News Anchor Alex Cohen on Working at an Atypical Local TV News Network

Unlike a vast majority of local television news programming, Spectrum News steers away from the car chases, armed robberies and other sensationalized stories.
June 2, 2022
Photo courtesy Alex Cohen

Spectrum News One is not a typical television news network. It’s a relative newcomer to the daily cable news scene in Southern California, having only launched in November of 2018. 

Unlike a vast majority of local television news programming, Spectrum News steers away from the car chases, armed robberies and other sensationalized stories. When reporter Alex Cohen was offered the chance to be the first anchor of their nighty show, “Inside the Issues,” she thought of Spectrum News as a “unicorn” in the business.

“I was like, what you’re describing couldn’t possibly exist — a place that was television news, but wasn’t going to do car crashes, wasn’t going to do ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’” Cohen told the Journal. “It was dedicated to bringing uplifting stories and was hyper-locally focused. And they kept saying, ‘We really believe in this, we feel like there’s a market for this. And if you build it, they will come.’” 

Cohen reports on politics on “Inside the Issues,” which feels like a hyperlocal version of “Meet the Press.” She’s not one for antagonizing politicians or fishing for “gotcha” sound bites. She reports with a curiosity and integrity that eludes so many contemporary political “discourse” shows. 

“One of my favorite experiences was having the chance to talk with Dr. Anthony Fauci during the height of the COVID pandemic,” Cohen said. “It was a deep honor to be able to ask questions on behalf of our audience to one of the most respected voices of medicine in the nation.”

Spectrum News allots more time for human interest stories than other local broadcasts, often reporting on lesser-known people throughout LA. doing generous deeds or overcoming hardship. “Some of my most memorable conversations have been with people who are sharing stories from their heart,” Cohen said. “One such interview was when I traveled to the home of the Orfanos family, whose son was killed during the mass shooting at the Borderline Grill. Despite all that they had just endured, they opened their home to me, shared their pain and their memories and we even managed to have some laughs together. I will always be deeply moved by their dignity and humanity.”

Cohen said that Spectrum’s general attitude towards news is “The world is hard enough, let’s be kind and good to each other.” It’s a supportive workplace that produces character-driven news, rather than quick stories with little depth. 

“I say Spectrum is kind of like the public radio version of television, because I think it respects the intelligence of the viewer,” Cohen said. 

Cohen’s earliest news memories were watching Walter Cronkite on TV at home in the San Fernando Valley. Her parents were both raised in Conservative Jewish households, but raised their family with what Cohen calls “a more eclectic religious upbringing.” Although these days she identifies as “Jew-ish,” Cohen sees a straight line between the fundamentals of Judaism and her outlook as a journalist.

“I think that the basic tenets of Judaism about how you approach the world and do right in the world, I think that’s what journalism is all about.” – Alex Cohen

“I think that the basic tenets of Judaism about how you approach the world and do right in the world, I think that’s what journalism is all about,” Cohen said. “So in that way, I kind of look at that as my ‘practice,’ for lack of a better word.” 

Although she has been a nightly fixture for Southern California viewers for over three years, she’s a newcomer to reporting the news in front of the camera. At the time of her hiring, Cohen had been working in public radio for nearly two decades. 

Her first news awakening came when she started listening to NPR in college at Brown University. But the most impactful news moments for her came in the years soon after graduating. She had been living in Portland, Oregon in January 1994 when the Northridge earthquake struck. Her family was still living in Studio City and their home sustained some damage. Cohen felt more than ever how important news was in helping and connecting local communities.

The next watershed moment in Cohen’s pivot to a news career happened when she was teaching English in Japan in October of 1995. People in the United States were glued to their TVs and radios, awaiting the conclusion of the O.J. Simpson trial.

“Being cut off from the news as the O.J. verdict was happening and being in this tiny little village in Japan, and definitely being so far away from Los Angeles while these major news events were happening, I was like, ‘Oh my God, all this stuff is happening and I don’t know what’s going on.’” 

It was now clear: Cohen had to go into the news business. 

“I wanted to help people in whatever way that I could and I always wanted to be learning,” she said. “I never wanted to just feel like, ‘Okay, I have this job and now this is the one thing that I do.’ I feel that way to this day.”

After completing a master’s degree in journalism at UC-Berkeley, Cohen worked at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. before moving back to the Bay Area. In 2003, Cohen moved back to LA and experienced what she refers to as her “Armageddon year.” There were non-stop wildfires statewide, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory in the gubernatorial recall election — all of which Cohen covered for radio. 

During this time, she discovered the sport of roller derby, joining a league called the L.A. Derby Dolls. Cohen’s name on the team was Axles of Evil. She retired in 2008 and wrote a book about the experience titled, “Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby.”

Between roller derby seasons, Cohen got her first guest-hosting gig at American Public Media. She went on to host “All Things Considered” and “Take Two” at KPCC, as well as “Day to Day,” the first NPR program to be based out of California.

Three months before her first interview with Spectrum, Cohen gave birth to her second child. She didn’t have childcare that day, so she brought her three-month-old son to the interview. She immediately liked the leadership and accepted the offer to do her first on-camera hosting job.

She was given the position of anchor and host of the nightly show, “Inside the Issues.” Cohen would have conversations with many prominent figures in California policymaking, eventually interviewing almost every U.S. House Member from LA. 

Only 16 months after becoming a primetime face on Spectrum News, the pandemic hit. Cohen would have to report to a nightly audience from her home in Atwater Village, with her husband and two children around. 

“I feel most comfortable in the studio,” she said. “That’s always where I’m happiest. One of the things that was hardest about the pandemic in doing the show from my house is that I had no crew and I was running the prompter and running lights and doing everything by myself.” 

Although she was doing exciting things, like conducting remote interviews with Dr. Anthony Fauci from her garage, Cohen found anchoring television from her home to be both depressing and isolating. These days, she’s grateful to be back in the studio, having face-to-face pitch meetings and assistance with the production process. 

“[The Spectrum News leadership] places an incredible amount of trust in me to explore the ideas and the issues that I’m passionate about and that I feel like people don’t necessarily see elsewhere,” she said. “That’s just a real blessing as a journalist to be able to do that. It’s just a privilege that I get paid to know what’s happening and help people understand it.”

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