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Q&A: Kiran Chetry: On Career Transition, Nepal and Journalism

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CNN's KIRAN CHETRY discusses her recent career transition, her connection to Nepal, and in particular, broadcast journalism.



Kiran Chetry, 32, is a rising star of cable television news in the United States. She began co-anchoring American Morning, CNN's flagship morning program in April 2007. Before that she co-hosted "Fox and Friends" on the Fox News Channel. She is based in New York. In an interview with Dharma Adhikari of Nepal Monitor, she discusses her recent career transition, her connection to Nepal, and in particular, her views about broadcast journalism.

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Let’s start with the recent convention of Nepali journalists in Washington DC. How was it unique in the sense that it was the first such meeting of Nepali journalists in North America?
I really commend everyone that put that together. It is really great to be able to come together as journalists, especially of the same nationality, people with common concerns and common interests in covering the news. It’s great that they were able to organize like that. I was very honored to be invited to speak and it was also really interesting to hear some of the other speakers.

I think that it’s a small but growing community here in America and it’s wonderful that the journalists’ society was able to put that together. I think it was a great thing and I hope it will be the beginning of a very long annual tradition. Hopefully it will continue to grow, and more people will get involved.

You recently moved to CNN from Fox News. How has the transition been for you, so far?
We started off with the tragedy of Virginia Tech – it was our first day on air when that story broke and we’ve also been covering a lot of politics following the debates and a lot of breaking news in the morning.

And the best thing about CNN is that we have global resources. We were able to do interviews and get reports from the only Western television journalist in Iran. We were able to have on the ground, real-time reports from Baghdad. I feel people who watch American Morning are going to get a very comprehensive view of the news— everything that is going on around the world and also very important things that happen here in the US. Being a part of that, to me, it is an honor.

How do you define and describe the nature of news in today’s world-- the difference between hard news and light news, particularly after your transition from Fox News. CNN is considered more to be hard news-oriented. Isn’t it?
I think that there is a broad definition of news, certainly. We take into consideration the top stories of the day, whether they are international, politics, unexpected breaking news about weather or a murder or something like a shift in policy. We have been dong a lot of immigration issues, we have also been doing a lot of issues, in fact, on American Morning about Asian Americans in the workplace and we have a special correspondent doing that type of work. So I think we have a very broad definition of what news is.

And this is about being a “South Asian.” Because you don’t really seem like a South Asian unless somebody does some research on you! There are very few South Asians actually doing major shows on cable television in the US. What does being a “South Asian” mean to you?
I define it in a more narrow term. I feel that being half-Nepalese is my heritage, something I have always grown up being proud of and living with. It’s never been something that I dwell on a lot; I think that it’s just my life, it’s who my family is, it’s who my father is. My cousins, many of them that are my age, are here in the US, either studying or now have jobs here. And that is just a part of our culture. And I have lived straddling both.

But you are right, when people look at me they don’t necessarily say, “Wow, Kiran must be Asian” or “Kiran must be from Nepal.” But I think that when you get to really know me and you spend any time with my family, you see what an influence it is. Since my father is from Nepal and that is what I grew up around. It’s just me.

And there are not a lot of South Asians, if you want to put it that way, that are represented in the news. However, there are a lot more at CNN, which is interesting. We have our special correspondent Sanjay Gupta, also Betty Nguyen, who is on our air and Alina Cho, one of our American Morning correspondents. All of them are Asian, or South Asian. So I think it is wonderful to be able to see more faces of diversity. And, I am one of them, even though I may not look like I am! I think I understand what being part of the Asian culture is like, not to put everybody into one big generalization. But I definitely understand a perspective because it is part of how I grew up.

How would you describe the nature of your connection to Nepal today?
It’s my family. Many of them come back and forth a lot. And a lot of them are, like I said, studying here in the States. And my father’s brothers are also here as well as my cousins. In fact, I recently met one of my cousins in New York. I last saw her when I was thirteen, when I last went to Nepal.

It’s great to be able to catch up with family. I am hoping to go back to Nepal. I am hoping to be able to take my daughter with me, who is only 15 months now, so when she is a little bit older she can have some memories as well like I did. Because the first time I went after I was born was when I was 7 and I still vividly remember Nepal. When I went back when I was 13, it was so different. And I am sure now when I go back it is going to be even more changed.

What stories on Nepal or South Asia would you put on your show, if you were visiting there and reporting from location?
One of the things is the attempt at the emerging democracy. Also the goings on in parliament and the first time voting on the Constituent Assembly. Of course, we have been following the situation with the Maoists and the difficulties. My father did a lot of interpreting for the courts for asylum here for people who were persecuted or who were fearing persecution and had been threatened by the Maoists. I think that’s something that would be very interesting to cover -- to follow one of those cases so people can understand what is going on there. And of course, the elections, which everybody has been following, including the Carter Center and others about the potential for the peace process, and the political negotiations that are going on for the future.

About your mother’s ethnicity-- where is she from?
My maternal grandmother was Ukrainian. The other quarter is a mixture of Dutch and German. But my mother’s mother’s parents were the first ones to come over to the United States from Ukraine. And they came to Pennsylvania. They had 9 children. My grandmother was the oldest. She grew up in a household that was also very ethnic. Her parents spoke very little English and the kids were the first generation raised here in America.

Now a few professional questions. What are some of the key characteristics of a good broadcast journalist?
First of all, you have to have curiosity about the world around you. You have to have the ability to communicate, of course, just like you would if you are a print journalist - it is just slightly different. You have to be able to be not only curious but willing to spend a lot of time trying to put what you are saying into context, because reporting a story is reading what is going on and helping the audience, the viewer, the reader, understand it and put it into perspective in the world around them. How it relates to them is also something that is important.

It is also important, I believe, to be a good listener so that you can hear what people are telling you, and you can learn from the world around you. Every time we interview someone, it is an opportunity to learn something new and to hear a different perspective.

The best thing about the job, I believe, is that you are able to bring so much information to people. They call it the newsgathering process and that is true, because we are everywhere. As members of the media, we inform our fellow citizens, whether world-wide citizens or in the US and we can’t take that lightly. We are informing those around us so that they can make decisions when it comes to their lives, when it comes to their views. And I find that endlessly fascinating. Everyday, there is something new.

What is your view about the significance of personal, physical look in broadcast news? You have been rated #3 among “TV’s Sexiest News Anchors” by Maxim magazine.
(Laughs) I try not to pay too much attention to that kind of stuff or take it too seriously. You know, it’s television, so, of course, there is a focus that people sometimes have on someone’s appearance. I think sometimes they focus more on the appearance of women - as we see it with Katie Couric. She certainly gets picked apart a little more about her appearance than her male counterparts. But I try not to put too much stock in that.

Who is your role model in television?
There are many people. Just to name a few, I would definitely say Peter Jennings. He is somebody I grew up watching, and I really admire his style of delivering the news. You felt like he was having a conversation with you, never talking down to you. And I think it is important that you give the audience credit for being intelligent and informed. And when you are delivering the news of the day it is important to make sure that you keep that in mind - that you don’t necessarily know more than everybody else. I also like Peter Jennings a lot because I met him in person when I was very young and was trying to get into the television business and he was somebody who was very kind. I was an intern at that time in a little cable station. I also really admire people like Diane Sawyer. She has been in the business for so long in so many different ways and she still brings a lot of energy. I really find that admirable.

Your father, Homa Chetry, briefly worked for the Voice of America radio during the 1970s. How has he influenced your career in journalism?
My father was very supportive of what I wanted to do. There are careers that people are extremely interested in. No one would ever say to you: Don’t become a doctor. Because being a doctor has a lot of pride and status associated with it, and once you work really hard and get through school you have guaranteed employment for life. And that is something that’s very important especially when someone can understand the immigrant experience— when you come over to the United States and you have very little and you build into what you eventually have. You want to pass on to your children something even more than that. My parents were so encouraging about seeing through that I had everything I needed to get an education. But I think that part of them was a little bit nervous about the thought of me going into television news, because, as we know, this is a very unstable business, especially when you are in front of the camera. You do your best and you move up. But there are people who never make it as far as they want to go.

I remember being at school and my dad asking me: Are you sure this is what you really want to do? And then he realized how much I loved it. My parents supported me by driving me up to Erie, Pensylvania for my first commercial television job. I remember they helped me move on a hot August day when it was 95 degrees. They supported me when I moved to California to take a TV job.

It makes me feel good to know that both my parents are proud of me and they know the things they have given up are also the great rewards of being able to do something that you love like TV journalism. The fact that I ended up at CNN - they see that as a dream fulfilled.

So far, what have been your most challenging assignments and some interesting ones?
The challenging assignments are the things where you see people suffering and there is nothing that you can do to help them. You are bringing their stories out in hopes that other people can see what they are going through and can feel for them. My assignment after 9/11 was covering the victims’ families and we were out there every single day. Not knowing if they could pull anybody out, family members were walking around with pictures of their loved ones and day after day it was very difficult. The Virginia Tech shooting is another example. I interviewed a lot of family members who had lost loved ones. I put myself in their shoes and imagined what it would be like if, God forbid, my dad had to go through that. It was very difficult, especially seeing that situation unfold.

Sometimes, let’s say, you are interviewing someone in a position of power within the government and you are trying to get answers. Of course, they don’t want to always be completely forthcoming. And so sometimes you have that back and forth. I always think to myself when I am doing interviews: What do the people watching at home right now want me to get out of this interview? What do they want me to ask? It’s always very challenging but I love doing it, the whole process of newsgathering, whether you are out in the field or conducting a live interview in studio.

One of the criticisms of the US media is that they pay little attention to international affairs, specially the US-based TV programs. And also the criticism about the coverage of minorities—it is not always accurate. How do you look at this?
I think that the US news media does cover US stories and sometimes centers around things that perhaps affect a small number of people or focus on one missing person, let’s say, when there is so much other news happening. But I think that CNN covers global issues better than anyone else, frankly, not only with the coverage of CNN domestic but also CNN International. We are some of the only people that have correspondents and bureaus all over the world, including in Africa and Asia. I think we are better at it than others.

In terms of minorities and television, no doubt, there is an under-representation. I don’t think it is intentional, but that it is something that many news organizations are moving toward becoming more mindful of and taking steps to change in the future.

As a broadcast journalist, how do you keep tab on international affairs?
We always have CNN International, CNN en Español, Headline News and CNN on. Of course, we have the wires and feeds that are coming in continuously. These are video feeds where you get information on various stories. And we rely on our producers as well to flag interesting things. This is a 24/7 operation. News stories breaking around the world are monitored at all times and drawn to our attention. Of course, you can’t always cover it all but we certainly have resources at our fingertips so we are always able to keep abreast and cover the different stories.

So it is just a matter of reading—I get a lot of the big newspapers in the morning stacked on to my desk. We also have them right at our computers; we can watch video that is available to CNN at all times. The Internet also plays an enormous role in broadening our world and making us aware of other things that are going on across the world.

What suggestions do you have for young people, specially from South Asia, who would like to embrace broadcast journalism as their career, and who are looking up to you right now ?
That is the ultimate complement that people would say: Maybe someday I can do what she is doing. I believe you have to love it because it does take up a lot of your life. I mean, it does, just like when you decided you wanted to become a doctor or whatever you want to become. So you have to love it. You have to want to do it not just for fame or anything like that.

I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be here at CNN after years of anchoring in really small markets and wondering if I was going to advance. I think you have to be well-read and you have to be curious. The most important thing I can say really is to do an internship, learning from other people that do it and finding people who are willing to take the time. One thing I always say is if anybody wanted to come learn from me, follow me around, or wrote to me asking advice, I would always try to help them out, especially young people that are deciding what they want to do or deciding the best way to go. The reason I say that is because I had people who helped me. You can’t do it alone. You can’t do it without people guiding you. And that early guidance helped me, I’ll always remember, and that is something I want to pass along to others as well.


Comments

I wish she knew how to speak nepali.

She is not a Nepali in the first place. What is there to be proud of her, idiots? She does not know Nepal and does not seem to be willing to know a thing or two about Nepal. All She knows are Maoists are bad. Pity.

Great article! Ms. Chetry is a big success since she left Fox News Channel. Kiran did an interview recently with someone who works in an abortion clinic, and it was easy to see that Kiran possessed a lot of empathy for this woman, and was quick to spotlight the dangers they encounter every day in their jobs. Thanks to Kiran for the great job she did in allowing this woman to describe her work and the pride she feels every day. Kiran is a friend to pro-choicers everywhere!

Well, nice to know she cares about Nepal, her roots and is upto date on political affair in Nepal(this one probably because she is a journalist).She sounded as she is not among bunch of Nepalese or South Asian who just want to forget about who they are. The real thing would be to see her covering something good and promotional about Nepal if that ever happens. Keep going Kiran!!

This article is amusing. When Chetry was at Fox News, she said in a Q&A, and I quote "I would never want to leave", and when making reference to a vacation in Mexico, she tells of her disappointment in viewing choices at her hotel, only having CNN International to choose from! I guess CNN International is great now, huh?

Either Chetry hated Fox News while she worked there and pretended to like it, or perhaps she did like it until she didn't get everything she wanted. To be honest, I think she can switch her allegiance in a hot second to whomever gives her the biggest spotlight and fatter paycheck.

That was full of inspiration. I am so glad that you switched to CNN. I was watching the news and it was as usual but when I read your name "Kiran Chetry", it sounded familiar. I was really curious to know how much you cared about Nepal and this interview nailed it. Good Luck!

Good job, kiran! keep going! you are the inspiration to all nepalis!

In my years of watching Ms. Chetry, I see a pro-abortion slant in the way she reports on this issue, and judging from comments she's made on the matter, in my opinion, she is supportive of legal abortion. Kiran has a nice personality, but in so many respects, she is cut from the same cloth as most of the rest of the mainstream media.

My daughter is from Nepal. We adopted her at age 1 in Feb 2004. We named her Maia and she is a beautiful gift to us. Maia is now 5. I plan to show her Kiran's picture. I would love for her to meet Kiran someday.

couple of years ago i was watching fox n friends, i read kiran chetry on the tv screen. i was bit surprised- so i told my buddy who was watching tv with me= she could be my relative (joking!!!) coz we had the same last name. did bit research online-found out she was born in nepal.
let me tell you. after listening to the interview. makes me happy that even though she is a us citizen- she knows her family roots and is proud of it.
i would like to say kiran you are great at what u do. and i wake up every morning watching u on cnn.

Kiran,
so impresive interview and we are proud of you that you are from Nepal and. it would be better if you sometimes bradcast some documentary in CNN about Nepal,
Thanks
Keshav

Kiran is proud of nepal and proud of nepalese journalists like us who are trying to establish as journalists in united states.

I am very proud to read your interview.You are proud of journalists from Nepal like us. We are also trying to establish as a journalists like in Nepal by print media.

i hearty congratulate Kiran Chetri on a CNN anchore who is the first Nepali anchore.we are really proud of Kiran for being nepali. God bless you Kiran.

krishna dawadi, Australia

Kiran: I followed you on F & F. When you did not show up one day I could not figure out what had happened. It was like you had never been there. Then the next day you were at CNN and gave a flawless presentation. Congraulations on the move and your new baby.

this is a joke...she's only on there because she is mixed with white. Her mom is white. CNN has her on the air simply to pander to their audience as being "inclusive". She has traditional caucasian features mixed with asian so that makes her "exotic". She's not an icon. She went to a nice suburban school, then went to a nice state univ and then got by on her looks. I doubt she even cares about journalism. She probably majored in journalism becasue it sounded like such a laudable profession. She's just happy to live in an exclusive neighborhood in Westchester, sleep with her similarly sucessful Caucasian husband every night and watch the nanny take care of her spoiled two young kids.

thanks someone there in cnn from nepal. we are proud of that. You are our inspiration. thanks for your father who helps all the neplese. i salute your mother for giving birth to such a wonderful person like you. please do something for neplese journalism.

Kiran,
You really made us proud to be Nepali. You are the source of inspiration for those who lost their hope in the midway. Thank you for being a CNN anchor, a Nepali anchor

Really good interview. wish you a great success.

Kiran,
I was a loyal Fox and Friends fan. Was I blown away watching Gretchen for three weeks when I suddenly thought...something is wrong! Where the heck is Kirin? This gretchen is a looker, and runs about a third your speed...and a nervous nelly to boot. I got on Google and was I man at Roger! I thought what in God's name have you done?? Clearly we have ego Issues Big time, and complete lack of forthought. The pride comes before the fall. And when Fox lost you they took a hard fall! You are very special, don't think for a second that millions of viewers Didn't follow you immediately to CNN! I Wrote Roger and told him he owed a serious apology to Viewers, Bill Oreilly, Geraldo Revera (SP?) Everybody for that matter. Your a sharpy with a heart! This is rare, you are rare...We love and support you, and were with you.

Scott Karnes 47
Dallas, TX USA

This is in response to Saroj Shakya (July 15, 2007 02:01 AM). Nope-- she is not on CNN Intl beamed in Nepal. You gotta see only Larry King, 360 and Situation Room, but not the American Morning. Whose bad would this be?!!

Nice to see a fellow Nepali doing well, she's an inspiration!

wow ! what an inspiring and a great interview. keep it up Kiran ji .you can do more in future. keep it up.

Great!!!!
I really enjoyed reading Kiran's interview. I am proud of you. You are our (Nepalese) inspiration.
Keep up the good work.

I think your father taught me Nepali in 1972 in the Peace Corps! When I saw you on CNN, I said, she looks just like a Chetry kid I photoed in the hills near Pokara! But of course, you were not yet born. Namaste!

Kiran, CNN is very fortunate to have you aboard: FNC really lost out. You are an incisive interviewer, a charismatic co-host, and a sexy sweetheart. In fact, you're the platinum standard!

A good interview and I do appreciate Kiran's tip -- try to connect to what people would like you to get out of the interview. It is useful to TV journalists, particularly those doing the radio and television talk shows. That also explains that the journalists are responsible for the public (not just their employers!)

Namastee Kiran, Do you speak Nepali?

Love you, your interview and love your American morning (CNN).

Hi there in Nepal: Can anybody tell me if you can watch CNN's "American Morning" in Kathmandu? Just curious.

Saroj from Houston, TX.

A long overdue interview with Kiran. There were many rumors about her before but this is a very informative post for Nepalese and answers most of the things I wanted to know about her.

When she was at Fox, her last name and her first name too looked familiar. At first I thought she was from Darjeeling or somewhere in India. My question is why spell Chetry and not "Chhetri"?

Nice and exiciting viewpoint of Kiran. The effort made by Dharmaji is commendable too. We hope Kiran will keep alongwith the Nepali diaspora and journalists community.

Thanks

Interesting interview. Best of luck in career. And think of doing something concrete to the land from where your father came.

Great interview! Congrats on your move to CNN! Now that you've changed networks, you will be able to finally tell the truth about the corrupt Bush Administration. CNN is about the truth with no agenda or bias attached. You will do very well there. You will be one of the biggest celebrities in news reporting very soon!

>> I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be here at CNN after years of anchoring in really small markets and wondering if I was going to advance.

Agreed, given the tough competition in this business, there are thousands out there who would like to be where you are today. enjoy!

There have been South Asian anchors in the past in major US news shows, such as Riz Khan (now with Aljazeera), Zain Verjee (Still with CNN International. Don't forget Uma Pemmaraju of Fox News. But Kiran, youre definitely the first South Asian to do as major a show as American Morning. Die-hard Fox fans are already irritated with you for defecting to rival CNN! The more they talk about you, the more it proves your growing popularity and importance in American TV news. Congratulations!

Curiosity, yes. But I also believe persistence is a key virtue in TV news. You have to be there day in and day out, and persist in your endeavor.

I also agree that good listening is important and communicating in simple and clear langauge, as you do. But some broadcast journalists like Vijay Kumar Pandey are arrogant and they like to talk to themselves than to thier audience.

Keep up the good work. I think the person like you can play an active role in extricating the mess we have here in nepal. And oh, the maxim magazine ...they got it all wrong. You are #1.

It is an inspiring interview with some major glimpses of US-Nepalese journalism. Kiranjee, plz try to be in touch with Nepalese media community in the days to come.

Great to see your still that warm and personable person I worked with all those years ago....keep up the great work.

Hey,
Extremely proud of you, not just being a Chetry myself, but also being a Nepali-American.
Ray Chetry

Kiran,
what a nice job.

This is very inspiring interview for Journalism student like me. Thanks for publishing keep up the good work KIRAN.

All nepalese are proud of you. Keep it up.

Suman

Very nice Kiran is this another way to convince us that you are a real journalist.

Kiran,
You should take your family to the Himalayas for trekking. A lot of American kids who had been to trekking tell me it was the most indelible impression they ever had!

Chandra

I think she is an icon.I salute this laday .Thnaks for this website for publishing interview of such great lady.

Kudos to you Kiran,
All the best for Kiran and this site for the future endeavours.

She hosts a programme in CNN Morning Show. She is from Nepal and John (the another co-host of the show) is from Canada. America is for everyone. LONG LIVE USA

She is such a people's person, and her answers are honest and open. Thoroughly enjoyed!

A fabulous interview, and this answers many questions I had about Kiran. There have been rumors floating around about her connection to Nepal for a long time, and it is very interesting to know how much she cares about her birth place. At one moment, I had the feeling I know so little about Nepal and she knows so much!

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
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