Get to know Where We Live’s new host Catherine Shen
On Monday, February 6, 2023, Where We Live officially welcomed Catherine Shen to the hosting seat of the show. Some of our listeners may be familiar with Catherine’s voice, having heard her guest host several episodes of Where We Live in the past two months or hearing her news reporting on Connecticut Public over the last two years.
Where We Live producer Tess Terrible sat down with Catherine to learn more about her background, how journalism became her professional calling and what she’s most excited about in this new role as host.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT BELOW.
Tess Terrible: This is Where We Live from Connecticut Public Radio, I'm Tess Terrible. In our last segment today, we're flipping the script to introduce Where We Live's new host Catherine Shen. Catherine joined Connecticut Public in 2021 as an education reporter, and during her tenure at Connecticut Public, she's explored the impact of the pandemic, including student mental health teacher shortages and the challenges in early education. She also moderated the second congressional district debate hosted by Connecticut Public leading up to the 2022 midterms. I've had the privilege to get to know Catherine these last few months as she gets ready to take on her role as host, to say the least the Where We Live team is incredibly excited to work with her. Catherine, welcome to Where We Live.
Catherine Shen: I want to start by saying this is very strange.
Tess Terrible: This is is very strange, flipping the script here. So maybe to start off to let our listeners kind of get to know you a little bit. Tell me about what your life growing up in California looked like, I know that's that's where your home state is. And when you first knew you wanted to become a journalist and work in this industry.
Catherine Shen: That is my home state, so I'm not gonna apologize if a little valley girl might come out every now and then. It was great growing up in California. And I mean, as I'm thinking about it, I can almost describe it like one of those early 2000s Disney movies that was very idyllic. We were in a very nice neighborhood where all the neighbors knew each other. And so I have memories of your typical playing baseball on the street and rolling down your driveway on a skateboard. I do have a little segue where that was the first seven years of my life. And my family actually moved to Taiwan when I was seven and I spent the next seven years there. So I basically had my elementary and middle school years there, came back as a high school student and spent my teenage years back in California. So California is sort of my life sandwich during that time. And it was actually around then that I knew I wanted to become a journalist. Although, it was when I was living in Taiwan, where my mom plant the seed in my head because, the wise woman as she is, I think she realized really early that math and sciences was not for me. And I have a very vivid memory of just the family, we have the news on and we were having dinner, and she just suddenly said to me, "You know, you can think about becoming an anchor." And at the time, there was no differentiation of an anchorperson or a reporter. But that was the moment. And so as kids you think about you want to be this, you want to be that at some point and wanted to get to detective and and optometrist, a teacher, like you name it, I want to do it. And then it was in high school where the idea cemented because I realized, well, I have all these interests, I want to do all these things. And to me, I thought, well, being a journalist can kind of allow me to do that. So that's the SparkNotes version of the origin story.
Tess Terrible: Thank you for sharing that. Talk more about about your journey of like finding your voice as a journalist, and now coming into this role as a talk show host.
Catherine Shen: While I'm still finding my voice, I think literally I did not expect to become a radio reporter when I came in in 2021. Although I did have training and broadcasting as a college student, but life never goes according to what you plan to do. And so I sort of accidentally became a newspaper reporter, which is not super surprising, if you consider one of my heroes was Lois Lane and still is. And, and actually, it was through it was through her that I learned it's okay to be yourself. Like the best way to be a journalist is to do it your way. And obviously, along the way, I also had really great colleagues and bosses that guided, you know, young Catherine as a reporter. Many thanks to them to help me find that voice. And, but to answer your question, I don't actually know what that voice is yet. So I'm excited to have you all with me on this voice journey to figure out what that is. Especially coming into this role as a talk show host which is also very unexpected in the best way. And so I'm excited to see what that looks like.
Tess Terrible: In the last few months you've kind of served as our interim host, and we've had a lot of conversations about what we want to do with Where We Live, and Where We Live I think our listeners know, is a very mission oriented show. The team is really committed to serving the people of Connecticut and always connecting our shows, our coverage, to you know, whether we're covering a national topic or a local one, back to the people in our state, and I'm wondering if you can talk about how you've kind of connected to that mission? Because as you've been onboarded, I've really seen that mission kind of shine through you.
Catherine Shen: Well, I'm really glad to hear you say that, because I love that mission. I think, me as a reporter, that's what I've always done. My reporter journey has always been very local or hyper local. So it's not different for me to, to me, you go both ways, right? When it's really local, you think about how does it impact everyone else? And when you have something big that's happening to everyone else, you try to figure out how does that impact you? So I think in a lot of ways, being reporter and being a host for Where We Live, to me, there's not really a huge difference. It's just the audience is different. The way you're consuming news is different. And how do we balance that. And so I really, I love that about Where We Live. I love the mission of localizing statewide, national news, international news and also on the flip side, we try to contextualize Connecticut, as we say. And I really believe that everything that happens in our world, it affects us in some way and I am super excited to figure that out with everyone.
Tess Terrible: I think a lot of people in, you know, especially outside our state, kind of view Connecticut as a bit of a monolith as like, not not as diverse as we actually are. And I find Connecticut to actually be a much more rich and diverse state, then then we realize and when we announced that you were going to be the new host, something you said in the presser was, "It's my privilege to be able to create opportunities for the diverse voices across our state." Can you talk a little bit about what highlighting these diverse voices looks like for you?
Catherine Shen: I really agree with that, considering I've only been in Connecticut for a handful of years. I must admit the only point of reference I had for Connecticut when I realized I was moving here was Gilmore Girls. So not the best example at all. So to your point, I think, I think, you know, I think every every living space has its reputation. And so oftentimes I find I've lived in so many places that had, you always have a preconceived notion of what the place should be. And usually when you go to the place, you realize that while some may be true, but I agree, it's most places are definitely a lot more diverse or much more richer than you are being led to believe. But we have to really dig in and explore that, which is what I love about this job as a reporter. I'm forced to go into places that I never would have gone as just like a quote, quote, regular person. And so I have used that as an opportunity for me to explore different places. And I've done that in pretty much all the places that I've lived and worked. And what I mean by what I said in the presser is, it is my privilege that people open them up, have opened themselves up to me and have these really in depth conversations. Or they're vulnerable in front of me. I never take those chances, or I never take those opportunities for granted because it's difficult to open up to people. And here we are doing it live on air. And so in the diverse voices for me, it's not just race, it's not just gender is not just a certain identity, it's it's different backgrounds, different places. And I think the word diversity is diverse in of itself. And so I'm very much looking forward to exploring that too. And sort of going beyond what we think diversity is and open up those conversations as wide as possible.
Tess Terrible: I'm looking forward to that as well. And and I have to ask, you know, you are a Asian American journalist, and you are working in a time when we are hearing more and more about hate crimes against Asian Americans. So I want to if you could, I'd love to hear from you. How your cultural identity shaped the work you do as a journalist?
Catherine Shen: So that's a that's a great question, because I am still wondering how that cultural identity shapes my work as a journalist and as a human being. I know, I do want to say that hate crimes against AAPI, the Asian American Pacific Islander community has been happening for for a very long time. I think it's a good and bad thing that we're hearing about it now. A good thing because conversations are finally happening of how to how do we deal with it, bad obviously, because it's still happening. And so like many Asian Americans, I think at the peak of the attacks during the pandemic, it really, I think a lot of us kind of went inside internally. We're trying to figure out, you know, what does it mean to be first generation, second generation, third generation API. But I did an interview when I was a reporter at the [New Britain] Herald with a very prominent local Black woman leadership, leadership person. Something she said really struck me. She said, she's "an African American first and a woman second," and what struck me was because I always thought of myself as the opposite. I saw myself as a woman first and then an Asian American. But when she said that, I realized, well, that's how I view myself. But when I'm outside, the world tends to like to remind me that I'm an Asian American. And so that really changed my outlook on this. And I don't have a direct answer in terms of what does that mean yet, because I still, I'm still trying to figure it out. But I'm hoping with my very specific experience, I'm only one Asian American with one very unique experience. I hope to use that to be more aware of when we're doing stories related to this, that we're not just telling stories of tragedy. I really want to emphasize that we're all still just human. You know, we, we laugh, we cry, we have joyful stories. It's not just immigrant stories. It's not just stories of tragedy. You know, we're tired, we get we get stressed. And you know, we just want to chill out on the couch and watch Netflix like we're really much more universal than we think. And I do see, we are getting there its just that we have a lot of homework to do.
Tess Terrible: And we certainly do. In the in the last few months, as you've served as our interim host on Where We Live, I want to ask you about some of the favorite conversations you've had on the show thus far.
Catherine Shen: That is the worst question ever.
Tess Terrible: I know. I know a lot of great ones so far. It's so exciting.
Catherine Shen: It is. I mean, in recent memory, I really loved the show, actually we did together, on holidays and gratitude. I think it was right before Christmas? That was great, because we brought in various perspectives and we had religion, we had like psychology, and it was that was really, really fun and really chased away the holiday blues for me, I think a little bit. I also really enjoyed the show that was produced by Anya Grondalski about Veganuary, just because that was another fun kind of different way of seeing diet and how we treat ourselves, and animals, and whatnots, and also how we view New Year's resolutions. I thought that was really cool. And then a recent show produced by Katie Pellico with Ru Paul's Drag Race was also really fun, just because. I know I'm choosing all the fun shows but I think it's it's fair to have a good time here and that was something really different. It was really cool to showcase drag queens from Connecticut, who knew?
Tess Terrible: Yes, we've certainly had a lot of fun in the last few months. And it's been really exciting to see our listeners get to know not just Catherine Shen as a journalist, but Catherine Shen as a person. So we put out a little promo video and something has been getting a lot of attention and that is your pink Converse. What's the story behind your pink Converse?
Catherine Shen: It's my secret ploy for Converse to come sponsor us, just kidding, but not really. I just really always loved wearing Converse. They're very comfortable and I started wearing them in high school. And I think it was sort of part of my very punk rock, rebellious identity --as all high school students have. Right? And so I think maybe it's a little bit of of an adult Catherine wanting to honor high school, Catherine when she realized she wanted to be a journalist. And it all kind of culminates to this moment.
Tess Terrible: I love it. And our listeners can't see this right now, obviously, but she's wearing Converse today.
Catherine Shen: Surprise!
Tess Terrible: I love it. When you're not behind the mic, what are some of your hobbies and your passions that you pursue when you're not working as a journalist?
Catherine Shen: This is gonna make me sound so boring, but I love reading. And, so chances are pretty high catching me around the state digging for library sales and I'm big second hand / vintage / used books. I think about 95% of the books I own are secondhand books. So you can find me doing that. Or I'm arranging my bookshelves or I'm taking pictures of books. I'm basically just doing everything to not actually read the books. And I've also recently been really into Chinese dramas. So that's also the reason why I'm not reading as much but yeah, that's what I do.
Tess Terrible: Love it. We have a lot of big readers on the team for Where We Live and I'm kind of projecting here, because this is true for me, but I'm wondering how you kind of connect your love of reading literature back to journalism?
Catherine Shen: I think at the end of the day, they're both doing very similar purposes, which is storytelling. And some of my favorite authors started out as journalists. And oftentimes, I never realized that until much later or as an adult. Like Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors. That did not happen until I was an adult. And he was a, he was a journalist as well and he wrote for the people. He saw what was happening around him. And I actually drew a lot of inspiration from him. And so to me, literature and journalism they're not the same thing but they have a common purpose, which is what I said earlier storytelling. And I think reading is also a great way to learn about things that you never knew. Fiction may not be literally real, but to me, they speak a lot of truth. And that's what we're here to do.
Tess Terrible: Love it. Catherine, are you excited?
Catherine Shen: Can you tell? I'm so excited!
Tess Terrible: We are so excited to have you. Catherine Shen, the new host of Where We Live, take us out.
Catherine Shen: I'm Catherine Shen. Today's show is produced by Tess Terrible. Our technical producer is Cat Pastor. Download Where We Live any time on your favorite podcast app. And as always, thank you so much for listening.
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