The AJC’s Rodney Ho watches every reality TV show so you don’t have to

“In journalism, you need the steak—the investigative stuff—and you need really good burgers. I’m the burger guy.”
Rodney Ho

Photograph by Ryan Gibson

Rodney Ho is hard at work on a Friday morning. Sitting on a couch in the living room of his spacious home in Peachtree Corners at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, he’s watching a new CBS reality show called Hunted, billed as “the world’s most elaborate game of hide and go seek.” Ho concentrates, rapt, his laptop open beside him.

“I’m not recapping every episode of this one,” says Ho, a young-looking 47-year-old who is married to a civil rights attorney. “I’m just following it to see if anything interesting happens. Some shows with Atlanta characters, I’ll recap every episode. But I don’t know yet if this show merits it.”

Ho graduated from Princeton with a degree in political economics and has been a journalist for a quarter century, with stints at the Virginian-Pilot and the Wall Street Journal. He’d covered business for years—banking, airlines—before joining the AJC’s features department in 2001. Then in 2002 one of the paper’s TV writers handed him a VHS tape that would change his life.

“It was,” he recalls, “some summer replacement show called American Idol.” Atlantans were involved, but “the TV writers wanted nothing to do with this piece of crap. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll interview these Idol people, whoever they are.’ As the show became popular, I latched onto it.” Ho covered American Idol for the next four seasons. By 2005 TV was his main beat, and the AJC was paying his cable bill.

His home library is a testament to the intellectual ravages of the beat, full of books by former Idol contestants trying to squeeze the last few dollars from fly-by-night fame.

“I haven’t read all of these,” Ho assures me.

Among other hard-to-comprehend feats, Ho has watched every episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and written more than 136,000 words of weekly recaps.That doesn’t include all the words I’ve written about the show in other stories,” he adds. “I know it’s ridiculous. But in journalism, you need the steak—the investigative stuff—and you need really good burgers. I’m the burger guy. I generated more online page views in 2016 than anybody on the AJC’s staff [because] I have a good sense of what will hit.”

When it comes to page views—most of Ho’s pieces appear only online, though a few run in print—bad behavior and sex is what grabs them. “If someone from a show gets married,” Ho says, “that story does okay. But if they go to jail, it does a lot better.” His most-clicked story ever was about Mimi Faust from Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. “She had a sex tape,” he says. “I wrote about it without posting [the video]. But because I put ‘Sex Tape’ in the headline, I disappointed 800,000 people!

“I don’t know if that generates respect,” Ho continues, laughing. “But it generates job security. What I do will not win me a Pulitzer. I know my place.”

Still he does follow—and occasionally try to cover—more substantive topics. During Donald Trump’s spat with John Lewis, PBS announced plans to run a documentary on the congressman, which Ho decided to write about. “It didn’t get any page views,” he says. “I was like, ‘Okay, sorry John Lewis.’” But he puts such trials in context. “It’s not coal-mining, what I do. I mostly get to stay at home—in my underwear, if I want. Our music critic has to go to the Tabernacle and file a story at two o’clock in the morning!”

If Ho’s job were ever taken away, he says that he and his wife would continue watching a few reality shows like The Amazing Race, which they once considered trying out for. “She’s still upset about the time I went to cover a tryout for an HGTV show about backyard renovations,” Ho recalls. “She came along and endeared herself to the producers. They loved her. But when the higher-ups found out that I cover TV, they nixed us, and our backyard never got redone.” He peers out at it through bay windows. “Oh well.”

This article originally appeared in our May 2017 issue.