not DUNN yet
WORDS Christina Wise PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
Arriving at KATU Channel 2 News Station, I was buzzed into what is a secure compound encompassing an entire Portland block in Northeast. When I came through the door, I was welcomed by a gracious host surrounded by monitors that show any comings and goings. She announced my arrival and Steve Dunn, TV Anchorman came out to greet me.
Sitting and chatting with him before our interview was like being with a long-time friend. “How are things with you Christina… thank you for doing this, this is very exciting”. He has a genuine way of making you feel like you are the important one.
His co-anchor Debora Knapp walked by as we are visiting, acknowledging her with a funny little quip. You can feel the great pride he has for his surroundings and love for his colleagues as he walks me through the newsroom greeting everyone he encounters, leading me to the fishbowl where the interview begins.
The large conference room looks out to a huge open space where his colleagues collaborate. He casually sat across from me, comfortably awaiting our interview.
Your professional career started in Michigan. What sparked your interest in broadcasting?
I grew up in Michigan, in what is now a suburb of Detroit. I was probably around 10 years old when I knew I wanted to be in broadcasting. My parents bought me a tape recorder and I would interview anybody in the neighborhood whether they wanted me to or not. I would interview the family dog – got little reaction – but that tape recorder definitely changed my life.
Who were your influencers? Ten years old is quite a young age to know your passions.
As a young boy I would watch the Detroit TV station WXYZ. There was an anchorman there by the name of Bill Bonds who was very charismatic. I thought, “Wow, he gets to know what’s going on before anybody else – how fascinating is that?” I would read the newspaper into the tape recorder that my parents got me, trying to get his voice down. I’d go into the bathroom and kneel down, read the newspaper and then look up to make eye contact. I had no idea they had teleprompters back then. I just assumed you had to memorize all that stuff. I’d memorize a paragraph and then I’d look in the mirror. It wasn’t until years later when I interned for Bill Bonds that I saw that they had teleprompters. I said to myself, “You’ve got be kidding me, this is so much easier!”
There are those that talk about “fake news.” How do you look at news responsibly in terms of “real news” and getting the correct message out there to the viewer?
We run into this all the time. These people (pointing out to his colleagues), they know in the newsroom that we must be unbiased. It doesn’t matter how we may feel about a topic, when I go on the air at night, I don’t want anybody to know how I feel about it. When we report on television, whether we’ve had anything to do with putting it together or not, we are the first point of contact, the source of information. K2 is very supportive of our decisions as to what we report. If they forced me to read a story a certain way, I absolutely would not do it. Because I’m the one that has-to live with it. I keep it as honest as I can, that’s what I do.
Even with your own political beliefs?
Absolutely! When I watch other networks and I see them taking a side, which many have done now, I think, “That’s not journalism, that’s picking a side.” We stress in this newsroom every day that we don’t pick a side, we just tell the story and let the folks at home decide where they stand. And it’s challenging sometimes because I have beliefs and feelings like everybody else, but I also know that’s not my job. My job is to deliver it right down the middle.
You are actively involved with many charities here in Portland, such as loaves and fishes, Northwest Medical Teams, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters to name a few. What charity is your current focus?
I’m heavily involved in the Children’s Center; they take abused children out of homes and they are placed with an intermediary until there is a permanent home for them. I’m also actively involved with Meals on Wheels. Those two are my main focuses right now, but if someone calls and asks for my involvement and I’m available, chances are I would be there to help.
If you could have had any other profession that interests you, what would that have been?
Well, that’s funny because there was a point in college where I decided I was going to be a dentist, because I was talking to my dentist one day and he said, “You know Steve, there’s not too many years down the road until I’m going to be retiring. I’m going to need somebody to jump in here. I only work three days a week now and I play golf the rest of the time.” I’m thinking that sounds like a pretty good life to me. For a short period of time in college I started taking some pre-dental courses, but I could NOT get though chemistry. No matter how much I studied, I could not get through it! To me, that was a sign, so I switched back to broadcasting.
What does a day in the life of Steve Dunn look like?
It all depends. I do the 11pm news at night so I probably leave here at about 11:40pm. I’m home by midnight-ish, but I can’t go to bed right away, so I’m usually up until about 1:30-2:00am. I try to get seven hours of sleep, and then I’m up and getting stuff done.
What about family?
I have a seven-year-old son. Of course, he’s in school now, but I do as much as I can with him during the week. He’s in baseball now, and basketball, so on the weekends it’s all about him, all day long. That is my life!
As a journalist, I know you have a sense of responsibility to your viewers. You’re human, trying to deliver the message. I’m sure there are things that weigh heavy on you…how are you able to separate your own emotions?
I try to think in my mind, “It’s my responsibility to get the message out to everyone at home, so I’ve got to stay calm, cool, and collected.” Over the years I think you train yourself to stay calm. In the beginning, when I started my broadcasting career, it was tough for me because I hadn’t trained myself to do that. I remember one time there was an accident involving some teenagers that had been killed. I remember thinking, “This is going to be tough, there are parents at home that are now dealing with this, their whole life is changed.” These were high school kids. It’s very difficult for those families involved, but the longer I stayed in the business, I realized that it’s my responsibility to just be the calm voice. Then when I get home, or I’m driving home after a broadcast and I’m thinking about what happened, then I can get emotional. But while you’re on the air, you can’t.
Everyone is curious about your love life as a local celebrity and most eligible bachelor. Are you on dating sites, do you get fan mail, or do you trust your friends to set you up on dates?
I trust my friends. I trust my own gut too, I really do. I don’t get on dating sites at all. I don’t think that’s a good place for me to be. I think that you go through life and you just meet people and it seems to all work out.
Viewers see you daily and feel that they know you. How do you respond to them when approached?
I take it as a compliment when someone comes up and says something. It’s an honor when they are being nice. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I like finding out who they are, what they do for a living, how long they’ve lived in Portland, we usually strike up a nice conversation. A lot of times it’s a good chance to meet people that you wouldn’t normally meet. I can count on one hand in the 33 years I’ve been here where someone may have been disrespectful.
As an award- winning Journalist, anchor and broadcaster, you could choose to be at any top network. Why Portland, why KATU?
You know it’s funny, when I came here 33 years ago, I said to myself, “I’m staying here for three years and then I’m getting the heck out.” I think Portland is a tough place to leave because it is such a great community, the people are so great, and you’re so close to the ocean and the mountains. It’s also relatively easy to get around, and so when I start looking at other options I’m thinking, “Do I want to live in Los Angeles? Do I want to live in New York? Do I want to live in Chicago? I really don’t!” So, it comes down to livability to me. And especially now that I do have a 7-year-old son, I’m here. I’m not taking him away from here. This is where he has friends and family and I have roots.
There are so many ways to relay information to the viewer through news organizations, internet and other social media platforms. Do you utilize Twitter and Facebook to stay relevant?
It’s a huge priority now to get the word out through social media. Every day we get an email from one of our producers who write, “Digital First.” We need to get is out to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. And I do that on a regular basis. For example, we have Mayor Ted Wheeler coming on our political show next week. So, the question I will put out on my Facebook is, “What are your questions for Mayor Wheeler? Let me know and I’ll ask him.” It usually lights up…people respond immediately. We know that there are folks that don’t watch television as much as they used to, so sometimes if they see something come across Facebook, like Mayor Wheeler is going to be on, they may tune in.
Using your nonpartisan brain, what would be the difficult question that you would ask Mayor Wheeler? A question that needs to be asked?
The question I am going to ask him is, “There are people that feel that this city is falling apart because of the homeless issue, with tents on every street corner now. How much of that is your responsibility?” No doubt, he has said before, his number one priority is homelessness.
What would you do about the homeless situation if you were Mayor Steve Dunn?
I think I would have a taskforce of people who would go around to the folks who were living in tents and ask them, “What can we do for you?” Would they want to move into housing? Because some of these folks do not. We’ve learned over the years, for whatever reason, some don’t want to be moved into housing, but a lot of them do. “Can we help you do this?” Can we help with assistance, or food, just to make things a little better for these people who are out there? Clearly, they are suffering, and some are falling right through the cracks. I believe asking, “How can we make life better for you?” will make our city better. We may find folks that do want to improve their living environment, and we should help guide them in the right direction. I don’t know if that is being done.
It’s extraordinary that you have been with the same station for over 30 years. Is Steve Dunn DONE, or do you have another 20 years left in you?
I will be here as long as they’ll have me, and that’s the truth. I love what I do every day and wouldn’t know what to do without this. K2 has been fantastic to me and we have a great relationship. We know each other well now after all these years. We are family. If I retired, I’d still be curious about what’s going on in the news world. As long as they will let me continue, I will. If it’s five more years, great. If it’s ten more years, great. If it’s 20, you’ll still be seeing me.