News and Events
Bringing Truth and Light to Local News: KABC Reporter and GPC Alumnus Henry Alfaro
By Jovie Baclayon
Everywhere he goes in Los Angeles, people recognize Pepperdine alumnus Henry Alfaro. Some wave or speak to him like an old friend, while others stumble over their words and marvel about being in the presence of a celebrity. Alfaro, who graduated from George Pepperdine College in 1957, is honored by the recognition. “Sometimes, I’m out in the middle of no where and a young man or woman will come over and say ‘Thank you. You influenced my life. You urged me to stay in school, go to college and make something of myself,’” says Alfaro who retired in May 2005 after thirty-five years as a news reporter for KABC Channel 7’s Eyewitness News. “I feel privileged that through my work, I’ve been able to touch lives and that’s very important to me.”
Alfaro, who turns 71 in November, is proud to have covered what many consider Los Angeles’ finest moment, the 1984 Olympic Games, and the city’s worst moment, the 1992 riots. Throughout his career, he helped people in communities obtain adequate streetlights, new sewage systems, and have sidewalks and streets paved. His stories highlighted the achievements of Los Angeles’ Latino community and paid tribute to inspirational high school students. Throughout his career, Alfaro received numerous honors including five Golden Mike Awards, six Emmys and a Peabody Award nomination. In 1995, he was named Pepperdine’s Alumnus of the Year.
The key to his success can be summed up in one word: Tenacity. “There are times when you just have to be a bulldog,” explains Alfaro. “You have to get the story, go after the truth and not settle for anything less than what you believe is right. You have to be smart in that respect, and believe that you’re right and unbeatable.” He also believes successful journalists must know not only when to be aggressive, but when to be compassionate or courageous.
His thick-skinned, unbreakable character can be attributed to growing up in what he calls “the school of hard knocks.” Born and raised in the Lincoln Heights area, a few miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles, teenagers from his neighborhood rarely attended college unless they received athletic scholarships. Alfaro came to George Pepperdine College with scholarships for journalism and football, but gave up playing sports since he had to work full-time because his parents couldn’t afford the tuition. He met his wife, Carol, who was also a student at Pepperdine, and married during his senior year. They have a son, David, and two daughters, Julie and Nancy.
For three years, Alfaro worked as a financial reporter for the old newspaper the Los Angeles Examiner and went on to a successful career in public relations. But in 1970, he received the call that changed his life. “A friend told me that ABC Channel 7 was looking for a Mexican-American reporter,” he says. “It was the first time in my life that anyone had called me because of my nationality, so I had my reservations. But I liked the news director there and realized that it was far more than just reporting -- I was representing an entire community of my people -- so I jumped in.”
Alfaro quickly found that his heritage allowed him to have unparalleled influence at the time. “I never thought of myself as a minority because I was always very confident in my abilities and myself,” he explains. “But knowing some of the things that the community is lacking, I immediately began having an impact. Being fluent in English and Spanish just opened up the doors for me, and people started calling me to ask for my help.” Within a few months, Alfaro won his first Golden Mike Award.
Recognizing the needs of Los Angeles’ Spanish-speaking population led Alfaro to propose the creation of a half-hour news program to highlight the positive stories within the Latino community. “Vista L.A. is an award-winning program that exposes, educates, and informs the public about the good things going on within this community, and the people making tremendous contributions,” says Alfaro. He is equally proud of his weekly news segment titled “Cool Kids,” which recognizes inspirational high school students for making a difference in their communities. Each student also receives a $1,000 savings bond.
In his retirement, Alfaro is enjoying practicing his golf game, meeting up with old friends, and spending time with his eight grandchildren, but he is considering offers to be a visiting professor. “I’d like to talk to some of the younger people. From what I’ve seen, they’re not going in the right direction of being hard-nosed journalists so I’d like to find out what they’re being taught,” he says. “You never give up being a reporter and my career has been a tremendous ride.” Even though he is no longer in the newsroom, it’s apparent that this bulldog will never rest.