Priya Sridhar, reporter, NBC 7 San Diego, joins Voices from the Field to reflect on her journey as a broadcaster and a member of the military and how those career paths intersect and allow her to serve both her country and her viewers in local news.
Edited and Paraphrased for Print
I'm Sylvester Smith with NAB and I work with our members and our partners to develop revenue opportunities for both. Priya, welcome. We are here with Voices From the Field with NAB and I am honored to be here face to face with you. I've seen you do a couple of other things and really want to get to know your story firsthand and get our audience to kind of hear from you. So Priya, what is it that you do?
Thanks for having me. I've been looking forward to chatting with you. And yeah, we've been connected on various platforms. But I'm glad we're finally being able to connect face to face, at least virtually. Currently, I'm working in San Diego as a political reporter for the NBC affiliate here. I also host a weekly political show on Sundays on NBC. It's called Politically Speaking and it comes on after Meet the Press in Southern California. I cover Southern California political issues or even national and state issues and how they affect us here in Southern California. I came to San Diego initially to work for KPBS, which is the local NPR affiliate, and I was actually introduced to San Diego through my time in the Navy. I had never been here before. And my very first unit that I was assigned to with the Navy was at Naval Air Station, North Island. So on Coronado, I landed in the plane and I was like, "this place is magical." So I thought to myself, once my contract was up at the last place I was working, which was in Texas at a CBS station, I wanted to try to get a job in San Diego.
So it's really weird how my two worlds collided. And now I'm in this very fleet-concentrated area in San Diego, and I'm able to pursue both my military career because I'm still in the reserves as a public affairs officer. And then also my journalism career. And, yeah, I've done a little bit of everything. I started out at the NBC affiliates in Maine, I went on to work for an international news channel, I was based in Washington, D.C. I was working the Washington, D.C. beat and anchoring a little bit. I went overseas and worked as a South Asia correspondent, and bureau chief for that channel, came back and worked for the Associated Press for a year in Chicago, went on to work for another international news channel. And I was based in D.C. And then I was also co hosting a morning news show in New York City. And then after that was when I went to Texas, and then I came here to San Diego. So it's been kind of a wild ride.
Wow, that's amazing. And you know, just from my time in the military, I traveled around a lot. And it sounds like that's what you're doing going coast to coast. Being a community service provider, as a journalist, can you talk to what made you want to become a journalist and fulfill that dream? And when did you have an idea that that's what you wanted to do?
It was actually when I was in high school. I took a journalism elective class. And I found it really fun to just go outside and interview people and to work on different stories. And then I started watching the local TV news stations. I was born and raised right outside of Boston. So it was the Boston local news stations that I was watching and I was like, "those people look like they have an awesome job. They just get to be outside all day." I thought to myself, I don't really see myself sitting at a desk. I always had a ton of energy. And so I thought I wanted to be doing a job where I get to go out and be exploratory. So I just started reading the bios of the local newscasters in Boston and that was kind of how I first got a sense of, "how do you really dive into this business." And that's when I learned that there are markets across the country, most people start in small markets. So I went to Bangor, Maine - that was my very first market, it's market 154, all of the markets are ranked based on audience size. And then I kept jumping. And what's interesting is, later in life, when I joined the military, I found that there was so many similarities between the way that journalists grow up in the industry and the way that military people grow up. We all move every two to three years until you get to a market where you think, "Hey, I can see myself living here."
So that was really it. I there. I mean, now, I feel as though I can't imagine doing anything else with my life, like I've experienced periods of unemployment, because this business is super competitive. And there have been other people who have said, you know, maybe you should think about doing something that's not journalism. But I truly believe that this is my passion. And part of it, like you said, is, I really like the idea of helping people and helping your community and providing them with information. And I really believe that I was an American history major in college and journalism is so integral to democracy, you need a free press in order to have a really powerful and strong democracy. So I love that I'm playing a really tiny part in that.
And so that being said, Can you speak to some of the success or some of the things that you consider successes, allong your experiences as a journalist, and also within the military.
It sounds really cliche, but I think whenever I have an opportunity to help someone, or spotlight something that maybe people aren't aware of, or they never knew about, that's when I feel a personal sense of accomplishment or success. So that's manifested itself in a variety of ways. So when I was in South Asia, for example, that was a part of the world that I personally felt very passionate about, because my parents are immigrants from India. And so I thought it was an incredible opportunity to be able to travel and be posted in New Delhi and tell stories about that part of the world to an international audience. And I really felt as though that was a responsibility that I was given because a lot of people have preconceived notions about different parts of the world, based on whatever they've experienced, you know, with that, whether that be in Hollywood, or reading a book, or a magazine, or whatever it was.
I had actually interned for CNN International in New Delhi when I was in college. And I found that a lot of the stories that I was seeing coming out of South Asia were very stereotypical. They weren't necessarily inaccurate, but they were perpetuating a lot of the stereotypes that you might think of with South Asia. Everybody lives on less than $1 a day, there's a ton of poverty, all of those things are true. But there's so much more beyond that. And so I was really excited about the opportunity to tell the stories of one of the fastest growing economies in the world, one of the largest democracies. It has such a young population, there are tons of entrepreneurs. And it was really neat to tell those stories and give people a different glimpse of India that they may not have never known about before.
There's one story that for whatever reason, when anyone ever asked me this question, it sticks out to me. It was about a local veteran in Texas and he needed a heart transplant. And he was trying to get it through the VA system. And for whatever reason, the way that the VA system was set up was in order to get certain organ transplants, you had to travel to certain VA medical centers. So for him, that meant going to Missouri from Texas, and he needed a caregiver to go with him and basically provide care for him during the procedure, and then also in the months afterwards. And sadly, he didn't have anyone that could necessarily fulfill that role. And so he was saying, you know, there are many cardiac surgeons here in San Antonio, I just want to get the surgery here, or the transplant in San Antonio. And so it was just one of those weird bureaucratic things. I got a statement from the VA in D.C., I had no idea what was going to happen to this guy. Turns out after my story aired, some surgeon in San Antonio ended up seeing it and decided to basically do the transplant for him. I don't fully remember exactly who paid for it, or exactly how it all works. But he was able to get the transplant and he ended up living. And he had two little kids. And I remember I was at the gym, and he sent me a text message that said, "because of you, I was able to spend more days with my children. And I was like, "Listen, I did not do the surgery. That was the doctor, I just was a reporter that did a story on this." But you see that happening so often that when we shine a spotlight on something, whether it's an injustice or an unfortunate circumstance, there are so many good people in the world who care, they feel impassioned about what you reported on, and they want to do something, and it's like a call to action. And so that really touched me. And it turns out, he ended up passing away.
About two years ago, I was in California at this point, I receive a phone call, I happen to answer it. I never answer phone calls from random numbers because I think it's spam. And it was this lady and she said said to me, "Do you remember? you know this person?" And I was like, "Oh, yeah, that's the veteran who got the surgery." And she said, "That was my son, he passed away. But I wanted you to know that you were his angel." And I just started crying. And she said, "He used to carry your business card around in his wallet." And to me, whenever I feel as though this job is so tough. There are people yelling fake news at me, nobody believes us anymore. Everybody hates us, I think about that lady, and she literally helps me get up every day and makes me want to continue doing this job. Even if I only ever have one more opportunity in my life to do a story like that, for that guy. That made a huge difference. And I'm like, so honored to have been a part of that.
Wow, if that doesn't spark some emotion. That speaks to the breadth of why we are here and why we we do put together these types of stories. Thank you for sharing that. We've heard you say that you have been all over the United States and you've traveled internationally. I've been to South Korea during my time in the military, and have seen and experienced different cultures. How would you speak to the diversity that we see within the industry?
Well thanks for that. That's really a very kind words. I feel important because for the longest time, when people talked about our industry, it was a little bit of an old boys club. And part of that was the way that the industry was designed. So oftentimes, we heard that the only way to land a job in journalism was to have internships. And sadly, many of those internships were unpaid. And so if you were on any sort of financial assistance or a scholarship during school, that made it really difficult to get those kinds of experiences on your resume that you then needed to get a job. So I was super lucky. I was on scholarship throughout my college years, and I received a scholarship from ABC News to intern in their law and justice unit in New York City. And that was a hugely transformative experience for me, because it made me be able to work with network level correspondents and journalists, and it just made me so much more hungry to see them staying in the newsroom late at night. I was like, "Wow, this is where I really want to be." And I thought to myself, if I'm ever in a position where I can, host interns, give them an experience that perhaps they would never be able to have, I definitely want to provide that for other people.
So when I was a bureau chief over in India, I found a way to partner with my undergraduate school in college, and I got two minority students to actually come to India and intern for an entire summer fully funded for me. And for one of them, it was his first experience outside of the United States. He was a black guy from Tennessee. But you know, he came and he had a great time. And holy cow, he came up with some of the greatest story ideas. And I think that's also the point that the more diversity that you have in newsrooms, and in different places, it's a fresh set of eyes, it's a fresh set of experiences. And what was really fascinating being a foreign correspondent in a different country was, I didn't necessarily take for granted a lot of the things that the Indian journalists who were covering that region perhaps took for granted. Why do things work like this? You know, in the United States, we do it like that, why do you guys do it this way over here, so I was able to ask questions which maybe challenged the way that people thought over there that, you know, wasn't necessarily maybe happening with people who were born and raised in that culture.
And so I think that's why the more that you can get out of your own comfort zones, you can challenge yourself to live in different places, befriend different people, go and try something new, you're going to experience something that's going to make you in my opinion, a better reporter. So I think even going and living in Bangor, Maine was a hugely different experience. For me, it was the first time I lived in more of a rural area, and the people that lived there just thought very differently. They were involved in different kinds of jobs, the economy was run in a different way. And so all of those experiences, I think, have helped me become a better reporter and see the world through other people's perspectives. And you need that in a newsroom, if you want to really cover your community completely.
I couldn't agree more. And I think that it's very important for other communities to see that there are people that don't necessarily look like you and it's okay. That there are people that you can look up to that may have a different point of view and give you a different point of view. And I think that that definitely connects us a lot better. Can you describe one thing to us that most people in your circle do not know about Priya?
I would say that right now I'm the happiest and the healthiest I've ever been. And that seems kind of ironic, because we just came out of such a tough year. I'm in my 30s, I have a lot of coworkers who are in their 20s, and a lot of coworkers who are in their 40s and beyond. So I feel like I'm in this weird little middle group of people where I view on the world in my perspective of happiness, and the U.S. has changed so much from when I was in college. And I think it's really easy to get caught up in this race of what market declined to this level in order to be successful. And I think what you really need is a good job that stimulates you, that challenges you that you find rewarding, where you're constantly learning something new, and you feel as though you're valued. And then also finding friends and a community that can be your support system, and finding hobbies that also outside of work you find rewarding and stimulating.
And so it's really crazy, because never in my life did I think I was going to join the military, live in San Diego host a political show. None of those things were on my radar. But they have been so amazing. And I'm so grateful for those opportunities. And that's why I'm sort of letting go in my mid 30s. And I want to be open. A lot of people, when they look at my career, they're like, "You've done so many random things - from being overseas to being at the White House to being in New York City and hosting a morning show," where I was literally like eating foods and doing exercise on TV, which no one would have ever thought that that was something that I was going to do. But most of the time, the reason that all of those things have happened is because when anyone gives me a shot, I'm like, "Okay, I'll take it," because that's when like I was saying, before you challenge yourself, you learn something new, you become more versatile, you become a more well-rounded person, and you don't really know what you're going to enjoy unless you try something new. So a lot of people will be like, "What's your five year plan?" I don't know, to be honest. And I think that's kind of exciting and cool. I can't, because like I said, I would have never envisioned five years ago that I'd be where I am right now. And it's much cooler than I thought it was going to be. I would have maybe said, "Oh, I'm going to be in, you know, Lester Holt's chair anchoring NBC Nightly News." But you know, what, this year that I'm in right now, this one's pretty sweet. And I didn't even know it existed. So I'm just I'm so excited to see what emerges out of the sky in the future.
So would you say that, that that's always been your mindset? Or do you think that the military has has attributed some of that? Or that?
Oh, definitely. I mean, I think, my mom was definitely like a tiger mom, Asian mom. And being a daughter of immigrants and a first generation American, there was a very set definition of success. And it was oftentimes pursuing careers in law, or engineering, or perhaps banking. And I sort of broke out of that mold and decided I wanted to pursue my own thing, which was journalism. So I think I was a little bit naturally inclined to be thinking outside of the box a little bit. But the military, again, was not on my radar at all, it sort of came up through word of mouth through my network of friends. And that has opened so many doors and exposed me to so many new people all doing different things in their civilian careers, especially since I'm in the reserves. And it's made me exposed to different schools of thought and different opportunities. And I'm like, "You know what, there's so many cool things that you can do in the world." So yeah, I think the military helped that little curiosity that was in me inherently. It has made it grow.
Yeah, I can definitely appreciate that. Especially with my father also being from a different country. When I first told him that I wanted to be on TV, I used to stand up in the middle of the night on the bed and just imitate reverends. I would imitate news anchors, and I would stand on the bed late at night, my mom would come in the door and she'd tell everybody to go back to sleep. And my father told me, "That is not what you're gonna do. You're gonna go study business." And I rebelled. And so now being able to work for NAB, being and support what I wanted to be, I still am kind of fulfilling that dream. For you, as you talk about all of these things that you're doing and having to overcome, and maybe you've heard the same, you know, "You got to do all of these other things." How was it telling your family, "Hey, this is what I'm going to do. And I'm joining the military"?
Yeah, my parents definitely thought that I had lost my mind at that point. But at the time, I was working for the Associated Press in Chicago. So I think that they had realized that my dream was to be a journalist. I was able to thoroughly research that and go for it. And I was able to navigate this career path and get myself onto a trajectory where I was then doing reporting that was appearing in national publications. So at that point, they were like, "Listen, she's not completely nuts. As far as the things that she had told us in her early 20s, she was able to kind of see them in to fruition. So maybe we should just let her." I mean, not like they had any sort of control over me. Clearly, but they decided to just be supportive, because they knew that I was going to go for it anyway. So what was the point in trying to argue back with me, but I think they've seen so many benefits, even small things. I've become so much more conscious of my health and fitness and exercise. I've become a lot more organized and disciplined, because I've allowed for things like physical health to be a big part of my life now. So I think they've seen the incredible friendships that I made with people. A lot of these people are like brothers and sisters to me, and I've gone and visited them and gone on these amazing adventures. And I'm doing something that's stimulating me and I feel so fulfilled. And whenever I come back to my civilian job, after I go on orders, I obviously feel a little bit exhausted. But I also feel reinvigorated if that makes sense. Because I do think that the two things go hand in hand. And so I'm always excited to jump back into journalism. And I feel like I always have that military adventure every year that I get to look forward to.
What do you see your role being in five to 10 years? And how do you see the role of women within the broadcast industry in the next five to 10 years?
All I really hope for myself is that I'm still doing something that I really enjoy and find rewarding. To me, that is success. And I also hope that I'm able to feel like I'm giving back to my community. One thing that's been really nice in the pandemic is that a lot of people have been turning to local news to get information about resources that have helped them, whether that was their own health because they got COVID or a family member did or they needed resources because they were struggling financially because they lost their job or their businesses were struggling or whatever it was. So again, to play a small part in the community to help them figure out where the right resources are, where you can go if you need a hospital bed, or if you need a COVID test or you need to get a vaccination.
That was I felt like I during this extremely tumultuous and difficult time for so many people I was able to help in a really small way. So I hope that that is what I'm still doing in five to 10 years in some capacity. As far as women in broadcasting, I think that the #MeToo movement was amazing. And there were several women broadcasters who spoke out very courageously and shared their experiences about navigating this industry and this career path, which, oftentimes, is so unconventional, that you get into situations that you don't feel comfortable with. And so I'm happy that these days, it seems like everyone feels empowered, or more so than than before, to speak up and not be okay with anything, any sort of shady happening when it comes to wanting to pursue your career and your passion. The one thing I would love to see more of is women in management roles, because frankly, I think that really hasn't been fully penetrated in the way that it has in other industries. And I think it's not okay to just have women in the newsroom or diversity in the newsroom. You need them to really be at those top levels where the decisionmaking is happening, whether that's about editorial coverage, like "what parts of the county and the region are we covering? And what stories are we covering?" But also, "Who are we hiring? And why aren't there more people like X, Y, and Z inside of this newsroom?" Is it because they aren't the right candidates? Or is this a systemic problem, and there's something wrong with the entire industry that those people aren't feeling as though they're either welcome in here, or they don't know how to navigate it.
And so I think that having these conversations are so important. And I think more people who come through the ranks, who maybe were on a scholarship, or they had parents who were immigrants who didn't necessarily expose them to this career field when they were younger. That is why it is so important. And I try very hard that anyone who reaches out to me and asks me for advice, or a phone call or a Zoom chat, or, "can you critique my work?" I will take the time to do that, because it's a very complicated industry to navigate. And if you can find a mentor. So many people reached out to me when I was first starting out and helped me and I'm so eternally grateful for that, because I would definitely not be where I am without any of those people. So it's our duty now to bring up that next generation who's wanting to get involved. And I'm seeing so much more diversity with the people who are graduating from J-school right now. And that makes me so happy, especially because I think our industry has been a little bit under attack because of different narratives going on in the public. So I'm happy that so many people are choosing this line of work. It's the best job in the whole world. It's so much fun, and it's so rewarding. And there's so many people who are so passionate about it, and they're willing to sacrifice so much of their own personal lives. Because they really believe that this type of work is so important. And I'm so happy to be a part of it, and that these people are my friends and colleagues too.
Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate that answer. And it's very enlightening to hear you speak to others that are looking forward to joining this industry and becoming a part of it. We could spend hours more, I'm sure, speaking about some of our experiences in the military and how boot camp is just so much different from other things, and how you could correlate that to some things that you've done in the journalism world. But this is all the time that we have for today. I do want to thank you for taking the time out to speak with me and to provide some insight into what it is to become a successful journalist. And also how to navigate as, as a woman of color and bringing diversity and speaking to diversity. Is there anything else that you would like to say?
To anyone who's listening, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I'm always available to anyone who's interested in talking about this stuff. I'm a real nerd about it. So I love talking about it.
Thank you so much.
Priya Sridhar is a reporter for NBC San Diego. She comes to San Diego from San Antonio, Texas where she worked as a general assignment and investigative reporter for KENS5, a CBS affiliate. Priya began her journalism career as a multimedia journalist for the NBC affiliates in Maine. She went on to work as a Washington correspondent for RT, an international news channel. She went on to work as the South Asia bureau chief and correspondent based in New Delhi, India.
After returning to the U.S., Priya worked as a video journalist for the Associated Press based in Chicago. She has also worked as a D.C. correspondent and morning show co-host for an international news channel, Arise, headquartered in Nigeria.
Some of her most memorable stories in her ten year journalism career include covering the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO for the Associated Press and Nigeria's historic 2015 presidential elections.
Priya has a master's degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's in international relations and history from Bowdoin College. Priya is also an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and serves as a Board Member of Military Veterans in Journalism.
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