The Man Behind Her Story: NBC 7’s Artie Ojeda Retires After Sharing San Diego Stories For 30 Years
There are San Diego News reporters and then there’s Artie Ojeda. One of NBC 7’s longest-serving journalists, who will retire at the end of 2022, is as San Diego as it gets.
Ojeda’s ties to the local news scene go back as far as 1978. As a teenager at then-Serra High School, Ojeda landed an interview that even veteran reporters would consider a score – an interview with San Diego legend Padres pitcher Randy Jones just a e a few years after he won the Cy Young Award, he landed on the All-Star roster twice and was the winningest pitcher in the MLB. The interview was held at what real locals remember as San Diego Stadium – now Aztec Snapdragon Stadium.
“I just took a shot, rolled the dice, and sent a letter to the Padres asking if I could interview Randy Jones. And, God bless Randy Jones, he said ‘Yes.’
Despite his age, a feather-haired Ojeda – no mustache yet – prepared some hard-hitting questions for a game-ready Jones. Reading his notes from a clipboard and holding a hand microphone, Ojeda asks, “K um, how do you think manager Alvin Dark has done since taking over the Padres a few months ago?”
That was almost 45 years ago, and despite the grainy, black-and-white footage, the picture is clear: reporting is exactly what Ojeda had in mind. Report to San Diego is what Ojeda intended to do.
NBC 7 reporter Artie Ojeda signs off one last time.
Of course, before he gets there, he has to spend time in some less than idyllic locales. We’ll get to that later. First, let’s go back to the beginning. Because I think it’s time to come clean.
“I tell everybody that I was born and raised in San Diego, but in reality … my dad worked like a three-month gig in upstate New York for, I don’t know, General Dynamics or something,” Ojeda said. “And it just so happened that in that three-month window, I was born.
The small town just south of the border with Montreal, Canada, with a population of about 30,000 is about as far from San Diego as you can get. But we give him a pass because a few months later he was back in what is now considered the Mountain View neighborhood.
His family then moved a little north to the then new community of Tierrasanta, built after the US Marines declared the land surplus and turned it into a city, where they put down long-lasting roots. The neighborhood still had a military presence but felt like a small town with neighborhood kids attending the same schools, playing sports in the same leagues and playing on the same streets.
“My mom always said this was our dream home and it was the first home my family actually owned and they were the first people to live in the home,” Ojeda said. “And to this day – my mother died in September – but the family home is still in Tierrasanta, where my father lives.”
Ojeda didn’t stray far from home after graduating high school in 1978. He first attended San Diego City College because the future Emmy and Golden Mike Award winner didn’t have a high enough English SAT score to get into the San Diego State to come. The college, which also taught the likes of former NBC 7 alumna Whitney Southwick and former KGTV reporter Bree Walker, may be just what he needed.
“At City College, I had to take a remedial English class and the instructor was the journalism advisor for the student newspaper at City College and convinced me to join the staff and sharpen my writing skills. And I became the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. “
He then went to San Diego State, but was already on his way to his dream job in TV news after making the connections that would land him an internship with KFMB.
Photos: Looking Back on Artie Ojeda’s Time at NBC 7
As anyone in the “biz” will tell you, reporters rarely get their start in any place like San Diego. They usually have to spend their time somewhere remote with small market audiences where they can hone their skills. For Ojeda, that was Abilene, Texas, about 250 miles west of Dallas.
“For this San Diego boy, “It was culture shock,” Ojeda said. “One of the first public events I went to was this thing they call the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup … Basically, the mission for the day to gather people, go out into the fields and hunt for rattlesnakes and bring them back. They skin them, they cook them, they, you know, make belts. And, for a guy from San Diego, I’m just like the heck.
Suffice it to say, he didn’t last long in Abilene. In four months he had made the move to Tuscon, Arizona. And by a stroke of luck, his former boss at KFMB, Jim Holtzman, saw him on TV and brought him back where he belonged.
“He calls me and says, ‘Hey, do you want to come home?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah!'” Artie said with a laugh. “I was very green and probably not ready [for San Diego], but he was patient and, you know, considered one of the most influential people served in my life.”
Of course, there was a five-year stint in Los Angeles where Ojeda worked as a sports reporter for an independent news station, but we really don’t need to talk about that.
“You don’t know how hard it is for a San Diego boy to report on the success of the Dodgers…”
More Stories by Artie Ojeda
With 36 years on the local news scene, it’s hard to doubt that Ojeda has seen it all. He covered devastating wildfires that tore through neighborhoods, leaving families with nothing. He spoke to loved ones who had just lost their closest family and felt their heartbreak. He covered local politics for decades – even national elections, most notably the 1996 Republican National Convention that secured Bob Dole’s presidential nomination (he ultimately lost to President Clinton). He held our local leaders accountable for their actions — or as he puts it “sometimes their inactions” — on issues like homelessness and the Chargers leaving San Diego.
When he covered the exodus of pandas from China in the late 1990s, he became a real-life “anchorman,” ‘stache and all, although we found no evidence of a burgundy suit. He’s been there with the Padres through the highs — like when they became National League champions in 1998 and again this year — and the lows … the many, heartbreaking lows. He saw the transformation of Jack Murphy Stadium into the “Q” and to its eventual demolition and rebirth as SDSU’s Snapdragon Stadium.
But Ojeda will be the first to tell you that it’s not the stories he covers that matter, it’s the people behind them.
“We’ve done all these big news stories that were big public events and everybody knows about them. But for me, some of the stories that resonate the most are these community stories,” Ojeda said.
Breaking News! Well, this is an exciting turn of events. I just want to thank everyone who has allowed me to share their story and for being so gracious over the years! It’s been a fantastic run, and now after starting my San Diego career in 1986, it’s off to a new chapter! Thank you! pic.twitter.com/erlJ9jthrM
Ask anyone who has worked with Ojeda or been on the other side of his interviews — his ability to connect with people is what makes this veteran reporter so good at his job. And that’s probably because for him her stories were always much more than a job.
“Artie, you were there for all the big stories, you were just so important to all of them,” NBC 7 anchor Catherine Garcia said of Ojeda’s final broadcast. “But when you talk about the neighborhood stories, you really shine. So, thank you.”
“Nice people find themselves and the best journalists aren’t necessarily the ones who take on an assignment and do it really well. It’s the reporters, the best journalists like you, Artie, are the people who are inherently curious and respectful of others People are someone else’s stories and you’re looking for these things,” added anchor Mark Mullen.
In 1998, Ojeda shared the story of a young girl who had diabetes but was afraid to share her diagnosis. Through the story, he helped her teach her classmates what it was like to have the disease. But the story touches Ojeda beyond his daily task; it inspired him to join the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation, where he sat on the board for years.
Then there are the personal stories he shared that cemented themselves in his memory. One, he remembers, was the moment he discovered a task about a missing girl, the daughter of a woman he knew from his orthodontist’s office. The two would often share life updates about their daughters, who were around the same age.
“I’ll never forget the moment of the big news conference and it was Kelly King, distraught because her daughter [Chelsea King] was missing,” Ojeda said. “I remember making eye contact with her and it was when all the conversations we had about our daughters just came flooding back. And the emotion was overwhelming.”
And, when he interviewed a mother who was running a marathon for her baby who needed a liver transplant, there was a moment that would change his life forever.
“What can I say? She’s holding her baby who needs a liver transplant and she challenged me to run a marathon on live TV!”
Nearly two dozen marathons later, he credits that moment with changing the trajectory of his health. Oh, and baby Jessica got her transplant and is thriving. Ojeda and his mustache covered that, too.
That mustache was there every step of the way. Ojeda jokes he is “old enough to remember when it was black.”
“I was on vacation and I shaved it off just because I wanted to see how I looked. And I posted the video of me shaving it and, oh my God, I had no idea the judgment and the fuss it would cause .”
One of Ojeda’s most touching stories was about his own community in Rancho Peñasquitos, known as the festive Christmas Card Lane, where every resident turns their front yard into a holiday card. The community came together to keep Christmas alive until February for one of their neighbors who missed the holiday due to a severe case of pneumonia that sent him into a coma. When he woke up, he had one question: “Did I miss Christmas?” Thanks to Ojeda and his neighbors, the answer was, “No.”
Ojeda’s reporting also led to a new best friend in his dog Theodore, who was rescued from the devastating floods in Louisiana. Artie was there when 65 dogs and a cat were flown to San Diego to be put up for adoption. He couldn’t let Theodore go.
How will Padres fans cope with the sight of their rival in the World Series? I checked in with NBC 7’s resident diehard.
It has to be said that Ojeda probably wouldn’t be where he is today without a strong support system. He married his wife, Debby Ojeda, while in college and together they had two children who blossomed into their own careers as teachers and family therapists.
“She’s been my rock, you know, supported me while working early mornings, late nights, vacations, long hours, coming home smelling like smoke after covering wildfires and she was there,” Ojeda said. “I give her great, I think, all the credit for my kids’ success.”
His family has grown as Ojeda recently welcomed two new grandchildren into the world. They are some of the catalysts that pushed him to retire at the end of 2022. The other was the death of his mother – all life moments that happened in the space of a few months.
“Someone my age, when you go through these life events, it really gives you cause to rethink your life priorities,” Ojeda said. “And it may sound corny, but that really factored into my decision to accept early retirement and spend more time with family.”
Besides spending time with family, Ojeda doesn’t really know what’s next.
“Honestly, it still hasn’t really set in that I’m retiring, but — I know it’s such a cliché but it’s true — it’s been an honor to serve the community I grew up in. And, really, all I can do is just thank everyone who opened their hearts and their homes to talk to me in good times and bad,” Ojeda said.
“I feel safe, and I hope I made a meaningful impact in someone’s life.”
Thank you, Artie, for your dedication to the San Diego community and your NBC 7 family.
Honoring NBC 7 San Diego’s 2022 Retirees
NBC 7 would also like to recognize four other longtime NBC 7 employees who are retiring.
You may not recognize the names and faces of some of the behind-the-scenes people, but you definitely know their work. Bringing you the news every day is a team effort, and we couldn’t do it without their hard work. Fely, Mark and Steve – we will not only miss your talents, we will also miss your big hearts. One thing that makes NBC 7 so special is the people, and you are three of the best! Thank you for all the years you have dedicated to your career and the San Diego community. Now enjoy your retirement! Congratulations!
Q&A: Artie Reflects on His Career at NBC 7
These questions were part of a joint interview with Ojeda and veteran reporter Rory Devine, who is also retiring after more than four decades in the business. The pair have worked together at NBC 7 for most of their careers and have a unique insight into each other, the work and the fun behind the scenes that most viewers don’t see. Watch the full interview in the player above.
Why news? What is it about this job that has kept you going for more than three decades?
We leave a really cool job. And, there’s your answer right there. I just thought it would be cool to be on TV. And I can remember watching some of the newscasters on the air at the time and thinking, “I can do that. I can do that.” And then as I begin this 30-plus year long journey, I began to realize that this job came with great responsibility. And if we do our job, it means we can affect meaningful change and hold our leaders accountable for their actions and inaction as the case may be. But it also offered the chance to see so many events and meet so many wonderful people. It’s crazy when you think about all the significant news events we’ve had a front row seat to and been a part of in our careers.
Tell us about your launch in the report. You have a photo of you interviewing a San Diego legend when you were just a teenager. Tell us about it. How did that moment come about?
That was in high school in 1978. I interviewed former San Diego Padres pitcher Randy Jones at the old San Diego stadium. And I can remember how loving Randy Jones was to this 15-year-old kid, reading his notes and asking questions. It was just a lot of fun. I remember that day very, very clearly. I was nervous as hell to tell you the truth.
How was your first day at NBC 7?
You know, I don’t remember exactly. But I remember getting the honor of anchoring First News at 4 p.m. with [Rory Devine] and the wonderful Margaret Radford. And I also remember how incredibly tough it was because every day, we would be given an assignment and so we would have to go to the field and do our daily reporting, get it out under deadline pressure, maybe deal with the emotion of the day. And then come back and anchor the newscast at 4. Definitely a formula for gray hair wouldn’t you say? Look, I remember when this mustache was black.
You and Rory Devine have been working together for three decades. Do you remember when you two first met?
At the time I was over at [CBS 8], it must have been about 1986 or something and I beat you to an interview and it was so much fun watching Rory get the same interview. But I’ll tell you what, I learned something from [Rory]. I learned how determined and how hardworking you are. And then I said, “Wow, that’s what a real journalist is.” I remember that, but I beat you to it on that story.
Editor’s note: We know this story is about Artie, but of course we had to give Rory a chance to respond to that. She says Artie “got it first but I did it on the air at the same time as [him]. So, I don’t know if that’s going to “beat me” in the story.
Tell us about a story that changed your life on a personal level.
That’s impossible to answer, but I’ve thought about this and you know, there are so many things we can talk about. We could talk about the 1996 [Republican National] Convention that was here. We could talk about the pandas, remember Bai Yun? It was flown on the aircraft carrier Constellation on one of its last missions before it was decommissioned. You mentioned the devastating forest fires. The chargers leave town. Terribly difficult stories like Danielle Van Dam and Chelsea King. They still strike an emotional nerve to this day. More recently, we can talk about COVID and losses. There are just so many different and emotional stories.
But if there is one story that I can definitely say has personally affected me, personally me, it is the story of Jessica Owen. Back in 2000 Jessica needed a liver transplant and I interviewed her mom Candy Owen live on TV because her mom ran a marathon. And she challenged me to run a marathon on live TV. What will I say? She’s holding her baby who needs a liver transplant and she challenged me to run a marathon on live TV and I said “Yes.” And as many of you know, that was life-changing because 23 marathons and 30 pounds later, Jessica and Candy Owen changed my life for the better. And Jessica got her transplant and she’s thriving.
You also covered a lot of personal stories for San Diegans. How was that?
You knock on the door and you wonder if anyone wants to talk about a tragedy that happens in life. And maybe it’s a bit of a rationalization, but when they talk to you, you get this sense that they really feel good talking to [us]. It helps them. It’s cathartic and maybe makes them feel better about the honors, if any, of losing someone in their life.
If you talk about personal stories – this is not a happy story – but it is the death of Chelsea King. Wonderful, smart, talented teenager who, as you know, was killed when she went for a run. But the story hit me much deeper because I knew Chelsea King’s mother before. She worked in my dermatologist’s office and we had many conversations about our daughters and how proud we were of our daughters.
And then when we learned that this young teenage girl was missing, I’ll never forget the moment of the big news conference and it was Kelly King, distraught because her daughter was missing. I remember making eye contact with her and it was when all the conversations we had about our daughters just came flooding back. And, the emotion was overwhelming.
I’m honored to say that I was proud to be a part of several fundraisers, whether it was ongoing, several fundraisers that brought attention to her death.
Finally, I was there to report when Chelsea’s law was signed. I will never forget that September day; it was a rainy day. Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger came to town in Balboa Park, it was raining, and when he signed the legislation, blue skies opened up and Kelly came to tell me, “That’s Chelsea .”
Tell us about the pandas. Of course, San Diego’s “panda” monium is mocked in the movie “Anchorman,” but life really does imitate art, doesn’t it, or vice versa?
I think this was back in 1996. We jokingly called the story “Panda Love” because they tried to mate Bai-Yun and have baby pandas. So I can remember the story. It starts with a picture of a bird and I say “Birds do it.” And then there was a picture of a bee. “Bees do it. When will pandas do it.” Because they fight each other and Bei Yun is introduced to She-Shu or Gao-Gao or I don’t know and they would start fighting. So it was very strange to see what happened and I would go around asking people, “How would you get these two pandas together?” And the answers were just funny.
What’s the first thing you do after retirement?
I have absolutely no idea. I don’t have a plan, and that’s the truth. I know it was a difficult year, my mother passed away and I really wish she was here to see this conversation, but she died in September and on either side of her death I had two young, beautiful grandsons. And so it sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth: I’m really looking forward to spending more time with my family. And my beautiful wife Debbie.
Most of all, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who was so kind and allowed us to share their stories and come into their homes. I remember there was one man who told me this story about him and his wife waking up in his bed with us every morning and I said “Woah, woah, woah!” He says “No, no, no, I mean watching you on the news.” So a big thank you to everyone who allowed us who welcomed us into your homes and to everyone who allowed us to share your story and to everyone who even made us angry – sorry, but thank you because it was an honor report in my Hometown for the past 36 years.