Journalist Spotlight: Liberty Zabala, NBC 7 San Diego

Full Name: Liberty Zabala
Title: Reporter
Organization: NBC 7 San Diego
Years in journalism: 10
Hometown: (Eagle Rock) Los Angeles, CA
Current Community: Hillcrest

1. Describe your current job in one sentence, being as specific as possible.

I’m a morning show reporter and a weekend multimedia journalist for NBC 7 San Diego.

2. Congratulations on your recent Emmy nomination! Any highlights of the evening to share?

Thank you! I loved learning from other journalists that night. They are some of the top reporters, producers and editors in our market. I listened to their advice and enjoyed watching some of the stories that were awarded. It was a great experience. I was truly honored to be nominated among such a talented group.

3. What initially piqued your interest about broadcast journalism? Where did the journey start?

My father was an accomplished newspaper reporter in the Philippines. In high school, while I was still figuring out what I wanted to be, I decided to try out my campus paper in my junior year of high school. I thought, “My dad is a newspaper reporter, why not try it out?” I’m glad I did. My first article printed, and I immediately fell in love with journalism.

Everything clicked. I started cranking out article after article. At times, half the school paper was articles written by me. I became the go-to staff writer for breaking news, and I became managing editor of the newspaper within a year of becoming staff. I knew then, that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then, in college, I transitioned to the TV side.

4. You’ve conducted several high-profile interviews, such as Rand Paul, Manny Pacquiao, Oprah. Who was the most interesting?

I would say the most interesting person to me was Manny Pacquiao because I saw a lot of similarities between him and me. He is also Filipino. He is extremely hard-working. He is also a devout Catholic. He came from poverty. What struck me was his humility and his passion for serving others, God and his country.

5. In your opinion, what’s been the most influential/important story you’ve ever covered on a local level?

The most important story I have covered on a local level was the Central American immigration crisis when thousands of unaccompanied minors were turning themselves into agents along the U.S.-Mexico border to escape poverty and violence in their home countries. I witnessed protesters block buses (carrying these women and children) from entering a Border Patrol facility and covered it live. One of the greatest parts of this job is having a front row seat to history.

6. What are some day to day tasks you enjoy at NBC?

I am a morning show reporter three days a week. On that shift I cover live, breaking news from 4:30 a.m. -11 a.m. I usually go live about six times a day on the morning show. Then on the weekends, I work as a multimedia journalist for the 6 p.m. newscast. I write, shoot, edit, report, and post to social media on a daily basis.

7. What’s the best advice you’ve been given about collecting stories and conducting interviews?

Aim for the heart. News is about people. People are the news. Never lose your humanity. Connect, connect, connect. The most powerful story is often in the least powerful person.

8. Early on in your career, did you come across challenges in shaping stories to appeal to a broad audience?

Early in my career, it was difficult being an MMJ (multimedia journalist). In my first market, I had to write, shoot, edit, and report enterprise stories – usually two different packages – that day. Then I would have to set up my own live shots using a LiveU backpack. It was very stressful singlehandedly shaping stories with that many responsibilities and then having to broaden a story for a larger audience. Sometimes, you barely had time to slap something together then get it on air, but the experience definitely taught me how to be a stronger reporter. I learned how to manage my time and be selective and disciplined in my work.

9. How are you involved in the San Diego community?

I currently serve as president for the San Diego chapter of Asian American Journalists Association. We help students, aspiring journalists and working professionals advance their careers in radio, TV, print and digital news. I also volunteer regularly at the San Diego Rescue Mission where I help serve dinner for homeless clients. I recently became a Disaster Services volunteer for the American Red Cross. I also love emceeing, moderating and volunteering for local events hosted by the local Filipino-American community. Giving back is very important to me. It keeps me grounded and focused. I have a passion for helping others and learning new things along the way. It makes me a better person.

10. What do you do outside of work (hobbies, favorite places to eat, family)? Passions outside of work?

I am a fitness freak! I work out at least three times a week doing a mixture of Insanity/High Intensity Interval Training, Kettle Bell weight training, cardio and most recently kickboxing. I try to live a healthy lifestyle. I love challenging my body and mind to see how far I can go.

11. What advice can you give PR pros who are looking to pitch to you?

Don’t send your pitch like a commercial. Pitch it as a story. Our goal in news is to serve the viewer, so ask yourself, how does your client’s product/company serve the public? Does your service or company fix or impact a broader problem or trend? Is there a character or person who has benefited from the product or company’s service? If so, that could be someone a reporter might want to interview or tell a story through. Having these elements ready could help increase your chances of getting news coverage.