Witnesses for the World
By Sarah Ostler Hill
rom an early age, Art Rascon recalls having an intense curiosity about the world around him. In the evenings, the family would gather around the television set to watch the news while he held the rabbit ear antennas.
“I remember as a young teenager watching the close of the Vietnam War,” Art reminisces. “I told my parents I wanted to be one of those reporters, delivering the news to everyone.”
His parents came from a generation and culture that often dropped out of high school to support the family, so although supportive of their son’s aspirations, they thought becoming an international correspondent seemed unreachable.
Little did they know that within a few decades, the name Rascon would become seemingly synonymous with newscaster.
The First Rascon Journalist
Art jumped right into the journalism program, showing a real talent for telling a compelling story. He credits solid mentors and extensive training through BYU’s courses and lab work for giving him the tools he needed to be successful in his future career.
“He had a natural ability,” remembers Tom Griffiths, who taught a number of broadcasting classes before serving as associate dean for a few years. “He had a good voice, great pacing, and he was a great writer. We just tried to spice it up a little bit.”
Griffiths came to BYU in 1974 to start the half-hour live news program at KBYU, a production that gave BYU students the firsthand broadcast news experience that proved to be vital to many graduates.
“I felt like I was far more prepared than the other couple of young college students,” Art says of his internship at KTVX in Salt Lake City. “I felt more familiar with editing equipment and on-camera prep. They didn’t know how to get a story together.”
As a professional, Art has been able to host BYU interns at the various stations he has worked and has seen that BYU students continue to be more prepared than those coming from other colleges. He has heard colleagues across the country note the same.
The Next Generation
Art was on the road fairly often during those early years as an international correspondent, but his sons don’t remember feeling disconnected from their father as he covered news in the Balkans, the Middle East, Latin America and across the country.
“I have memories of the big speakerphone in my parents’ room,” his son Matthew recalls. “Dad would always keep in touch. We had family home evening, family counsel, family scripture study and prayer, and then he’d talk to each kid individually.”
Matthew even admits that the kids secretly looked forward to their dad leaving. Their mom had set up a rotating schedule where each night Art was gone, one of the children got to stay up a little later on a school night and sleep in her room.
Although Matthew and his brother Jacob were proud of their dad, neither one expressed any desire to pursue a degree in journalism. Matthew was interested in international relations. Jacob thought about becoming an architect.
Then, in the last week of his LDS mission in Uruguay, Jacob was considering what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He got into a taxi and asked the driver what he would want to do if he could go to the United States and be anything.
“I thought he’d say something like a doctor or actor. He said he’d be a journalist. I couldn’t believe it. I was kind of bothered by that.”
But the taxi driver’s words left an impression on Jacob, who began to recognize what he truly enjoyed: writing, meeting new people, learning about history, being part of history.
Jacob came home and began to pursue a degree in journalism. One summer he interned at the new Kosovo embassy in Washington D.C. Part of his duties led him one night to accompany a journalist who was working on what Jacob thought was an emotional and touching story. He came home that night, eager to watch the final product on the evening news.
“What I saw was so junky,” he remarks, with disdain. “It reinvigorated me. I thought we needed better stuff on television.”
Around this time, Matthew Rascon was returning from his mission to South Africa. Jacob, in charge of Matthew’s class schedule, signed him up for several journalism classes. At first, Matthew resisted the path his father and brother had taken.
Matthew asked his brother why he wanted to be a journalist, with the sometimes-long hours and unpredictable schedule. He remembers Jacob saying that as a journalist, part of his job would be to witness some of the events foretold in the Bible as signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ and then share those stories with the world.
As a journalist, part of his job would be to witness some of the events foretold in the Bible as signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ and then share those stories with the world.
That answer left a lasting impression on Matthew.
Giving Their Best
Although they bore the surname of a successful broadcaster, Jacob and Matthew had to bring their own ambition and dedication to a wildly competitive field. They remembered their father’s words, “Don’t give me excuses, give me results.”
“Waking up at 4:30 a.m. so I could do my best wasn’t always pleasant,” Matthew says. “A lot of the students were so driven. It helped me be driven as well.”
He and Jacob spent time on the broadcast journalism sequences, moving through the program from beginning reporting to beginning producing, and into advanced reporting. Chad Curtis, the KBYU news director, was instrumental in their development.
“He doesn’t accept less than excellence when it comes to writing and packages,” Matthew remembers of Curtis. “He helped me refine my skills. And Dale Green is a master at editing and photography.”
Green, BYU’s Broadcast Lab Production Manager, says he and Curtis tell students that in order to tell a story, they need a beginning, middle and end, and they need to use picture, sounds and words to tell the story.
“(Jacob and Matthew) were very good at using the video they shot, along with the natural sound from the event, and then adding their writing and the interviews,” Green remembers. “They wanted to tell stories. That’s what they did very well. They understood it could be a hard job and sometimes didn’t pay a lot of money. But they had a passion for that—the storytelling.”
Curtis agrees with Green, and says that anybody can gather a bunch of facts, but recognizing where the stories are and telling those stories is what distinguishes a good reporter. He helped expand and refine the natural talent that Jacob and Matthew brought with them.
Both sons would seek the input and advice from their father from time to time. Art was always there with a listening ear and helpful suggestions. He channeled the mentors of his younger years in helping guide his sons.
“A good mentor is someone who really and truly, genuinely cares about the interest of that person and sets the proper tone and example to help him accomplish his ambitious goals,” Art says. He remembers his mentors being absolutely critical in their review and stern in what he needed to improve, but doing so with an attitude that conveyed their support.
Griffiths agrees and says a teacher gives students the principles and lessons, but a mentor is genuinely interested in helping students get a job and progress in the real world. Now retired, he continues to follow the careers of past students and celebrates their successes.
“I make it my job to find out . . . what do I need to do to get you toward the job that you want when you graduate?” Curtis shares. He had a fulfilling career as a result of his time at BYU and eventually returned to share that experience and passion with the next generation of reporters and producers.
“It is really important to find mentors, family members or not, who can help guide you in this business,” Jacob agrees. Curtis appreciates that he still hears from his past students and, as a self-proclaimed “news junkie,” eagerly watches for the name Rascon on television.
Soon after graduating, Jacob moved to Jerusalem to pursue an internship with the ABC news team’s Middle East bureau. Two weeks after his arrival in 2011, the Arab Spring began. His ambition and determination got him past checkpoints and over allegedly closed roads. He helped the ABC news team navigate the first time that Twitter fueled a news story. Since then, he has joined NBC News as a correspondent. Most recently, he has been able to cover events in Cuba.
“I’m reading a book on the history of Cuba,” Jacob says. “It occurred to me as I read that I’m living the next chapter on Cuba. I’m witnessing history. I’m living the book that isn’t yet written about Cuba’s history.”
Matthew is a reporter in San Diego for the local NBC affiliate. The transition from student to professional has been easier for him than it is for others because, due to his BYU training, he is familiar and comfortable with the live newscast.
“I had so many opportunities at BYU,” Matthew says. “I don’t know of any other school that has a network like BYU-TV where you can work and be on TV. And it’s not just a Utah audience—it’s international.”
In 2014 Matt placed second in the Hearst National Championship, winning $4,000 for his skills in writing, photography, radio, television and multimedia.
Griffiths notes that BYU-TV is a satellite program service with millions of national and international viewers.
The Influence of Journalism
The Rascons all have the opportunity to travel the world and meet people, famous and not. All three have said the stories they most like to recall are those that involved witnessing the strength of the human spirit, the generosity in the world, and the goodness all around us.
Art tells stories of refugees with few to no possessions, who search intensely for something to give him in the name of hospitality, finally settling on a bottle of precious water.
Jacob recounts how people who have lost everything in a natural disaster express gratitude that nobody was killed.
Matthew shares that the business of journalism is knowing something about everything, and then sharing what you have witnessed with the world. His and Jacob’s drive to do their best is fueled by the lessons Art and his wife instilled in them from their youth.
“When you’re doing your best, you stop comparing yourself to others because you’re satisfied,” Jacob says. “That’s what makes me the best. I’m not worried about comparing myself to others.”
All three men credit their success to the foundation of knowledge and skills they acquired at BYU and the guiding hand of the Holy Ghost in their lives. Art is quick to add that these blessings, although given from God, required a tremendous amount of hard work to receive. Art feels strongly that the effort was worth it.
“The world of journalism has greater power to influence others than just about any career field out there outside of education,” he shares.
“The world of journalism has greater power to influence others than just about any career field out there outside of education. It is crucial that there are more LDS individuals involved in journalism. There is so much ugliness happening around us. There’s only one absolute: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That foundation is needed in this world.”