How Former TV Reporter Toan Lam Became a Social Activist

By Aneya Fernando 


In the latest installment of Mediabistro’s So What Do You Do series, we interviewed Toan Lam, the founder of the nonprofit social-activism site

Lam began his TV career as a local news reporter in 2001 at an ABC affiliate in Wausau, Wis. He’s also worked as a reporter for NBC stations in Los Angeles and Midland, Texas; and then a CBS station in Fresno, Calif. While a reporter at an independent station in San Francisco, Lam got the opportunity to report for a syndicated show on Asian-American lifestyles called Pacific Fusion. Afterward, he hosted a PBS show called California Heartland. 


The journo had always loved storytelling, and being a reporter seemed like a logical step. And yet, it wasn’t enough. Lam, who looked up to Oprah Winfrey as a kid, had a desire to tell inspiring stories of people doing good. And that’s exactly what he ended up doing.

I didn’t want to do car chases and murders and political scandals anymore. What if, instead of bringing that into people’s living rooms, what if I brought good news into people’s homes? So I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to quit my job in a month.’ It was December of 2008. I’m going to take six months to a year, and I’ll live off of the little savings that I have and just go out and tell these stories. And it was a hobby. I thought it would be fun. My dream job would be going around and interviewing people that are doing awesome things, both big and small. I just wanted to inspire people to also then use their power to help other people. Guess what? Next day I go in [to work], I get laid off. [laughs] And I was like, ‘Whoo-hoo, this is awesome!’

To hear more from Lam, including details on the stories he’s now telling, read: So What Do You Do, Toan Lam, ‘Chief Inspirator’ for Social Activism Site