I have been following Peter Alexander’s career for years and with my own hometown pride, have watched this talented Oakland native interview leaders, be on the front line of history, and report with empathy and integrity. He is a national correspondent for NBC News and regularly appears on TODAY, Nightly News, and MSNBC. So I was incredibly honored to speak with Peter last week from Washington, DC, and learn about his life as one of our country’s top journalists, his glory days playing baseball as a kid at local Hampton Field, and what Oakland means to him.
Peter has reported from Afghanistan, is an Emmy-award winner, and has personally been on the receiving end of a Trump-rant (link to video below) by then presidential-candidate, Donald J. Trump, when asked how parents should explain Trump’s use of language to their children. For me, even more admirable than his reaction to that incident and his accomplished career, is his commitment to using his public platform to raise awareness for the 10 million Americans affected by retinal degenerative diseases (see him take the How Eye See It Challenge below by having a meal while blindfolded), and the support of his sister, Rebecca, who was born with a rare genetic disorder that has simultaneously made her vision and hearing disappear since she was a teenager. Keep reading to see what would surprise people about working and reporting from the White House, what he needs everyday to be the father he wants to be, and how being from Oakland has impacted his career. Plus!…What is the dream job he wants here in the East Bay? Enjoy…
Celine/24 East: What is a typical day like for you?
Peter Alexander: Most days actually start the night before, reporting and scripting my piece for TODAY. Sometimes that means recording my audio from home as late as midnight. On days I’m reporting from the White House, I like to get there by 6:15 a.m., in time to exchange last-minute texts or emails with sources before the broadcast. I try to read in on the day’s news by 8:15 a.m., which is reserved for the most important appointment on my daily calendar: Face Time with my daughters. If I’m working on a piece for NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, the afternoon is crunch time. And, just as soon as Nightly News is off the air, the machine revs up again preparing for the next morning.
24E: What would surprise people about reporting from the White House?
PA: How rarely you actually see the president even though the Oval Office is, maybe, 100 steps away. And, the fact that our White House workspace – in which we sometimes cram four or five people at a time — is roughly the size of your guest bathroom.
24E: What main changes have you seen in broadcast news in the past couple years?
PA: Cable-ization has dramatically accelerated the news cycle. Stories rarely develop over days. They explode one minute and fizzle the next, often overshadowed by the next big headline. The challenge covering the incoming administration will be to avoid chasing the “shiny object” – the latest tweet, the last celebrity guest to enter Trump Tower – and focus on issues that are most likely to affect Americans’ lives.
24E: How does social media impact your work?
PA: Social media has created unique challenges for journalists covering politics. It has given politicians a direct line to their desired audience, circumventing reporters from the process.
24E: What part of your job makes you your happiest?
PA: Meeting inspiring people and being trusted to share their stories.
24E: What would be your alternate career?
PA: Growing up with the Bash Brothers and Walt Weiss on my wall, I dreamed of suiting up in an A’s jersey, but clearly that ship has sailed. It’s not exactly an alternate career, but I still dream of moving back to the Bay and joining the KTVU news team. Mark Ibanez was my first mentor – way back in 1991 — and I’ve dreamed of tossing to him at the sports desk ever since.
24E: How do you handle disappointment?
PA: Like in any business, there are obviously professional frustrations. And, whenever they exist, I focus on playing with my daughters (Ava, 3 and Emma, 19 months). There’s no better therapy in the world.
24E: What is something you have always wanted to learn to do?
PA: Play the guitar and learn sign language. My sister has a cruel disorder, Usher Syndrome, type III, that’s causing her to go blind and deaf. (She got a cochlear implant a few years ago, which has improved her ability to hear). She learned to sign as her hearing worsened, and I’ve always found it to be a uniquely beautiful and powerful form of communication.
24E: When you walk into a cocktail party, what is your first instinct?
PA: Go for the shrimp.
24E: You are a father to two young children, with the additional busy-ness factor of them being close in age. What do you need on a daily basis to help you be the father you want to be?
PA: I need at least an hour a day to be present – no iPhone, no email, no TV. Just my undivided attention focused on my family.
24E: How has fatherhood changed and challenged you?
PA: It’s challenged me to put others before myself, and it’s offered me a much deeper appreciation of the consequences of the stories I cover. I genuinely believe fatherhood has made me a better reporter.
24E: Your sister says if she was a professional baseball player, the song to announce her at-bat would be Young MC’s Bust-A-Move. What would be your at-bat song, and what is the only song you could sing to have a chance at beating Rebecca in a sing-off?
PA: Now we’re really talking hypotheticals. My body aches after a run these days, so this would clearly be the final at-bat of my career. I’d go with “Forever Young” by Jay-Z. As for a sing-off with Rebecca, you don’t want to hear that. In Crocker Highlands, we had the neighbor’s dogs howling for much of the 80s.
24E: Which dish from an Oakland restaurant do you miss the most by living on the East Coast?
PA: The Black and Tan. Fentons.
24E: How did growing up in Oakland impact your career?
PA: It introduced me to a diverse community of people from an early age and helped me form my own identity. I’m extremely proud to have grown up in Oakland.
24E: If you had one extra day per week to only do the things you love to do, what would you do on day 8?
PA: Get outside with my girls. Hike. Swim. Play tennis. Host a BBQ with friends at night.
Photos courtesy of NBC. Special thanks to Peter Alexander, Olivia Peterson, and NBC for this amazing opportunity.
To follow Peter, go here.
To watch Peter take the How Eye See It Challenge with his sister, Rebecca, on the TODAY Show, go here.
To watch Trump’s personal rant against Peter, go here.
To support the Foundation Fighting Blindness, go here.