to our own society — and we’re in the same mess today. My point is, we don’t seem to learn. As a society, we don’t seem to make progress. When you’re aware of the news on a daily basis, this tends to wear on you.
In midlife, you seem to be transitioning into a new career. Please discuss how others might make a similar change.
Right; I am indeed at that point in life when the kids aren’t around and the marriage is either on track or it’s not, and now it’s ur time to look deep inside and see what it is we’ve always wanted to do. Personally, I have always wanted to be an artist, and that’s where I seem to be heading. I am convinced, at this age, everyone has something they have always wanted to do, literally and fi guratively. It doesn’t have to be something creative. Your gift may be working with children or it could be a gift of service to others. You may have a desire for learning that goes deeper than the everyday, or it could be a yearning to travel, learn about other cultures and then share that knowledge in a variety of ways. We all need to fi nd out what it is we’ve always wanted to do, and then do it. I love doing sculpture; honestly, I dream about my sculptures. As soon as I fi nish one piece, I’m on to the next. Someday, I hope to be as successful as a sculptor as I’ve been in journalism.
After 25 years of television, how do you handle the celebrity factor?
It is my job. I happen to work on television, but my job is no more important than anyone else’s. It’s simply what I do. Mostly when I get attention, I’ll smile, say “Hi,” and move on. I prefer a low profile and don’t go out much. Years ago when I was first asked to go in front of a news camera, I thought hard about giving up my anonymity. I agreed to it, and I have lived with that decision. Now, however, I think I want my
anonymity back. Funny, the other night someone came up and said, “Are you Dana King?” I answered, “Yes,” and smiled. As she walked away, she said, “I was in a gallery one day and bought one of your sculptures.” Wow, now that’s what I love to hear — but she was gone before we could talk.