When viewers tune into TV newscasts, the two main on-air talents are reporters and anchors. Reporters collect information and write stories, while anchors are the presenters or “faces” of newsrooms. Thus, the role is highly competitive, and reserved for those considered communication leaders, with likability a plus.
While it isn’t common for TV news anchors to be recent college graduates, two alumni of the College of Social Sciences Journalism program are living their dreams after only a handful of years from graduation. Dillon Ancheta, a Kauaʻi native, is co-anchor of Hawaiʻi News Now’s weekday noontime newscasts, and Nicole Tam, who grew up in Hawaiʻi Kai, is the weekend morning anchor at KCCI in Iowa.
Both are proud earners of Journalism bachelor’s degrees from the School of Communication and Information (SCI). Rising in student enrollment in recent years, the program teaches writing and reporting across platforms including print, broadcast and online media. Many classes are taught by working and former journalism professionals such as reporters, editors and photographers. Said SCI Chair Colin Moore, “Our faculty are preparing our students for the jobs and responsibilities of the next generation of the information society.”
When Dillon Ancheta was a young boy growing up on Kauaʻi, he remembers the exact moment that motivated him to become a journalist. The 11-year-old, who “inexplicably” loved watching the 5 o’clock news with his mother, witnessed Kim Gennaula’s last newscast on KGMB 9, as she prepared to leave the anchor desk for the private sector.
“They played a highlight reel of her career, and she signed off covered in lei, with tears streaming down,” said Ancheta, now 27. “I decided right then that I wanted a career just like hers, where the community could see all the highlights and historic moments of stories that I had covered. Since then, it’s been full speed ahead toward this blessing of a career.”
Even when Ancheta graduated from Kauaʻi High in 2014, he was certain that UH Mānoa was the best place to pursue his journalism degree. “I always knew that I wanted to work in local news, so why not stay and learn in Hawaiʻi and build the relationships early on,” he shared.
In December 2016, Ancheta was in his senior year at CSS, when the job of digital content producer opened up at Hawaiʻi News Now (HNN), where he was interning for college credit. At first, most of his work was off camera – generating content and articles for the HNN website and social media. Then, two years in, he pitched the idea of “What’s Happening Hawaiʻi?” – an Instagram “shortcast” that would recap top stories for HNN’s social media audience. “That suggestion turned out to be life-changing, as it gave me needed practice with my on-camera delivery and presence,” he said.
In January 2023, Ancheta was promoted to This Is Now co-anchor. His day starts at 8 a.m., when he works on content for the noontime newscast. After that, he writes for social media and livestreams press conferences, and sometimes reworks his reports for the evening news. His day usually ends at 4 p.m., which leaves him time to pursue his passion as a drag performer. “So, outside of work, I am prepping for the next (drag) show, booking gigs, and pulling together costumes and music,” he said. “So many in the LGBTQ+ community have told me they are inspired to see someone who can live authentically while still pursuing a career.”
While Ancheta says anchoring is an “amazing and huge responsibility in day-to-day operations,” he loves being out in the reporting field, telling people’s stories. He has covered the Merrie Monarch hula and cultural festival in Hilo, and will do so again in April. As for aspirational assignments, he hopes to one day cover the Shinnyo Lantern Floating ceremony from Ala Moana Beach, and the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest. His ultimate dream is to report live from his home island of Kauaʻi, because it would be a meaningful full circle moment.
Ancheta was born and raised in Lihue, but he considers Kapaʻa as his second hometown since he spent weekends at his grandparents’ house. “My grandpa actually helped put me through college by collecting cans and bottles, and recycling them. That money helped pay off my student loans,” said Ancheta. “I am so humbled and grateful for those who have supported me along the way.”
There are almost 4,000 miles between Hawaiʻi and Iowa, but Nicole Tam sees more affinities than differences between the two states. Tam, a UH Mānoa graduate who double-majored in Journalism and Chinese, with a minor in Geography and Environment, went from KITV4 reporter in the Land of Aloha to the first Asian anchor at her KCCI station in Iowa.
“The biggest similarity between Honolulu and Des Moines is how kind the people are,” said Tam, 25. “They call it ‘Iowa Nice’ and I’ve felt that – from Iowans who say hi at the grocery store to viewers online who share supportive emails and social media posts. That Midwest Aloha is real.”
Born in Hong Kong and growing up in Hawaiʻi Kai, Tam had wanted to be a journalist since the third grade. So taking the pathway from Kaiser High to the CSS Journalism program made perfect sense. “Every class made an impact on me in some way,” said Tam. “From media literacy with Ann Auman to media law with Gerald Kato, and capstone courses with Sherrie White, Bernadette Baraquio and Brett Oppegaard – I learned something from each one. I’m grateful to all my professors and happy that we’re still in touch.”
Tam is especially appreciative of Kevin Kawamoto, a Journalism affiliate faculty who encouraged her to apply for an internship at Hawaii Business magazine. Until 2018, Tam worked part-time at KITV4, the local ABC affiliate, as a digital content producer before becoming a full-time news reporter. She made a move to the continental U.S. in 2022.
“I wanted to grow as a journalist and experience a place that’s very different from Hawaiʻi – like somewhere with four seasons,” said Tam. “The Midwest looked interesting so I started looking into opportunities there. I came across (CBS affiliate) KCCI and was impressed by their journalists and award-winning newscasts. I’m so happy that I made the move!”
Tam started as a KCCI news reporter in March 2022, before being promoted to weekend morning anchor just nine months later. Starting January 8, her alarm clock goes off at 3 a.m., and she is on the air at 5 a.m. for two hours on Saturdays and three hours on Sundays. She also reports Wednesdays to Fridays on KCCI’s weekday morning shows. During her leisure hours, Tam likes to explore the restaurant scene and is cooking the island foods that she misses. “From poke to kalua pig to Spam musubi, it’s nice to create a taste of home when it’s freezing outside,” she said.
Tam is thrilled to be the station’s first Asian anchor, and also to be a CSS alumna success story. “I look forward to going to work every day, because this is an adventure and a privilege,” she said. “Journalism is not easy but, if you put in the time and work, it can be an extremely rewarding career. I am enjoying the journey.”