Producing a News Special: ‘The Racism Virus’

NBCU Academy presents Behind the Story

Jamie Nguyen, the senior producer of NBC News’ consumer investigative team, shares with NBCU Academy how she created “The Racism Virus,” a news special that is a follow-up to her 2021 program about hate crimes against Asian Americans and the AAPI community’s response. The special, presented by NBC News Now and NBC Asian America, debuted on May 11 and was hosted by Vicky Nguyen, NBC News’ senior consumer investigative correspondent, who is of no relation to Jamie. Watch the video above or read an edited transcript below.  

Why did you decide to do these two specials on “The Racism Virus”?

We started seeing an uptick in the number of attacks against Asian Americans. It was something that Vicky Nguyen and I talked about, then all of a sudden some of these attacks were caught on video, and this is television. Once those videos started happening, it sort of picked up traction.

Jamie Nguyen. Read her essay on how her AAPI experience informs her journalism.
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It was something that deserved a bigger treatment than just a two-, three-minute piece.

So we devoted an hour in 2021 on this, and sadly in 2022 we’re still dealing with it. But I think the tone of the conversation has changed.

At one of the meetings, we weren’t sure if the special was going to be 30 or 60 minutes. Obviously, 60 minutes is a lot more involved. It’s much more voices having to be in the show, and so it really changes how we would put it together. We just found so many important stories that I said, “Listen, if we just did 30 minutes, it would just be all sparkle. But with an hour, we can get some sparkle and substance.”

I really felt the weight of the project on my shoulders. You know, this is a community that’s underserved and I feel privileged that I’m in a position that I have platforms that can tell the story. I felt a sense of responsibility to put these voices and the stories out there in a way that’s different from your day-to-day news.

How did you decide who would appear on your special?

When you put a show like this together, it’s all about editorial decisions. You need strong bookings, the guests who are the voices represented in this hour. I think it needs to be a mix of people. You’re going to have your community members, you’re going to have your celebrities and you’re going to have politicians. You need to make sure you have multiple angles covered.

The reality is, you cast a wide net, but at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who is available for when you’re going to tape the story. We had a big wish list and we didn’t get everybody we wanted. But I’m still happy with the voices that we do have.

What advice do you have for journalists starting out? 

Don’t get hung up on job titles. It’s all about opportunity, it’s all about just taking a chance. Even if you don’t like something, it’s good because then you can knock it off your list. I thought I wanted to be a reporter, so I tried it, but it was not for me. And I accidentally fell in love with producing before I got to NBC News. There are so many different types of producing jobs and so many people who are behind the scenes. You don’t always have to be in front of the camera to make a difference.