From radio to the screen: How Atwater Village resident Alex Cohen became a TV news anchor

“What I try to keep in mind is that I am grateful to have a job where I can set an example for my children about what’s important in the world”

Alex+Cohen+with+Mayor+Garcetti+-+Courtesy+of+Alex+Cohen

Alex Cohen with Mayor Garcetti – Courtesy of Alex Cohen

By Mia Alva, Community News Reporter

Twenty-year public radio veteran Alex Cohen is known for her interviewing skills and political knowledge.

She never expected those skills to catch the attention of a local television outlet and launch her TV news career.

“She was a big radio national for NPR,” said Jeffrey Shore, the programming director of Spectrum News. “I started listening and then, almost immediately, I thought, ‘Wow, this person is intelligent, she knows politics, and she’s a great interviewer.’”

That’s how Cohen, a longtime Atwater Village resident, became the next face of “Inside the Issues.”

It has been a surreal transition for Cohen.

“It reminds me of that moment in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where it goes from black and white to technicolor. That’s what it’s been like going into television,” she said.

Headshot of Alex Cohen – Courtesy of Alex Cohen

Figuring out how to earn a living

Cohen graduated college with a degree in religious studies, only to realize her expertise would not allow her to earn a living. That’s not unusual, a 2014 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27 percent of college graduates work in the field related to their major. Experts say finding a job in your major can be even harder during an economic downturn.

Cohen’s solution was to start traveling, hoping to learn more about the world and discover her true calling.

It worked. When she was living in Japan teaching English, it dawned on her.

“I missed being at home and how disconnected I felt from the news of the world and that kind of made me realize that maybe journalism was the right direction for me to go in,” Cohen said. 

She knew journalism as a profession would allow her to constantly learn about new things and that one day would never be the same as another: “I really liked that it was a profession where you could give back to the community by educating them about what is happening in their world and exposing them to different things.”

So, she applied to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and was accepted, launching her public radio career soon after.

Settling in Atwater Village

About 14 years ago, Cohen moved to Atwater Village because of its neighborhood feel and urban amenities.

“The fact that I could have simultaneously that kind of quintessential ‘small-town USA’ experience where the kids play together on the weekend and the neighborhood [in] which everybody knows each other by name, but with all the things that you could only get in a big world-class city like L.A., it’s just a really amazing thing to have all at once,” Cohen said.

She added that Atwater Village has been fortunate to dodge the overnight changes that have happened in other parts of the city: “That evolution has happened over a gradual period of time so that everybody’s been able to kind of acclimate and grow with it.”

Covering politics, delving deeper

Though Cohen enjoys covering a range of stories, she has a special place in heart for politics because it is at the “root of everything.” 

Many people see politics as two sides yelling at each other.

“I like to think of the more kind of positive, holistic way of thinking about politics where it’s really about trying to change the world to make it better for as many people as humanly possible,” added Cohen.

Her approach is partly what drew Shore to consider Cohen for the job.

“She really keeps up on the news and so she knows what’s going on. She’s very social media aware, and she understands that phenomenon and she understands politics, which was needed since it was a political show,” he said, adding that she has accomplished a lot since she was hired. “She has been able to become the face of local politics coverage in the local market…And I think that there was a void in that, but a lot of people are into it now. She’s been getting very popular for that reason and because people trust her.”

Cohen sees Spectrum News as “the NPR of television today.” She sees the commitment the news outlet has made to quality storytelling. She said she also enjoys the local aspect and that she can go in-depth with stories rather than just banging out ultra-quick segments. 

“I think that means a lot to people, seeing their own communities reflected on that screen. It is a really powerful thing, especially right now,” Cohen said, adding that she enjoys the feedback she receives as someone who is now often recognized and greeted when she’s out in the community — something that didn’t happen as much when wasn’t on screen.

“You get to hear firsthand what really sticks with people the most and that’s really helpful for us as we think about our programming,” she said.

Learning, growing during the pandemic

During the pandemic, a studio was built at Cohen’s house to keep the show going.

“I think it was only tough on her because she lost childcare due to the pandemic so she had to do this television show at home with two little ones around,” Shore said, adding that she didn’t “miss a beat” thanks to her passion for the job and her work ethic.

Cohen found herself wearing a blazer and ready to air seven hours at a time — with pajama bottoms on and “bouncing my two-year-old on my knee.”

“What I try to keep in mind is that I am grateful to have a job where I can set an example for my children about what’s important in the world,” Cohe said. She is able to sit down at the end of the day with her family to talk about what’s happening in the world.

She said the pandemic is a prime example: “When did any of us know as much as we do now [about science and medicine]? It is literally a life or death situation for so many people.”

A version of this story was cross-published in the Eastsider LA. UT Community News, produced by Cal State L.A. journalism students, covers public issues on the Eastside and South L.A.