By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar, Publisher
South Asian women in the media often juggle what generations before may have called ‘non-traditional’ and careers that go outside the paths our parents may have chosen for us. Rekha Muddaraj says her parents thought her choice to be a journalist was ‘just a hobby’. Little did they know this hobby would make this inspiring woman, an Emmy-award winning reporter.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Muddaraj is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, where she earned dual degrees in journalism and political science. She completed several internships, including a job with the Washington, DC bureau of ITN, a British television news network. During her time in Southern California, she covered a range of stories, including devastating wildfires, presidential visits, and even the royal couple’s first visit to the United States.
Prior to that, she worked for KOAM-TV in Pittsburg, KS. As a “one-man band,” she shot, wrote and edited all of her stories and had the unique experience of covering news in four states: Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Rekha Muddaraj joined the KHOU 11 News team in Houston, Texas as a weekend evening anchor and weekday reporter in January 2012.
She is a first generation American and says she truly enjoys visiting her extended family in India. She and her husband Neil live with their daughter in Houston.
We had the chance to talk to her about all things motherhood and how she juggles her career in media.
How old were you when you first knew you wanted to be a journalist?
I was 5 years old. I remember taking a tour of a local news station in Phoenix with my first grade class. When I came home, I announced to my mother that I was going to be a news reporter.
For most South Asian parents, journalism isn’t a first choice, how did your parents react?
I think they thought it was a phase or a “hobby.” But looking back, it seems I was destined to do this job: I was always involved in a media club or the school newspaper. My parents were adamant about watching both local and national news in the evenings (hence, my crush on Peter Jennings).
What was your hardest lesson in journalism?
Viewers hold you accountable and it’s important to make every word count.
You’ve won an emmy for your work, can you tell us what you won it for and the story you worked on to earn it?
I won an Emmy for my coverage of the 2008 wildfires in Southern California. The fires had spread to main residential areas in San Diego and I watched dozens of homes burn to the ground in minutes. It was heartbreaking, watching people escape with little more than their lives.
What is your favourite story you’ve covered?
Picking a favorite story is like picking a favorite child! Recently, I profiled a small, private boarding school for kids from low-income families. All of the students came from rough neighborhoods, and many of their parents never even graduated high school, but these students were determined to do better for themselves and their families. Almost all of them graduate and go to top universities. The school relies purely on donations to survive. I was so inspired by those students.
How did becoming a mom change the way you look at stories?
Stories involving child abuse, or worse, really hit home now. But really, I’ve become more compassionate about stories in general. Being a mom really makes you want to make the world a better place.
In your opinion do women in journalism encounter challenges once they become mothers as employees in the workplace?
Absolutely. I used to love traveling for stories and I would never mind staying late for work. Now, my time is limited and my priority is my family. It’s the sad truth and really what feeds into “working mom guilt.”
You made the move from San Diego to Houston as a couple/family, what tips do you have for women uprooting their lives to move to a different city?
Working in news, you are a bit of a nomad because you are constantly moving up to bigger markets and better job opportunities. Nonetheless, it is difficult starting over in a new city, especially as a new mother. Women should always weigh their options and do what is best for them and their family, but my advice: just do it. A new adventure always pushes you to grow, professionally and personally. Uprooting your life for your career is difficult, but I’ve been lucky to have the support of my husband Neil, and my family, to continue pursuing my dream job.
You are known to love visiting our family in India, can you tell us a bit about your ties there
and how the environment there has changed over the years in your community?
Most of my family is still in Bangalore and I try to go no longer than two years without visiting. I used to spend entire summers there, playing with my cousins and neighborhood kids, listening to my grandmother’s stories, attending family weddings. I loved those times and I really hope my daughter also has the opportunity to create such memories.
What is your proudest moment as a mom?
Hmm… I not sure yet!
What was your biggest challenge as a mom?
The work-life balance.
If your daughter said she wanted to go into TV journalism, what advice would you give her?
Only do it if you really, REALLY love it. If you’re on the fence about it – even slightly – you won’t succeed… and in the end, you won’t be happy.
Fun Facts About Rekha:
What spice is always in your spice rack?
I have this Cajun spice mix that I put on EVERYTHING. My husband is requesting I find a new favorite spice.
What’s item can always be found in your fridge?
Milk! Whole milk for my 15-month old daughter, non-fat for my husband, and vanilla almond milk for me.
The Real Housewives of… any city. If they came out with a Dubai version, I’d probably watch that too.
Item you can’t live without?
My Iphone, sadly. I mean, my daughter.
Facebook or twitter?
I’m really getting into Twitter now!
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