KJZZ News Director Peter O’Dowd finds something alluring about Phoenix and public radio, as if they have always been a part of his destiny.
O'Dowd, who oversees all daily editorial direction of the KJZZ newsroom, took on the role of news director in February 2011, after serving as an assignment editor and reporter for the station since 2009.
There has been no shortage of adventure in his journalism career at KJZZ, which has taken him to Guatemala, Southern Mexico and along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.
Covering Arizona SB 1070 news has been one of the most exciting highlights in his career. Determined to provide KJZZ listeners with as many perspectives as possible, O’Dowd followed boycotters representing both sides, met with Latinos who favored the bill, visited churches that opposed it and spent months trying to find sources willing to talk about employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
O’Dowd was part of a KJZZ team that won a 2011 Edward R. Murrow Award for continuing coverage of SB 1070. He has also received Associated Press awards for news writing and several Public Radio News Director Inc. awards.
O’Dowd grew up in Phoenix and graduated from Brophy College Prep in 1999. He then attended Georgetown University to pursue an undergraduate degree in English. With diploma in hand, O’Dowd decided to teach English in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan. Looking back, he notes, “It was the most thrilling year of my life.” It was also one that eventually sparked an interest in serving as an international journalist.
When he returned from Japan, he began working for the Peoria Independent. “I almost enrolled in graduate school to get my MFA in creative writing, but quickly realized I enjoyed telling true stories for a newspaper more than fiction.”
With that, O’Dowd set his sights on pursuing a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His introduction to public radio came about almost by accident.
“I took a two-week class on radio basics. I went around New York recording the sounds of bustling street vendors, college marching bands, and then wrote up short stories that were completely empty of news. All of a sudden, the medium opened up to me, so I decided to change my focus to radio journalism. I often think about how that decision changed my career and my life.”
In 2007, O’Dowd moved to Wyoming to report on classic Western issues like oil, coal and wolves for Wyoming Public Radio and realized he had found his niche.
“I believe public radio journalism is the most compelling of any medium. When I’m reporting a story for the radio, I look for emotion in my interviews. Over the radio, grief and anger, fear and embarrassment can be felt in a way that is mostly absent from print journalism.”