Keeping the Powerful in Check: Q&A With Vicky Nguyen

Vicky Nguyen graduated as valedictorian from the University of San Francisco in 2000 with a major in communications. Today, she is a member of the Investigative Unit at NBC Bay Area, where she won a National Emmy for Outstanding Regional News Story and two Edward R. Murrow awards. Staff writer Gabriel Greschler spoke with Nguyen about her illustrious journalist career and how she landed a reporting job in Orlando by carrying around a bag of VHS tapes. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.


Gabriel Greschler: Where did you grow up, what was your time like at USF, and how did you get interested in journalism?


Vicky Nguyen: I was born in Vietnam and my family came to the United States when I was about two. We lived in Eugene, Ore., where we were sponsored by a family. I went to high school [in Santa Rosa] as well, and then I went to USF for college. I actually started out as a biology major. I did three internships and I decided “you know, this may not be what I want to do for the rest of my life.”


I went to a conference in New York in 2000, and that’s where I met the general manager of Central Florida News 13 on the convention floor at the job fair. I was lugging around a bag of VHS tapes, and I met this guy on the convention floor and I told him I wanted to become a reporter. He was interested, but he said, “I don’t have a VCR.”


I used my ingenuity at that point and said, “I just passed the CBS booth and I saw a bunch of VCRs that were empty. Would you mind following me back to that. And I can play my tape for you?”


So I just remember walking towards the CBS booth hoping that nobody was there. He watched my tape for maybe 30 seconds, popped it out and said, “You know, I like your work.”


Three weeks later, I packed all my stuff and I was driving my car cross-country to get into a little apartment complex in Orlando.


GG: What is it like at your current job with the NBC Investigative team?


VN: I think investigative journalism to me is the highest calling of what we do as a public service. I love my many years covering general assignment news. And that’s what built my foundation for knowing how to cover a wide variety of topics. But with investigative [journalism], you have this opportunity to look for stories that hold people accountable and that prompt meaningful change. And there is really nothing more rewarding than that. To know that you have changed a policy for the better or that you helped a family or that you provided a voice to people who were previously marginalized. It gives you such a sense of pride in what you do.


GG: Could you tell me some of your most exciting projects that you’ve worked on?


VN: From a monetary standpoint, Sysco [a food service distribution network] was certainly one of the biggest stories we covered because it resulted in a $20 million landmark settlement with the state of California. They were putting public health at risk by storing perishable food outdoor on the floor inside of storage sheds where you would keep your old furniture or things that you don’t want in your house. It was a long-standing open secret in the food service industry that this was happening. But it was absolutely illegal and improper.


GG: As an investigative journalist, you’re going to get some pushback from institutions or people. Are there any memorable moments?


VN: All the time. We call them the gatekeepers. They are people who actively try to prevent you from getting information from public agencies. There are obviously people who are upset about the stories that we’re doing. I mean, the mother of the girlfriend who was just recently arrested and charged with felony child abuse pushed me into the street because she was so upset that we were there to question her daughter. Her husband tried to push the cameraman into the street. We don’t take it personally and we try to be as professional as we can, but it’s almost like the more that people obstruct, the more you wonder what they’re trying to hide. So often what they do has an opposite effect on us.


GG: Do you plan on staying in the investigative unit?


VN: Yes. I actually have been an investigative reporter for five years. I have enjoyed it and I’ve learned so much and I feel like there are still many more stories to tell and information to uncover.


Follow @VickyNguyenTV on Twitter to read her investigative stories and learn more about the Investigative Unit at NBC Bay Area.


Featured Photo: USF Alumna Vicky Nguyen is the Senior Investigative Journalist at NBC. Courtesy of Vicky Nguyen.


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