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My friend, James Kang (1969-2011)

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I’ve been wrestling all weekend to make sense of James Kang’s death. James died Friday. He left work complaining of a headache and was found in his car in the KCBS/KCAL parking structure several hours later, maybe as late as 5:30 that afternoon.

James Kang at a Justice League of Photographers (JLOP) get together on the Santa Monica Pier just after midnight on July 31, 2009.

I learned of this from a Facebook post Friday evening, and have spent every waking hour of the last 48 trying to understand what might have happened and what, if anything, I might have done to change the horrible outcome. We still don’t know how or why James died—that won’t come until the autopsy is completed and the results released—but the hours have given me some insight into why James was special to so many of us.

Others have written moving accounts of James’ life. The one on the KCBS/KCAL website is a touching tribute. Bryan Frank has also posted a powerful remembrance with some great photos on his beFrank blog. Former CBS2 morning anchor Suzanne Rico has written movingly about James on her blog, explaining the James Kang “like button” legacy and how he would encourage everyone (including my wife, my daughter, and my stepdaughter) by letting them know they’d posted well. An incredibly diverse group of people, some of whom knew James only from his forays into Facebook and Twitter, posted about how he touched their lives.

These were among James Kang’s many dimensions. James was a remarkably stalwart guy, and each of us was lucky enough to bask in that from a slightly different vantage point. I suspect my difficulty getting my feelings straight enough to set down in words is because I knew James from many vantage points—as a co-worker, a frequent dinner companion, a fellow photographer, and a friend.

James and I, along with a handful of co-workers, were assigned some new tasks in 2009. It was especially odious, time-consuming work that came to take up several hours a day, menial chores that had to get done but for which there would be no reward, no extra pay, and probably not even any notice from our bosses. And this new task was in addition to, rather than instead of, all of the other stuff we were supposed to be doing.

There were two ways to go about it. One was to complain and drag our feet, which is a common path in a newsroom and the one I was initially inclined to take. The other, I learned from James’ example, was to do the best we could at it and measure our progress by goals we set for ourselves and tried to achieve ahead of schedule. I started off setting what I thought were reasonable benchmarks. James and the other members of our team shattered those within a week. Together, we established new goals, and a week later, James and the others had left them in the dust. So we kept setting higher and higher goals, and James led all of us to achieving them faster and by wider margins than any of us thought possible. The odious chores never got any less odious, but we sure did have some fun challenging ourselves and our abilities to do them faster, better, and more efficiently.

Those of us involved also developed an intense sense of camaraderie. We may have felt put upon by the assignment, but we turned ourselves into a team, a half-dozen people who had to work together and help each other out if we were going to get it done at all, and who had to improvise if we were going to continue beating our benchmarks. All of us took great pride in that. We gave ourselves rewards—dinner at a deli around the corner from the station every couple of months—and celebrated our successes within our small circle. True to his eclectic tastes, James was a big fan of Art’s corned beef.

James arriving at the Third Street Promenade the last time we shot photos together, on March 4, 2011.

James was also a pioneer of social media. Years before the journalism blogs were crowing about the importance of Facebook and Twitter in building and maintaining a tv news audience, @kanger33 had established his beachhead online. He explored photography, food trucks, and many other subjects through his Facebook friends and Twitter follows. He also became a social-media beacon for many newsies taking their first stab at new platforms. He often engaged KCBS anchor Pat Harvey on Twitter, helping to draw out and add an online dimension to one of the great personalities in TV news today. As Suraya Fadel, a KCBS/KCAL reporter, found her social-media voice and became one of the great Los Angeles reporters to use Twitter, James gave her the nickname #TwitterPrincess, which is now widespread. Nobody in the newsroom instructed James to use his advanced knowledge of social media to ease the way for others onto the emerging platform. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure nobody in station management even knew James had developed that expertise.

James adhered to a Twitter tradition of saluting online friends on what’s known as #FF, for “Follow Friday,” and he was infallible at it. Even if I hadn’t tweeted in weeks, each Friday I’d get notified of a Twitter mention, James Kang including me on his #FF list. I awoke Friday morning to that mention.

Next Friday, it won’t be there. That will continue the great void I now feel for a great guy who was my co-worker, my teammate, but most of all, my friend.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Suzanne Rico May 29, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Paul,
    I am so sorry. It is hard to come up with anything else. I can only hope that station management did know what a gem they had downstairs, working with a purpose and a positive attitude on “odious” tasks that he tried to make less so. What I remember about James is that every time he brought scripts into me, he would write something positive on the first page– a “Good Morning, Suzanne” or “Have a great day!” or just a smiley face. It was just so damn thoughtful and sweet.
    Thanks for writing this lovely tribute.
    Suzanne

  • Cafe Pasadena May 29, 2011, 7:18 pm

    Never met JK, but from these tributes I so wish I had. I can feel the definition of a true friend from the people who worked with him. The fact he loved photography is enuf for me to have liked him!

  • Lemor Abrams May 29, 2011, 7:53 pm

    Paul, thanks for this moving tribute. It’s amazing to see how James inspired so many. He was optimistic, happy, appreciative of everything and everyone in his path… He set the ultimate example. I thank the universe for putting him in my path…

  • Hal Eisner May 29, 2011, 8:30 pm

    Paul, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know so many broadcasters in our business here in Los Angeles, but never got to meet James.

    The day he died my photographer Gary Brainard and I were on a story. Gary saw Suraya’s tweets. He told me about the sadness and anguish in her words. At that point we didn’t know exactly what had happened we just knew it was bad. Once we learned James had died we were both saddened. Gary said he knew him.

    I have read the words and looked at the pictures from many of my friends at KCBS-KCAL and others who knew James. Like yours, they are all so meaningful and touching. My condolences to you, all his friends, colleagues and family.

    So young. So sad.

  • Fab May 29, 2011, 8:53 pm

    James will most definitely be missed. Even though I never actually met him face to face, we talked throughout the day via twitter. Having heard from him 7 hours before he passed and realizing that would be our last conversation still seems unreal. Loved hearing his “song of the day” on his way to work. Thank you for these wonderful words regarding a wonderful person. Blessing and prayers go out to all his friends and family. :(

  • Chris Maxwell May 29, 2011, 10:12 pm

    That last line is the killer: “Next Friday it won’t be there.” Still trying to come to grips with it. A lovely post, dear.

  • Royal Calkins May 29, 2011, 10:21 pm

    Wish I had known him. Nice, Paul.

  • Craig Swanson May 29, 2011, 10:58 pm

    Nice article Paul…

  • Caitlin Ferguson May 30, 2011, 2:16 am

    I know you don’t know me, but I wanted to commend your beautiful tribute of a beautiful man. He will be missed dearly, by so many including myself. I loved him dearly as did so many others. The world will be a slightly darker place without him. Thank you for this post. It helped to subside the last 48 hours of constant tears.

  • Erik May 30, 2011, 3:02 am

    Thanks for sharing, Paul!

  • Renata Seergae May 30, 2011, 4:38 am

    I only spent one glorious day “in the flesh” with James… but that day was special enough to make me feel like I had known him a LIFETIME. His last comment to me was a “like” on my new haircut. I will miss his sweetness and his ability to know EXACTLY when I needed a pick me up. James got “it”. I miss you already my friend! <3

  • Pat Harvey May 30, 2011, 9:12 am

    Paul,

    I miss your expert narrative. So sad to witness it in this form, though. Nicely done, my friend. Chris was right…in your last line about FF. I looked forward to hearing from James on Twitter, because appreciation of some of the simplest kindness brought so much joy.

    • Paul Skolnick May 30, 2011, 10:16 am

      Pat,
      Your on-air tribute Friday night was so incredible. You captured in :30 what all of us were feeling.

  • Erin Dunphy May 30, 2011, 10:14 am

    Paul,
    This is truly a beautiful and touching tribute to such a wonderful, selfless, kind man who conducted himself with such class in everything he did. The void over the past 48 hours has been enormous. Thank you for writing this. It is so wonderful to know how many lives James touched.

    • Paul Skolnick May 30, 2011, 10:18 am

      Erin,
      My wife Chris keeps asking me if James knew how many lives he touched so deeply. I think he did. I hope he did. He was a guy who was always there, and that’s what makes his absence now so difficult.

  • Kitty Alva May 30, 2011, 12:35 pm

    Paul,
    It’s so beautiful, I read it twice and think I cried more the second time. I’m not looking forward to #FF without @kanger33. My heart is with you, his family and his extended news & social media family.
    Rest in Peace sweet Knight James Kang.
    Hugs,
    Kitty

  • Juan Fernandez May 30, 2011, 1:38 pm

    Paul,

    Well said, beautifully written. It’s great to hear these stories about James. We all knew of his positive attitude, now we all know a little more about what made him tick.

    Juan

  • Allen Tse May 30, 2011, 11:17 pm

    Very moving tribute, Paul. He’ll definitely be missed as our dinner partner. Paul, I’m starting a memorial fund for James and his family, to help with the funeral costs etc. Hit me up on my email or FB page and I can give you further details.

  • Lorraine Roe June 1, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Thank you! This completely sums it up! He was a shining star in the newsroom, the world, and on the internet.

  • Greg Phillips June 4, 2011, 5:00 pm

    Nicely said Paul. Like Suzanne, my encounters with James were in the early morning hours when I reported for the 5-7AM shows. I can honestly say he never, ever said a negative thing about anyone or anything and you would never catch James in a bad mood. Ever. He was the ultimate morning/middle of the night person; an always glowing example of how a person can always stay positive in a newsroom filled with negativity. I remember when I went to nights, as glad as I was to be off of the early morning shift, I missed some folks from the early morning – James in particular. As much as I didn’t need to be eating them, I missed eating his doughnuts he would religiously bring in to the newsroom on Fridays. Before I would be rushing out the door I would always grab one…or maybe two. :) In the two years I worked mornings, he never missed bringing in those darn doughnuts! I am positive he subscribed to the old adage, “better to give than receive.” So sad to find out that he’s gone…but I’m sure in a better place. Rest in peace my friend.

  • Jeannette June 9, 2011, 8:53 am

    Thank you for sharing about James. I was a twitter friend and I too enjoyed receiving his #FF. James was always kind and considerate. I am going to miss his presence on twitter!