Incoming Law Student Gained Insights on Justice as TV News Reporter
Television viewers in Louisville, Kentucky, will be losing a familiar face. Reporter and news anchor Dennis Ting, who regularly shares stories of criminal justice — and injustice — for the ABC affiliate there, is stepping down.
Ting is unclipping his microphone to join the incoming class at the University of Virginia School of Law, which begins study Aug. 18.
A native Texan raised near Rockville, Maryland, who graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland, he said his pursuit of law might not have happened if he had stuck with his early interest in writing about sports. An influential professor suggested he give on-air reporting a try. He began his TV career in 2015, often covering the police and courts beat among other topics.
“I think going in, being raised in a pretty privileged middle-class household, we didn’t get a lot of exposure to the criminal justice system,” Ting said. But reporting “opened my eyes to how it works.”
The system is complicated, yet has to be broken down into sound bites for TV viewers, and he has worked hard to explain events and issues within the constraints of the format, he said.
“When I was starting to think about going to law school, I thought [criminal justice] was an area where I might make a small difference,” he explained — though he said is keeping an open mind as to the type of law he will practice.
“I’m pretty open to everything right now, but being in court is definitely something that interests me. I’ve spent quite a few hours sitting in the courtroom.”
At UVA Law, students learn from the nation’s leading criminal law faculty through its Center for Criminal Justice, and the school offers a spectrum of courses and hands-on experience through six clinics.
Ting’s first job as a broadcast journalist was in Evansville, Indiana. Landing work in television news is a highly competitive process. Ting said he sent out about 100 applications before he was interviewed for and offered the general assignment position.
His new boss congratulated him. He was the first Asian American TV reporter in the market.
“While there, Dennis covered a wide range of issues, including Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 2016 election cycle and stories about puppies, because who doesn’t love puppies?” his reporting bio states.
Having grown up in the more diverse Montgomery County, Maryland, Ting said some of the residents were surprised when he would arrive to report. The novelty of his presence meant he found himself confronted with cultural stereotypes at times. Some viewers asked him if he celebrated the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.
Since then, he has served as an anchor, in Indiana, and managed news staff at both jobs. He has continued to cover breaking news.
In his application to UVA Law, Ting told the story of a man named “Wayne,” whom he had interviewed at the scene of a fire. The man had lost his family and his home due to an arsonist, who threw a lit paper towel roll into their apartment building. Ting and others gave the man comfort. Later, Ting conducted an interview.
“I asked him a question I had asked many times before, ‘What does justice look like to you?’” Ting wrote. “Most people would tell me their wish to see the perpetrator thrown in jail, but Wayne said, ‘I don’t know. What does justice look like?’”
Ting said he has watched the nature of reporting shift during his time on television. In previous years, a reporter might have waited for a statement from police to cast events in a more official light. These days, with the immediacy of video from bystander smartphone cameras, viewers are making determinations for themselves.
“Especially over the last year and half, news organizations and journalists have taken a more skeptical view of things,” Ting said, referencing the video-documented murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.
Though he will no longer be doing any reporting, at least for the foreseeable future, Ting intends to continue sharing people’s stories as an advocate.
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