Public radio journalist John Sepulvado has worked everywhere, and if you ever worked with him, you probably aren’t shocked to hear that he has a drinking problem. But you may be surprised to hear just how bad it was. Sepulvado, who joined KQED in August as host of The California Report, bravely consented to appear on our podcast The Pub to talk about his disease and how the radio-newsie culture may have exacerbated it. Thing one you should learn from his story is that the person in the cubicle next to you could be going through some stuff right now that you just can’t imagine.
Sepulvado: I am an addict; I’m a drug addict. I’ve been clean for about 19, 20 months, but I’m not one of the folks who really keep tabs on their clean date, because sometimes when I think about it, I’m like, “Oh, man, it’s almost been two years. I am really due for a drink right now. I’m doing so good, what I need to do is have a drink.” So I don’t really focus on it until the big anniversaries.
Current: Do you want to maybe take us back to when your problem started?
Sepulvado: Sure. There have been a couple of things about me that are really important to understand. The first is I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. The neighborhood I grew up in was pretty shitty. It was in San Diego, Calif., but in the East County San Diego. It’s just not a nice place. In fact, just down the road from me was the meth capital of the world in El Cajon, Calif., for many years. The town I grew up in, Lemon Grove … I was watching Weeds many, many years ago, with Mary Louise Parker, and Lemon Grove was the butt of a joke for a good half hour. It’s where they were basically taking undocumented people over the border in this particular episode, and they were dropping them off in Lemon Grove, which is true; that’s something that happened.
So where I grew up in Lemon Grove and in Spring Valley — which are right next to each other in East County San Diego — it is dry, it’s hot, there’s a lot of asphalt. My mom had four kids, and we lived in a trailer park. We lived in a cottage that was essentially the size of a large living room. At one point, we moved around a lot. I think that part of the reason why I have moved around a lot was because we had a lot of wanderlust.
But I wanted to be a journalist because I would watch TV — that was the one constant — and we would watch ABC News with Peter Jennings. And I would see Peter Jennings, and Peter Jennings wasn’t hanging out in Lemon Grove, Calif. He was in London; he was in Beirut — I remember watching him from there. He was in New York, he was in D.C. He was all over the place. And there were two things that really stuck out with me. One was that Peter Jennings had this really cool life where it didn’t seem like he was fighting with his brothers for macaroni and cheese because there’s one box left.
And the other was that if Peter Jennings went to a neighborhood — I remember he went one time to either Alabama or Mississippi, somewhere very Southern — and I remember he did a story about poverty there, and he was there. And of course when a host travels, they really promote the hell of it, because of the costs involved. But I didn’t know that at the time; I just knew it was a big deal Peter Jennings was going. I felt like if somebody would just come to our neighborhood a lot of the things that were happening wouldn’t happen anymore. Because, of course, the narrative with TV is that it’s reported on and somehow it gets fixed, because it always ends on a happy note.
So I really wanted to be a journalist, and when I was in high school I started figuring out what are the things that all great journalists have in common. Well, they’re all drunks; that was the thing that just kept reoccurring. So I started drinking a lot when I was younger. And then I had two beautiful children with my now ex-wife, and I really for the most part stopped. I did not drink as much, and I definitely stopped the lifestyle I was living. And meanwhile I worked on my career, and that took me to the same place that you worked at, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and it took me to WUSF, it took me to KAZU in Monterey [Calif.] — all these really faraway places to work on my career.
Current: How old are you at this stage?
Sepulvado: This is about 22ish to 29ish, 30ish.
Current: You had kids young.
Sepulvado: Yeah, we had kids really young. We had no idea what we were doing. Like, none. In some ways I’m really proud of the marriage, because I feel like both of us, professionally, came in very poor and very dysfunctional, and we left very middle-class and very dysfunctional. So from an American standpoint, that works out for everybody, right? But I went through a really bad custody battle. It was four years, really just knock-down drag-out, and at the end of the day I lost, and I think that that’s the takeaway here.
Current: Lost as in as in no custody at all, or do you get weekends? Do you get summers?
Sepulvado: The way it works out is de facto–ly none. There’s no interaction between me and my kids. And the way I handled that was, I quit working at CNN and I moved to Ireland and I started drinking in earnest because I didn’t really know what else to do. I needed some separation. I really lost a lot of faith, not just in the system, but to go through something like that is really … it’s a difficult thing.
Current: Did people at work know that something was going on with you, either with your personal situation or with your drinking?
Sepulvado: Yes. I think I was really good at hiding my drinking, and I think — to be honest with you — until the day I went into rehab, I was really good at hiding my drinking.
Current: Did you drink at work? Did you have something in the bottom drawer?
Sepulvado: I drank openly in front of people at times. I think because I speak my mind, and because I’m very who I am unapologetically, there are times I got away with things I shouldn’t have. I remember being at CNN one time and I had a lunch with an editor or producer or whatever and I ordered a beer. Like on the premises, and it was just kind of like, “Oh that’s John being John.”
Current: A drink at lunch isn’t a huge deal, but it would be a weird thing if you whipped out a flask in the newsroom, right? Or is that the culture at CNN?
Sepulvado: That is definitely not the culture at CNN. For a lot of the crap it gets, CNN is really full of a lot of hard-working, driven professionals, many of whom don’t drink, because drinking makes you kind of sloppy and soft. No, I don’t think that’s the culture at all, and in fact it’s so much not the culture that when I ordered a beer at lunch — because, you’ve gotta understand, I was at a work lunch. It wasn’t like a regular lunch, and they have a strict no-drinking policy, unless it’s some kind of an event. And of all people, I remember one of the associate producers pulling me aside afterwards and saying, “You know, hey, you’re not supposed to drink in front of the boss. Just so you know in the future.”
So it was things like that. I would drink at events and stuff like that, but it wasn’t till the end where I was drinking in the morning because I was shaking so bad and going through really bad withdrawals. By that time, too, I had started using opioids, pills, and it was just a bad scene. I was coming to work, not at OPB, but I had other jobs when I first moved to Portland. I worked at the record label Kill Rock Stars, and I worked at a small independent radio station, which is why I moved here. And I would show up to work, and I’d be on the radio on this community station, and the engineer would be running to the corner store to get me a beer, because I was just not able to talk without it. It was getting really bad.
Current: I got you off-sequence in your life story. So you lose custody of your kids, you quit CNN, you move to Ireland to drink, as many great writers have done before you.
Sepulvado: I also worked, and I was also very much in love with somebody I met in Ireland who, when I was in London, I hadn’t met. So there was a lot more going on. I didn’t move to drink, but I think that was a big reason.
Current: And then how did you get back to the States?
Sepulvado: Well, we broke up in large part because of my drinking, me and my Irish girlfriend. She could drink as much as I could, but she was very cheerful about it. She was happy for some reason. I think the Irish are genetically immune from hangovers. They call it “the fear,” like you’ll have the fear when you wake up about all the things you did wrong the night before. But the hangover culture is just not the same there. But I would wake up with my hangovers and feel sick, and I think she got sick of it. And it wasn’t going anywhere, there was no way to work, so we broke up, and it was a very good breakup; it was the best breakup of my life, actually.
And I was like, “You know what I should do? I should move to Las Vegas, because if there is any place that can accommodate my lifestyle, Las Vegas would be the place.” So I took a job at KNPR for a while, for like 90 days.
Current: When was that?
Sepulvado: I don’t know, like 2013-ish, 2014. Essentially I just worked and drank.
Current: Did people know? Did it affect your work?
Sepulvado: No, I don’t think it did because by this time I talked about drinking a lot of times. Drinking among journalists is really prevalent. Your show is called The Pub, and I remember seeing the advertisements for it; you’re holding a beer and the issue of Current. It’s just part of our culture, like hard drinking.
Current: Maybe not the most responsible thing in retrospect.
Sepulvado: I think it is. I think that’s part of it, too. Not responsible, but I don’t think there’s anything to be — if I were you, I would do it all the same, because most people can enjoy a drink or two and then get on to doing it. I can’t. If I start drinking, I don’t stop until I pass out. So that’s my issue; it’s not yours. It would be like if somebody is a diabetic and we stopped having Snickers bars around the office for everyone else because one person is diabetic. The truth of the matter is that that one person needs to say, “OK, what do I need to do to stay healthy?” and take some responsibility.
Current: So you’re in Vegas and you’re drinking and you’re working and working successfully.
Sepulvado: Yeah, it was great. I recommend to anybody who enjoys drinking as much as I did, go to Vegas and drink your head off.
Current: Then what happened?
Sepulvado: A buddy of mine who was launching what is now Marketplace Weekend called me and asked me if I would come help with that. I said yes, and I have such respect for Marketplace — so this is when it first became really clear to me that I had a significant problem — that I stopped drinking.
One of the things that I did during my active addiction, I would basically make deals with myself. I would say, “OK, if you could go the whole week without drinking, you can get super–fucked-up on Saturday all the way until Sunday at 1 where you got to start sobering up again so that you don’t come in with a hangover too bad on Monday.” And I wanted to be so on point and so good at this job that I knew I wouldn’t be able to coast; I looked at it as a big opportunity to show what I could do.
So I didn’t really drink at Marketplace. I remember I went out for somebody’s birthday there, and everybody else was kind of drinking at this really cool place in L.A., and I was like, “No, I’m good.” And then come the weekend I would crush 18 beers, 21 beers. I remember one time I drank a bottle of vermouth because I ran out of everything. Have you ever had a bottle of vermouth, Adam?
Current: Yeah, it’s sweet, right? It’s ’cause it’s a fortified liquor, right?
Sepulvado: It’s disgusting.
Current: It would be like having cough syrup.
Sepulvado: You won’t have a proper bowel movement for like a week afterwards. It’s one of the most disgusting things you could do to yourself.
Current: You were really scraping the bottom of the barrel there. So were you successful? Were you able to stay off it and work at Marketplace and do well?
Sepulvado: I was, but after Marketplace a friend of mine started a community radio station in Portland, Ore., a friend who has been a friend for a long time, and there were a couple of things that she said to me. One was she said she was concerned about my drinking, again not because I was doing things that were outrageous but because I was always drunk when I talked to her. I would talk to her on the phone in Las Vegas, I would talk to her on the phone in Los Angeles, and because she was starting this radio station — at the time she wanted it to be like a KCRW or something like that, where it was like a split format.
So I would come up to Portland, and the station would pay for me to essentially train their staff — “This is how you record a field interview.” And I was always sober through all of that, but as soon as it was over — I’d be up there for a week or whatever — I would just get pounded and I’d go to sleep and wake up with a hangover. And she saw this because I stayed part of the time at her house.
But eventually she said, “Look, this station could really use your help.” And I was like, “OK, cool,” and I knew I wanted to try something different, and I looked at Portland because it’s such a beautiful place. Portland is naturally beautiful. It’s artificially beautiful, I mean like a lot of the houses and the buildings here. And the people are really beautiful. There’s kind of like this Portlandia stereotype in the rest of the country, and it’s not like that. The people are really genuinely connected to the community, and not in a superficial free-range–chicken kind of way.
So I felt like this was a place that I could get healthy, and I felt like this was a situation where I had support, and I felt like this was a place where I could restart my life, because the one thing I was starting to realize was there was this empty hole in my life because of the loss of my children. And that’s when I really started looking at what I could do. Of course, part of that included actually doing more, and that’s when I started taking opiates because they were so prevalent here in Portland, and it was really weird that I felt almost like it was safe here to hit my bottom because I had the support I needed to be able to start again.
So I got the job at OPB at this point — Portland is the first city I moved to that didn’t have a job waiting for me — and as soon as the health insurance kicked in, like as soon as the health insurance kicked in, I went into rehab and sent a message to my boss, “I’m really sorry I’m not going to be there for the next month, but I hope things work out” — I had just been hired.
I thought for sure they were going to fire me, and it didn’t matter at that point if they did and I never worked in public media again — but this really speaks to the kind of people OPB are. Not only did they stand by me, but they gave me the support I needed when I got out. They were absolutely amazing, and they didn’t have to be. They weren’t required by law to because the Family Medical Leave Act didn’t apply because I wasn’t there long enough. I had not had a chance to establish myself with listeners, so nobody was really aware of who I was. They could have cut me and nobody would have ever known. But they didn’t, and I’m so thankful and grateful they didn’t.
Current: Before you went to rehab, what did hitting bottom look like for you?
Sepulvado: Hitting bottom is when you wake up and you don’t know who’s next to you, and you don’t care. Hitting bottom is drinking so much at 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon that you’re crossing the street to go from the pub to your house and there’s a mother walking with a baby in a stroller next to you and you see it and then you throw up. You vomit because you’ve drank so much, right in front of the mother, and you don’t say anything because you physically can’t. Hitting bottom is thinking that it’s OK to, when you need to sleep, you sleep on the sidewalk and not give it second thought. Hitting bottom is planning your day or on making sure you don’t drive home drunk because you know if the cops catch you again that this time they will arrest you, and so your entire day plan is about how to get to the places where you’re planning to drink without any vehicle and, frankly, without any money because you spent it on booze and pills. Hitting bottom is taking a laptop to a pawnshop and forgetting that you have all these pictures on it but just trying to get the 40 bucks you can so you can buy booze for that night. Hitting bottom is waking up and wanting to die — that’s where I was when I checked into rehab. I knew that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing, but I also knew that I couldn’t stop.
Unfortunately, for so many people who have problems with addiction, and because this is so stigmatized, they choose to opt out for death because they can’t stop and they know they can’t keep going on. That’s a really tough conversation to have with oneself. Hitting bottom is waking up in the morning and you have cans and bottles and cigarette butts and empty pill containers and nothing else in your house because you’ve sold all your furniture. That’s hitting bottom.
Current: Did you ever have trouble with the law back in the bad old days?
Sepulvado: No, I’m so lucky. The only time I’ve been arrested, I was arrested with my ex-wife before our kids were born. This was really early on, and it was because we got drunk and broke a lamp in a hotel. It was stupid and petty.
And this is what I’m talking about when I say Portland is such a great community of support — and I know a lot of people are going to hear this and are going to say it’s a privilege, and I think there’s an argument to be made — but one of the times when everything was falling apart for me, I hopped in my car, and I was at a pub and I was just like, “I gotta go home.” Because, of course, there was nothing else to do but drive at this point — just crazy to think how I thought. I jump in a car, and there’s a police officer who is watching this pub for drunk drivers. I don’t even notice this, right? So, like, what good a reporter am I? I jump in my car, I drive, I don’t even notice the red light — that’s the first thing. Then for a second —because I was driving an SUV, and that’s what I drove in Ireland — I thought I was in Ireland for a minute. So I’m driving on the wrong side of the street trying to understand why all these lights are coming at me. [Laughs]
I shouldn’t be laughing because I could have killed somebody, but I got to where all of a sudden I could see a cop — and you get that moment of sobriety, you get this adrenaline rush, and you’re like “Holy shit!” and I thought for sure I was going to jail. The cop pulled me over, and I didn’t say a word because I had practiced in my mind so many times what’s going to happen when I finally get caught drunk driving.
Current: And what did that script look like to you?
Sepulvado: First of all, your license is gone. If you get pulled over driving drunk, your license is gone. The next thing is, you don’t want to get a conviction, right? So you don’t say a word. You don’t agree to a Breathalyzer. You don’t say a word. You let them arrest you. You object to a blood test so they have to go get a court order. And you hope that you can sober up by the time they get that court order for that blood test — and you don’t say a word. That’s the key. Even if they say you smell like booze, even if they say, “Do you need something to drink?” you don’t say a word; you just don’t talk.
And so this cop pulled me over. I want to make something clear: When I was laughing earlier, it’s more of the stupidity of me. But now I want to make it clear to everybody I understand the grave danger I put other people in besides myself.
So I get pulled over and I light a cigarette, and the cop comes over and he knocks on the window and I roll it down. He asked for my license and registration. He asked me why he pulled me over, and I just shrugged my shoulders — don’t say a word, you know the whole thing. He goes and runs my registration, and of course this is a hallmark of being a drunk, of being an addict. My registration’s in California and my license is in Georgia and my insurance in Oregon, because I’ve never bothered to get any of that sorted.
So he comes over and already he’s just like, “Wow, this is a real marvel of a person right in front of me.” And he’s like, “Do you know why I pulled you over? I saw you come from the pub,” and I’m still not saying anything. He asked me to put the cigarette out, and I put the cigarette out, and then he asked me to step out of the car. I say, “Am I being charged?” That’s the only thing I say. And he said, “Sir, step out of the car.” I step out of my Jeep, I open the door to my Jeep, but I didn’t realize I was leaning on it so hard because I was so drunk, and so I just fell out onto his feet — fell right in front of him. I stand up, and he asked me how far away do you live. It was a block, a block and a half. And he said, “Do you ever feel tired of drinking?”, if I ever got tired of living this way. And I didn’t say anything because I was looking at him and I didn’t want to admit yes, in case this was some kind of trick.
So in my drugged-out brain, my drunk brain, I was like, this has got to be some kind of trick, right? But there was that little reptilian part of me that still had some emotion, and it was like, “Man, this guy was trying to reach out to you.” So I didn’t say anything, but I just started crying. He looked at me and he said, “I want you to walk home. If you come back to your car tonight, I’m going to arrest you. If I ever see you again driving like this, I’m going to arrest you. But I will let you walk home if you promise to go to a meeting the next day.” I looked at him and I just nodded my head, and he said, “What are you saying?” I said, “Yes, I promise I’ll go to a meeting,” and it was the only thing I said to him besides asking why I had been asked to get out of my car.
So the next night I went to a meeting. I woke up the next day, and I couldn’t really remember how I got home, and then all of a sudden all this stuff was playing for me. The other thing that happened was somewhere in this I was of sane mind enough to text my friend. So the same friend who started this radio station is also an attorney, and I was texting her like, “Hey, I got pulled over. I’m really, really drunk, so if you bail me out tomorrow that’ll be great — like all this kind of stuff.” And she, of course, never returned any of her texts; she just figured the worst had happened because I was too drunk.
The next morning I’m piecing together what happened, and I realized I had promised to go to a meeting. So I went to my very first meeting, and I cried a lot. When I actually got there, when I had to get to the point — and when I say “meeting,” I want to make it clear I’m not saying what kind of meeting because we’re anonymous and that’s part of our tradition of whatever group I’m part of. So for all you know it could be a meeting of people who really like muscle cars or something like that. But I started sobbing, and I just realized I had to stop. I tried to stop; I stopped for two to three weeks, and then I felt really good, like all of a sudden all these things were coming together in my life. It was like, “I got this.” And I went out and had a beer with somebody and fell to pieces again, and then I tried to stop again, and it just went and went and went until I got to the point where I had to check in to rehab.
Current: You get your job at OPB. As soon as you get into the health insurance you say, “Peace out, guys. I’m going to rehab.” And they were incredibly cool and let you do that. What was rehab like? Did it just work?
Sepulvado: Everybody should go to rehab at least once in their life. Everybody should work at OPB, and everybody should go to rehab.
Current: Even nonaddicts?
Sepulvado: Yes. Let me speak of my experience: Rehab didn’t fix me. Rehab didn’t all of a sudden make me want to stop drinking and popping pills. There was no epiphany come-to-Jesus moment like I see in the movies. I had this expectation that I’d be like scrappy Sandra Bullock or something. And after being like a couple of weeks hard, I would start to see the softer parts of life like that really dopey movie I barely remember seeing because I was so drunk at the time — but something like that.
And that’s not at all what rehab was. Rehab was teaching me the life skills and allowing me the time to basically get that crap out of my body, and in doing so teaching me the life skills to know how to ask for help. Because that’s one of the things that I really believe this disease is; it’s an isolating disease, and it’s really difficult to ask for help. And it’s really difficult to ask for help when you already hate yourself so much that you’re punishing yourself like this in my case, or you hate yourself so much that you can’t see the good of yourself, or you’re so addicted to something that you can’t stop. You feel like a failure. And that was the thing that rehab really did. It crystallized this idea that I’m not a failure, I’m human, I have failings, I have faults.
Rehab is the place where I learned that it’s OK to love myself. It’s OK to look at myself and say, “You’re an all-right person. You have faults and whatever, but you have just as much right to be on this planet as anybody else does.” That was a really important part. The rehab I went to was really comprehensive, and they taught me how to meditate; that was the single most important thing they taught me in rehab. I meditate everyday now; I try to meditate three times a day, but I can’t remember to all the time. I try to be mindful of my actions. In some ways it works really well. I’ve transferred my addiction now to eating. I eat like a motherfucker, Adam, do not take me to the buffet.
Current: Why would you want to accept my invitation to come on my show and talk about this? Virtually everyone in your professional community is listening right now. Why be so open about this stuff?
Sepulvado: I believe that because the people in our profession are listening, I think that they’re good, kindhearted people. That’s why many of them do what they’re doing. I believe that some of them could have their own issues. So when I got out of rehab, I took the tack of telling everybody I had been in rehab. I did not hide that from anybody. It is an open secret in the sense that you know nobody will come up to me and be like, “I heard you were in rehab and you’re addicted to drugs.” Nobody will do that, but I will talk about it, so they know it’s OK to.
Somebody who is still a good friend of mine [and] who is very influential in public media texted me and said, “You’ve gone soft. This is not the John I know. The John I know is much like” — I’m just paraphrasing now — “but he’s much manlier and hard-drinking,” and all that kind of stuff. I know that this person didn’t mean that to sound the way it did. I’ve never told this person that I think they’re an asshole for what he did, even though I do think that, so if they’re listening now, you’re an asshole. But I’ve never told him that in person because I know what they were trying to say, which was that this was part of our life and part of being tough sometimes means being able to pound drinks when we’re out.
I want people to know that you can be part of this culture — and let’s not just say public media but even journalism — you can be part of this culture, you can be who you are and not drink. And, in fact — you’re very laudatory with your compliments about the Malheur coverage [OPB’s coverage of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge]. There is no way on God’s fuckin’ green earth that we would have been able to do what we did as a team had I been drinking. There is no way. It required too much concentration, too much get up and go. If I would have woke up one morning with a gigantic hangover, because of the competition that was happening with other papers and because of how swiftly moving it was, we would have been skunked, and that would have been it. We stayed on top of it because we were all, all, of sober mind, good sleep, took care of ourselves. It wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking; I wouldn’t have been able to participate.
Current: That said, I wonder if your life experience with addiction has made you a better journalist in some ways, or at least more able to empathize with and understand some people who you will be writing about.
Sepulvado: No. Absolutely not. I think if somebody is empathetic, they’re empathetic. You don’t have to wake up in — as I did — in a strange minivan in Lafayette, La., with a car running and some woman saying, “You’re going to asphyxiate yourself,” pounding on the door because it’s been running for four hours, and coming to thinking that you’re supposed to be on a sailboat. That is something that happened to me. I was in New Orleans. I did some cocaine, and before I knew it — whatever was in that cocaine was not cocaine — some hours later … I was in Lafayette, La., in a car I’d never been in before with an old lady getting me to come to — and I thought I was supposed to be on a yacht.
I don’t have to do those things to see the pain that addiction and poverty and lack of health care and lack of access to health care, lack of education, privilege, coming out of prison — I don’t have to go through that to be able to empathize with them. And, in fact, I think that’s a fallacy. Anybody who says they do their best work drunk or their best work high is a liar; they’re not being true to themselves. There’s no way it’s possible.
Current: Maybe you don’t need the experience in order to be empathetic to sources, but I imagine that it would put you logistically in a position to do some reporting that that other people wouldn’t be able to do. For example — oh God, do I even want to say this; yeah, this is fine —when I was a younger man I used to enjoy marijuana quite a lot, but I only knew how to get it because I lived in the same town for my first 22 years of life, and I just knew from high school where you could get it. In subsequent periods of life, where I’ve moved and been in different social situations, I thought to myself, “Hey, I would like to have some of that.” I literally don’t because — you know, now when I want to know how to find something? I go on Facebook and I say, “Hey, does anybody know where to buy this kind of lampshade or whatever?” You can’t really do that with drugs, and so I have no tools. I live in like a really, really high-poverty city: lots of drugs, lots of crime. I would have no idea where to go right now in order to get marijuana even if I wanted to, which of course I don’t because I have family and work at a Baptist university, and that would never occur to me. But even if it did, I wouldn’t have any freakin’ clue of what to do. So if I wanted to then go and do some reporting about the drug economy or something like that, I just wouldn’t know where to go or who to start with. I’d go to some activists, do that kind of lame move, whereas I feel like you would likely know exactly what corner to go to.
Sepulvado: Well you’re in Macon, right? So what you wanna do is go down to — I can tell exactly where the drugs are.
I understand what you’re saying in the sense that we all bring experiences to the table as journalists. I would posit that as journalists in the first place, we should be trying to get out to the street corners, whether it’s for drugs or for anything, to really understand. But yes, it would be a lie to say that I can’t see things that perhaps other people do because I notice that there’s a certain type of yellow cap in my neighborhood and I’m thinking “Oh shit, heroin is coming in.” Or one time I found a baggie at one of my workplaces and they obviously meant to throw in the trash and they didn’t, and I could tell [there] had been cocaine in it, and anybody else would have just seen a bag.
Current: That’s a superpower. Have you done much reporting in that area? Are you going to? You should, shouldn’t you?
Sepulvado: I think that I do it as it’s warranted for the audience. I was also homeless before I was a drug addict. I spent a lot of my life, my youth, before I was 22, before I met my ex-wife, in and out of shelters. I was in foster care, and I think that gives me an ability to kind of look at things.
That actually brings up a really good point, because what you’re really doing in asking this question is you’re making a really strong argument for diversity of perspective, which we do not have enough of in public media. And so, yes, that does help inform our reporting sometimes. I absolutely agree with it. Do I think I needed to be a drug addict to do that? No, I don’t. But I also think that I would like to see more people with diverse backgrounds in public media. I tend to see a lot of white folks with — not that there’s anything wrong with that, I want to make it clear — but we seem to have a lot of white folks with often very nice degrees from schools, and we tend to get a certain type of reporting that comes along with that type of background. I would like to see some folks who are like me, who don’t have a high school diploma and don’t have a college degree. I’d like to see some people who have college degrees and spent three years in the Peace Corps or three years abroad. I’d like to see some people from inner cities, from rural areas, just things that we don’t normally see in public media. I think it will make us a much stronger outfit. And everything I say, I want to make it clear I say with respect. I know a lot of folks who are white and have very nice Ivy League degrees who are very good people, so I’m not trying to disparage them.
Current: John Sepulvado is the new host of The California Report, and this has been great. Thank you for taking the risks that you had to take in order to have this conversation. I hope that it helps some people out there. High five!
Sepulvado: I appreciate it, and I also want to encourage anybody who feels like they have any kind of issue with this — maybe you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to me, that’s fine, but don’t feel uncomfortable to reach out to somebody. But if somebody does want to reach out, tweet at me, email me, just say you want to get in touch, and we’ll figure it out.