“I Had a Dream Job” – Ben Saboonchian

Posted: November 30, 2011 in journalism

This isn’t how Ben Saboonchian would have written the script. It doesn’t have an ending.

 

At 58, Saboonchian is starting over. After producing documentaries for 22 years at KIRO-TV 7 in Seattle, he was laid off on October 17. Today Saboonchian attended a mandatory orientation at the local unemployment agency. He’s meeting me for coffee to debrief afterwards while the impressions of the morning are still fresh.

He had to wait three hours for a job consultation and a tip for how to look for work online. When he typed “documentary producer” in the search field, “Not much came up,” says Ben, “Zero.”  Saboonchian has been in television documentary production since 1980, that’s 32 years writing, producing, directing, reporting and editing hour-long, prime-time documentaries. He’s won 74 awards, including 19 regional Emmys, 10 national awards including a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton and 6 regional Edward R. Murrow Awards. For 19 years, he’s been a co-instructor for a certificate program in documentary filmmaking at the University of Washington Extension. He also composes and performs original music for films and documentaries and has written and produced industrial films for non-profit organizations.

But today he’s just another 58-year-old looking for work.

“I felt a real sense of humility,” Saboonchian tells me. “When you’re 58 and you’re trying to reinvent yourself, it’s not easy. KIRO was my family,” he says.

He says the break from KIRO TV after 22 years was amicable. “We weren’t meeting budget,” says Saboonchian. “Cuts had to be made.” Still Ben says, he didn’t see it coming. He saw the human resources rep at the meeting and thought at first he’d been re-assigned.  Ben says, “They reassigned me right out the door.”

Documentary topics ranged from street kids to Doppler radar to global warming to taking care of mom and dad, a topic he knew well because of his parents struggle with health issues. His father, Esahak Saboonchian, died just two weeks before Ben was let go. He’d just finished “Voices of the Inner City” a behind-the-scenes look at local charity World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program. The production focused on local teens’ year-long  mentorship program sponsored by World Vision, the international charity in Federal Way. The project took six months to shoot.

He’s always felt lucky to do documentary work. He called KIRO TV the “last man standing” when it comes to long-form local TV production. Saboonchian produced three or four hour-long prime-time specials a year. He felt he was really serving the community.

“Local news just doesn’t do MUCH of that kind of long-form programming any more.”, he said. A lot of his friends in the TV business couldn’t believe he made it this long. “I had a dream job,” Ben says. “I always complained about lack of resources, but I had a dream job.”

So how will this journalist get repurposed?

He’d like to find a way to continue producing feature-length documentaries locally or on a national level. “I really don’t know about independent film making.” But he says, “I think I can do the work.”  His number one priority is to take care of his elderly mother. Saboonchian says he’s relying on his Christian faith right now. “I have a feeling God has other work for me.”

Ben Saboonchian will tell you he sees the blessing in this script without an ending. His massage therapist told him that since the termination, she’s noticed his back is getting a lot more loose. The muscles he’s told are not as tight. “I miss my friends,” he says. “But I don’t miss the stress.”

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Comments
  1. Josephine Cheng says:

    Ben,
    Feel good that you did wonderful work. Even though I’m not sure we have met, I am definitely a fans of yours. It was always an honor to be nominated alongside you at the Emmy Awards. I believe great things are in store for you — embrace the new chapter in your life!
    Josephine Cheng
    reporter/producer at KOMO, KING, and KCTS

  2. Dan Bolstad says:

    Thanks, John, for posting this story. I really feel for people in their 50s getting laid off and having to reinvent themselves. I sure wish Ben the best in his pursuit of satifying work.

  3. Ed Evans says:

    Long ago, when KIRO said goodbye to me, I was assured by an old former broadcast veteran that “there is life after television.” The transition can be staggering, but there is indeed, life after television. The best of luck as you venture into this new territory.

  4. Although I volunteered to leave KIRO, I had a feeling I would have been Laid off anyway… Leaving for me was uneventful and a little sad, but my life changed in ways that I never expected… Seriously…would anyone at KIRO or anywhere in my life seen that I would become a Personal Trainer…lose over 80lbs, and become obsessed with obstacle racing? Uh…NO! Life is a grand adventure! Ben will seize the opportunities and make even more of a difference in people’s lives. I miss my friends at KIRO…even Ben. 😉

  5. Josie Brooks says:

    I can so relate to Ben’s story. After working for the same wonderful company for 26yrs it was sold to a huge corporation and hundreds of us were laid off. Since I started at 19 years of age my co-workers were my 2nd family. I too miss many of them but do not miss the stress. I’ve been on unemployment for 14 months now and I thank God I have it. I have no idea what my next purpose will be but I too believe that it will be revealed to me as long as I am open and keep doing what I need to do. I am excited for Ben’s next chapter. In the many stories he has produced there is creative energy still to be channeled. Good luck to Ben and please know this time of “rest” is for you and your mother. Peace.

  6. Josie Brooks says:

    Now realizing this is a blog…. I send YOU Ben my best! 🙂

  7. LeRoy Gates says:

    Ben sorry to here about your job,but I also agree with everyone there is life after KIRO,if you are ever in my area remember the story about the little horses is still waiting to be told. you friend LeRoy

  8. […] story is about one guy who’s out of a job…caught between age-experience and new-cheap: “I Had a Dream Job” – Ben Saboonchian […]

  9. Anna Glover, California says:

    Your name came to mind today and well, here you are and after 35 yrs, an update as well. Congratulations Ben on completing your training and graduating. An expert now, prepared for the important work ahead. God hasn’t put you in training for anything less. You’ve only just begun. The latter years are better then the former years.

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