Excellence in Action
Leezel Tanglao, M.A. ’10
Interviewed by Monique Beals • July 3, 2018
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
I went to UCLA for grad school for my MA for Asian American Studies, so at the time I was a practicing journalist, so it was kind of crazy. While I was in school I was working at KCBS KCAL which is the CBS owned and operated station in LA. I graduated in 2010, and that was the same year I made a huge pivot to the East coast to work for abcnews.com. Eight years later, I have been in New York and I’ve pretty much made the rounds to all the major news companies out here from ABC to startup NowThis to stints at VICE News, CBSNews.com and most recently at CNNMoney as Assistant Managing Editor running the programming team. I just recently left CNNMoney and I am looking for my next opportunity. I am consulting for a bunch of different news companies in the meantime through my company StatFury.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I think it started when I was an undergrad at Loyola Marymount University. Like many people that go off to college, I didn’t necessarily have a clear pathway of what I wanted to do, but I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. You can ask lots of journalists and they are probably in a similar situation because, for me, I just wasn’t good at math. That canceled out a lot of the sciences and things like that. I knew I was good at writing, so I focused on trying to find what I could do as a career for that. Fast forward to 5 or 6 years later, and my first job was at a newspaper in the Inland Empire, The Press-Enterprise. Things were already changing and this was right before the real estate market crashed in 2008. I was already looking to make another pivot, and I knew print wasn’t going to be sustainable in terms of what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories, so the platform really didn’t matter, but I had to be realistic and I had to make a jump to digital journalism for the sake of my long-term career.
At the same time, I had always wanted to get a Master’s degree and I wanted it to be in an area that I was passionate about. Asian American studies is a very small field, but the program at UCLA is one of the top programs in the US and that made me choose UCLA over other places. It is led by some top-notch professors in the ethnic studies realm so I definitely wanted to learn from them. It has really given me a lens to look at things very differently. On the surface, other people wonder how that is practical and what you can use it for, but I always say that it is very practical, because it has a very critical thinking framework. As a journalist, that is very important to have. It gives you that sense of awareness of communities that don’t necessarily get covered. At the very least, it exposes you to a lot of different ways of thinking and not just settle for the mainstream narrative which is important if you are going to pursue this career.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
Prior to UCLA, I came from a smaller school so being in a program at UCLA that was a bit smaller helped me leverage a lot of the resources that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Especially within Asian American Studies, you become a very close-knit family. Having been on the East Coast for several years, connecting with people here can be challenging because it is culturally so different. To be able to tap into a network as rich and global as UCLA has been very helpful not only in the journalism world but also in different industries. I give a lot of credit to the UCLA Tri-State Alumni Association here, because it can be overwhelming and they do a great job of connecting you with folks who went to your school. That way, you really don’t need to say much. Just say “UCLA”, and you’ve already got that instant connection.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
I get all of the magazines and always try to look and see where people are at. If someone is in a position or industry that I am interested in, it has been great to have the UCLA community so that I’m not completely cold-calling people. More often than not, the UCLA network has been so generous with their time and being able to use that has been great. There have been a lot of people whom I’ve mentored in the past have been hesitant to use those connections, but that is what they are there for. People want to help you. You just have to ask. UCLA alumni are more than likely to help you or at the very least, if they can’t help you, they will refer you to someone that can. The alumni network has just been a great starting point to see where I want to go, who is already there and have someone to ask a few questions rather than starting from scratch.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think it’s currently where I am at now and making sure my skills are relevant. Journalism has changed so much. I started exploring this career in 2002. At that time, there were four different paths you could take: print, broadcast, radio or “new media” which is digital. When I was applying for internships, I had a little bit of everything with some broadcast and some print experience. Recruiters used to give me a funny look and tell me I needed to pick a lane, but for me, I didn’t ever want to be boxed in. The more varied skills you have, the more valuable you are. Luckily, I stuck to that because about four years later, the whole thing changed and print people were expected to have video skills and you were expected to be multimedia versus just writing or doing one thing. I have been able to recognize the trends and make those pivots each time going from print to digital. Now, I feel like we are there and making another change again, so currently I’m looking at emerging tech and what that looks like.
You can’t be afraid to go against the status quo. You have to be proactive enough to see where things are heading. The most challenging position to be in is to be trying to catch up. Journalism has always been like that and right now is a great time to try and get ahead of it. I may not fully be able to predict where the industry is going, but I can at least make an effort to think about what journalism can do with things like blockchain — what skills and value I can bring, and thinking about how to translate what journalists do as storytellers for people who aren’t in that career. Things have changed so much, and now, you don’t have to be working at a journalism outlet to consider yourself a journalist. You’ve just got to know how to tell a story and how to tell it fairly, objectively and accurately. If you come at it from that framework, you’re a journalist and a lot of companies stand to gain a lot by employing people who have those skills and that mindset.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?
I think there are two schools of thought with this because I always get people asking if you need a journalism degree. I think for some people, they really feel like they need it and that certainly has its advantages, but I think I am also living proof that you don’t necessarily need that degree. In this particular industry, experience often weighs more heavily than what degree you have but I think that comes with the caveat that you have to hustle more in many ways. Things haven’t changed so much that you don’t have to make the case that you’re the best candidate. You still have to make that case. At the same time, don’t be afraid to get internships outside of journalism too. It is all about how you frame things. It’s okay to have experience that isn’t purely at a journalism company. I think it’s even better actually. It’s important to make yourself even more valuable by knowing how to do more than just tell a story. You have to open your eyes to the operation holistically which is scary to go into something that isn’t purely your interest, but those skills are always applicable. No matter where you’re working, you just have to ask yourself what’s the story here and what question are you trying to answer. Don’t be afraid to take chances, because it is really just all about how you tell your own narrative. In this business, you’re so used to talking to other people and telling their story, but to tell your own story is really difficult. You have to look at the body of work you have done. Every experience is important, and it is your job to make those connections and transferable skills clear to people looking to hire you in any industry. You need to be that bridge.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
Being a part of the Tri-State Alumni Network has been really helpful, but I definitely want to participate more and figure out what would make sense in terms of where I’m at and getting more involved. I do try to go to events when I can. A fellow UCLA alum and I hosted a Dinner for 12 Strangers in Brooklyn a few years ago. That was really well attended out here, and it is great to see those traditions being carried out not only in LA but everywhere. That is a great testament to the foundation that UCLA has infused with its alumni. That was great meeting a whole lot of people in different industries, but I’m looking forward to getting more involved.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
You have that instant connection. For everyone that says they’ve gone to UCLA, you know right away that they are driven. You know what you’re going to get. When I went there, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew I was going to gain a lot. I carry that with me with every other job that I have been at. If I don’t know something off the bat, there is someone in the UCLA community whom I can tap. Being a part of a community that is more than willing to help has been great, and because of that, I am a very proud alum.
And finally, what’s next?
I am currently figuring that out. I don’t want to have to choose a specific lane, but I think the job that I’m looking for doesn’t necessarily exist or it exists, but it has a different name at different companies. That is a little scary, but you have to be unafraid to change along with your industry. You have to reframe everything you have done thus far within your industry. For me, it is an exciting opportunity to kind of reinvent yourself. I’m constantly on a learning journey. I’ll always be telling stories, but it may not necessarily be at a media company. Who knows? Storytelling is at the core of what I’ve done and who I am, so I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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