Get Even More Visitors To Your Blog, Upgrade To A Business Listing >>

Transcript: Race in America: Giving Voice with Amna Nawaz

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Good morning, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Arelis Hernández, a reporter at The Post.

Today in our “Race in America” series, we’re joined by Amna Nawaz, co-anchor of PBS’s NewsHour. Welcome to Washington Post Live, Amna.

MS. NAWAZ: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Let’s go ahead and get started. It’s been three months since you took over the anchor chair at NewsHour. What have you found to be the most surprising part of the job?

MS. NAWAZ: Ooh, that’s a good question. You know, I don’t often get to sit down and think about the job. I’m just so busy doing the job. Nothing has really surprised me, to be honest. I think one of the best parts about stepping in at this moment, along with my co-anchor Geoff Bennett, has just been that it’s been an incredibly busy news cycle, and I don’t have to tell you that. I mean, we have just been kind of hitting the ground running since day one.

Our first week in the chairs was the round of House Speaker votes for Kevin McCarthy, and then we went right into coverage of the president’s State of the Union address, of course, continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine. We’ve had a number of big events since then. It’s just kind of been nonstop.

I think, if anything, I’m probably surprised by how normal it all feels. This was not a job I ever set out to get when I began my career 20 years ago. It wasn’t a job I ever saw someone like myself filling, and at the same time, the first night we sat in the chairs, I remember thinking, “This feels normal. This feels like the place I’m supposed to be.” That probably surprised me more than anything.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Well, nightly news has changed pretty significantly in the past 20 years where you would only see, you know, older White men delivering the news: Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather. What does it mean to you to be in this position? You never imagined yourself being here, but now that you have it, what does it mean to you?

MS. NAWAZ: You know, the business has changed quite a bit, as you said, and I grew up watching all of those men. You know, every night in my house, my dad would come home from work, and he would turn on CBS. And we watched Dan rather every night. That’s what my sisters and I watched. We’d be hanging out with my dad while my mom was making dinner in the kitchen, and that was our news diet in addition to the newspapers we saw out on the kitchen table every morning. And those are the people I studied under.

You know, my very first job at ABC News Nightline was under Ted Koppel, who’s one of the great Journalists and anchors of all time. So that was the norm, and that was the definition to me of what it meant to be an anchor in America.

And over the course of my career, that changed a lot, and where we are today is light-years away from where we were when I started. So to me, even in this industry today, which has become much more crowded, much more messy, much more noisy, it feels like the anchor role today is even more important than ever because you have to be that voice of credibility and authority in a landscape that’s completely different to what it was 10 or 15 or 20 years ago.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Now, as a first-generation American, your family emigrated from Pakistan, and you talked about in the Nightly News article that I read about you that you bring all of yourself to the job. How has your background and your personal history sort of shaped your view of the world?

MS. NAWAZ: In every possible way. I mean, look, I grew up first-generation American. We used to split the years growing up. So we spoke two languages in my house, English and Urdu, and we do the school year here in the United States, and then most summers, we would spend most of that summer in Pakistan. That’s how I came to know my family there and our language and our culture and really feel at home in another part of the world. And we always traveled around a lot, around those trips as well.

So I, from a very young age, have this understanding of the world as something that extended way beyond what I could see every day, and I think my parents intentionally raised us to know that we were to be citizens of the world and understand both the place that you hold in it but also the many blessings and opportunities that you have to be growing up here in this country.

And that absolutely informed, A, a desire to get into journalism. You know, I never thought I would be a journalist. I kind of fell into it happenstance on a one-year fellowship that was supposed to be just stopover before I went to law school, and that was just a few weeks before 9/11, which changed my world and changed the entire world.

But from there, you know, I realized that my worldview, the way that I had grown up viewing the world, was not the way that most people around me had grown up seeing it. In my experience, the way that I had experienced growing up in the United States, was not what most people around me had experienced, and I saw the value of being that voice in the newsroom, especially at that time. So it informs not only how I do the journalism but also the kind of journalism I wanted to do. It’s what led me to become a foreign correspondent for the years that I served overseas, which is not the usual path to the anchor seat.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: No, it’s quite unusual, and I want to harp in on that. Could you give us an example of the ways in which, you know, when you realized that the way you see the world is different from most of the people around you, particularly in the newsroom? How–could you give us an example of how that manifested in either a story or the way you approach a particular assignment?

MS. NAWAZ: I think a lot about who gets to ask questions and what questions are asked, and I remember very distinctly early in my career–and folks who were covering news or consuming news back then will remember this because it was a seminal moment–in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there was a prominent national magazine that came out with a cover story. And the title in big block letters across the cover was “Why Do They Hate Us?” And it featured just kind of a sea of angry brown male faces, and I remember thinking that question went through several layers of people and decision-making before it was agreed upon as the most important question to pose to the American and also the international public at that time: Why do they hate us? Who was the “they” in that sentence? Who was the “us,” and why “hate”? And I think for me, it was such a simple question at the moment that for me, as, you know, a Brown American woman, a Pakistani American woman, a Muslim American woman, to be sitting in the newsroom at that moment and say, oh, this is how decisions are made. This is how questions get asked.

I needed to be a part of that conversation. There needed to be more people who were part of that conversation, because things aren’t always as simple as “Why do they hate us?”

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Resist the comfortable or easy narratives, right, within the journalism.

Now I’m going to list off some of your awards, all right? So brace yourself. You’ve won a Peabody Award, an Emmy Award. You have a master’s in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics. That is quite the résumé. Did you imagine this life for yourself as a child?

MS. NAWAZ: I will say all credit to my mother and father, Seema and Shuja Nawaz, because the one thing they always told my sisters and me was you can do whatever you set your mind to. I mean, they raised us to be independent free thinkers. There was never pressure to follow any one career path or do any one thing with your life or be any one way.

They did impose on us this idea that you have to do some kind of work that makes a difference, though. We knew exactly how lucky we were to have all the opportunities that we had. Education was something that was incredibly important in my household, but my parents, they’re just the best. I mean, I have the most loving, supportive parents who always told us to just dream big and follow your heart and then throw your whole self into what you do.

And so while journalism wasn’t necessarily the path, it wasn’t the dream, you know, once I got into it and I realized how much I loved it and I realized I was good at it, which is something I think a lot of women don’t often say out loud, I just threw myself into it. And I think when you are the first person to show up and the last to leave and you say yes a lot and you’re constantly looking for ways to challenge yourself, you’re going to grow, regardless of what you’re doing. And I’ve been so, so lucky to have so many good bosses and mentors and teams along the way that have helped me to grow and to help me to be a better journalist. So, you know, the awards are never about any one person. They’re obviously a reflection of an entire team’s effort. The degree was hard to earn, but I’m glad that I got it, my master’s from the London School of Economics, but, you know, those are not the things that stay with you over the years. They’re really not. It’s the people at the center of the story. It’s the team you get to work with every day. I’m a firm believer in the idea that your life is made up of how you live your days, and I live my days doing work I love to do with people I adore and respect and admire. And what’s better than that?

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Well, we’ll give all due credit, then, to mama and papa for sowing the seeds, including, you know, helping you to see the world differently. So this is–as a foreign correspondent, you know, starting, pivoting back to that experience and covering war and conflict and being the Islamabad bureau chief when you’re at NBC, how do you think all of that experience plus what Mama and Papa Nawaz put you through or showed you of the world influences the way that you cover now U.S. politics?

MS. NAWAZ: Oh, hugely, immensely. I mean, think about the years I was overseas. I started going often in the 2000s, and I was overseas intensely and almost full-time between Pakistan and Afghanistan from like 2011 to 2014, 2015. I mean, think about what was happening in the U.S. at that moment, and I think when you’re overseas and you’re in a completely different environment, you’re viewing things from afar, right? And there’s a bit of a distance, and the analysis that you can do with that is a little–it’s a little different than the newsrooms in the United States at the moment.

So there was continuing coverage, of course, because we still had a heavy U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. There was also rising domestic extremism in Pakistan, and I was covering terrorism quite a bit on the ground there. But I also remember earlier being overseas. I was actually in Kabul, outside of Kabul at the U.S. base Bagram, doing an entirely unrelated story to anything happening here in the United States, you know, hanging out with soldiers and doing some stories on them. And I remember being there when the Sandy Hook shooting happened, and I remember it distinctly because, you know, it obviously threw all of our plans into upheaval. And I was so far away. I wasn’t in a position to go help and cover it, but I remember at the time thinking, my God, if that many children were killed here in an active war zone in a day, it would be earthshaking. It would just be a tectonic shift in how we viewed this war and this country and what’s at stake and who’s being impacted.

And like a lot of people, I remember thinking at the time, well, that will surely have that kind of impact back home, but of course, viewing it from the distance I did at the moment, I just have to say it was surreal, you know, to be in an active war zone and think we have never seen that kind of loss of life of children here in Afghanistan. It was–“surreal” is the word.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Wow, wow. And, I mean, from the coverage of that event, of that tragic event, did you see anything that stood out to you or that you had a different thought about the way it was presented here in the U.S.?

MS. NAWAZ: No. You know, I think I’ve now come to cover enough school shootings and mass shootings to know that this is a uniquely American problem, right, that will or won’t have a uniquely American solution, and I think we can talk about that for a whole nother session, if you want, sometime. But I will say being overseas, I think, if anything, it just deepened in me the conviction and the fact that there are often multiple sides, multiple complicated sides to every story, and the best we can do as journalists is not to make up our minds about these things but to continue to be curious and to continue to learn, because I was often confronted with the same story that was being viewed one way in the United States and a completely separate way on the ground in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The U.S. drone strikes are a perfect example of that. Here in the United States, it was covered as a national security issue. It was covered as a secrecy issue because of the way it was being run, particularly under the Obama administration. We talked about the numbers in a very kind of distant and vague and clinical way. But I got to go on the ground where those drone strikes were actually happening and talk to the parents who lost a child or the family members who had lost a loved one or the people on the ground who now lived in fear and a constant state of PTSD, because every time they heard that humming, the drones flying above, the children were going to wake up and wonder if something was going to fall out of the sky. It was just the kind of detail and understanding to a story that wasn’t necessarily making its way into the reporting back here in the United States, and so I worked to kind of close those gaps where I could.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: I am going to take a point of personal privilege and deviate. I want to ask you a question about objectivity, because this also came up in a couple of interviews that I read in which you talked about how no group has a monopoly on objectivity. And there was an op-ed in The Washington Post from my former boss, Marty Baron, this weekend sort of defending the idea of objectivity. What does it mean to you, given, you know, the fact that you do bring your whole self into this job and, you know, value the perspectives deeply that you bring in that and how it’s shaped your work? What is objectivity, and what does it mean to you?

MS. NAWAZ: You know, I think if you asked ten different journalists to define objectivity, you’d probably get ten different definitions. I think that’s the truth because it’s objectivity as defined by whom. You know, for generations, objectivity was defined by the standard-bearers in this industry, and those were mostly men, mostly White men, mostly older White men. That is a valid and credible viewpoint, but it is one valid and credible viewpoint.

And I think one of the best things about journalism and what we’ve been able to achieve as an industry is that we have newsrooms that better reflect the public we are meant to be serving every day, and that will only make the work that we do better.

So I say unapologetically that I bring my whole self to this work because my whole self is more than just the color of my skin or my faith or where I was raised or the languages I speak or the fact that I’m a Virgo or that I love college basketball or that I love color coding and organizing my files. Like all of these parts of me, I bring to my work as well 20 years of journalism across this entire country, across the planet, talking to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people on the ground and producing and reporting thousands of stories. That is my whole self that I bring.

And I will argue that any journalist who’s come before me, regardless of their background and experience, has done the exact same thing, and what does that do? Well, that informs the kinds of stories that you think are interesting, the kinds of stories you want to pursue, the kinds of questions you think are worth asking, the sorts of people whose voices you think are worth elevating, and I think we’ve all seen over the generations of change in this industry, that was–those decisions were being made by a very small and very homogenous group of people. Journalism is better today because that’s no longer true.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: On that note, you’ve made it a point throughout your career to do stories and to highlight the stories of Asian Americans in this country. Explain to our audience, if you would, why that is so important.

MS. NAWAZ: You know, it’s one of those aspects of my work that I take great pride in, which is to say there are important stories that will resonate with millions and millions of people who were meant to be serving that just weren’t being told, and largely, they weren’t being told because there was no one in the room to say, “Hey, did you hear that story about so-and-so?” or “Oh, did you know that this particular holiday is important to this community for the following reasons?” or “Hey, did you know that this group of people in this part of the country are facing these challenges?” Again, it goes back to the circles of conversation and where you’re getting your information. There’s nothing more important to journalists than our sources, and our sources are more than just elected officials or people in positions of power. They’re people who reside in the communities that we’re meant to be serving, and so a lot of those voices and a lot of those stories just weren’t trickling up into the conversations in national newsrooms necessarily.

There have been–credit where credit is due–a number of regional and in-language newspapers and news organizations dedicated to covering these communities and getting their stories out for generations, but I would argue a lot of those stories deserve national attention because those are the kinds of stories that can provide a window into communities that are maybe even right next door to yours you never knew about or communities all the way across the country that are similar to yours in ways you never knew about.

So I took a lot of pride. I had a lot of fun because I think these stories are great and interesting and necessary in elevating some of those voices and telling those stories to a bigger audience.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Continuing with this theme of bringing our whole self into the job, you have two daughters. How do they influence your work?

MS. NAWAZ: I mean, having kids changes everything. It does. It just–it changes everything. It changes your world. It changes how you see your place in the world. It changes how you see your future and their futures.

I have–my husband, Paul, and I have two of the most amazing, magical, powerful, funny little people in the world, and they are that way because that’s who they are. It’s really nothing we’ve done. They just came out that way, and they are probably the thing that grounds me more than anything in the work that I do.

I wear their initials around my neck, my husband and my girl’s initials. I have their names on my wrists, and I got these because I was traveling quite a bit early in my work, and I was missing them a lot. And I got the tattoos, and I went to them, and I said, “Look, now you guys are always with Mommy wherever she goes.” And that was at the end of 2019, and then the pandemic hit, and then we were all together all the time. And I joke, well, these were probably unnecessary.

MS. NAWAZ: But they are just–they are my whole heart. I love them so dearly. I cry when I talk about them because I just–I have so much love for them, and they’re just–you know, I do have certain kind of rules and tenets I go back to in my journalism, and one of them is that children are always innocent parties in all the stories that we cover and should be treated that way, right, that no child is ever to blame for decisions made by adults. And I view that, I think, largely because of the way I view how my children are navigating their path through this world, which is to say we’re here to protect them, right? We’re here to help them figure out who they want to be and who they’re meant to be and nothing else.

If you keep me going, I’m going to–I could talk about my girls for hours, so I’m going to stop there.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Well, thank you for sharing that, though.

I’m going to pivot back a little bit to something you said earlier about the work that needs to be done about including more voices, more representative voices, more diverse voices in the newsroom. We’ve talked about the problem. We talked about how it enriches the journalism to have all these other voices, but how should newsrooms go about doing this and diversifying their newsrooms?

MS. NAWAZ: Yeah. And I think we’ve seen some of the issues that come up with just the process itself, right? Look, institutions of power–and journalism I count as an institution of power–they don’t change quickly. It’s just a fact. Change is hard, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

What I will say is I have been heartened to see a number of really wonderful leaders across national news, local news, community news, broadcast, print, digital, all of these outlets who keep this as a guiding principle. And I think it needs to be a guiding principle and a priority if we are to see the kind of change we all agree is necessary for newsrooms to better do their work in reflecting the public that they’re meant to serve. So I don’t know that there’s any one way for any one organization to go about it.

We do know often in institutions of power, networks and communities, those tend to be really important, right, in terms of who gets considered for a job, who hears about a job when it opens in the first place, and I think some institutions are doing much, much better about recruiting actively from places that we haven’t seen the kind of representation we should see inside newsrooms.

And to be clear, I am not just talking about racial or ethnic or religious diversity here. Like we need to have better geographic diversity. We need to have people who know what it is to grow up in rural parts of America. We need to have people who know what it is to grow up at different parts of our socioeconomic spectrums. Like we cannot continue to cover these issues from a safe distance of privilege or people who have never had to live this way.

And so I think actively opening up those lines of recruitment, making sure that we are reaching out to organizations and educational institutions where this is not the typical path for a lot of people–like it wasn’t the typical path for me–just being more intentional about it is the way I think we go about it. But also, this is the burden I think you carry when you’re in the institution and you’re from an underrepresented group is you’re constantly thinking of other people, right? Who else can I help to place in this position, or who else can I guide to this application process or make sure they’re considered for that? It’s the idea that when you walk through the door, you hold it open behind you, and that’s what I try to do.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Well, that, I think, leads us into this question of trust in media, right, and so what has happened by not having those voices in the newsroom. Trust in media is on the decline, and the freedom of the press is something that is threatened in many parts of the world. You said that your job as a journalist is to, quote, “provide light, not heat.” Explain what you mean by that.

MS. NAWAZ: I mean that it’s not my job to tell people what to think. It’s not. I know there are opinion journalists out there who do have that very specific role and responsibility. I am not one of them. I feel it’s my job to make people want to think about these things, to want to think about complicated topics that may impact their lives day-to-day, or that they’ve never come into contact with before. I want you to think about these things, but I’m not going to tell you what you should think. I want the information I provide to you to help make up your mind about this issue, and that means empowering people. That is what is at the heart of the journalism we practice.

I believe in core democratic principles. I believe that a strong, free, and fair press would help to make us a stronger and better democracy. I believe that an informed electorate is at the heart of all of this. And if all those things are true, then the best thing I can do in my role is make sure that you have the facts, plain and simple. You have the facts that you need to help make decisions about what you’re going to eat that day, how you’re going to vote, where your kids go to school, what kind of health care you have, how you should think about countries around the world, all of these things.

And this idea of trust in the institution, yes, it’s absolutely been on the decline when it comes to media, but it’s also been on the decline for basically every single institution of power in this country. I think this is part of something we’re going through as a nation, which is not necessarily bad, I will say, because I think the burden and the onus is on us as journalists to work to build that trust back up. And that, like change, doesn’t happen overnight. That’s going to take consistency from us, and it’s going to take the hard work of doing the good journalism over and over and over again.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: So we’re quickly running out of time, but I wouldn’t–I would be–I should do this. So I’m also the co-director of the Asian American Journalist Association’s JCamp. It’s a high school journalism program, and they’d be mad at me if I didn’t ask this question.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: You know, I deal with next generation of journalists all the time, and let me tell you, there’s a lot to be hopeful about, especially at the high school level.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: But what is your hope for the next generation of journalists?

MS. NAWAZ: Oh, my gosh, my hopes are so high for them. They are the best among us. We–I deal with a lot of high school and college-level journalists too through the Student Reporting Labs network we have at the PBS NewsHour, and they are, A, some of the best journalists I’ve ever come into contact with, some of the most curious and hardworking and well-intentioned folks in the field, but they also remind me what it is and why it is we do what we do, right? They are, quite literally, the future of this industry, and I think there’s a lot of reasons people get pessimistic about what we do or very cynical about what we do. I try very hard and very intentionally to fight that, especially the cynicism, because I think if you don’t believe that this work is doing some kind of a difference, you could not show up with your full self and full heart every day. So I’m an optimist by nature when it comes to that.

Young journalists, in particular, I think have enormous opportunity ahead of them. It’s a really tough time to be a journalist because of the threats we face and because of the landscape and misinformation, disinformation campaigns. But it is also the best time to be a journalist because the only answer to all of those forces is more good journalism, and that takes more good journalists. So I am among the many, many hopeful, optimistic people who look at this next generation of journalists and think, “Man, you guys have got it. You know how to ask tough questions. You know what the issues are that are most important to you and your generation and the future of this country and the world, and you’re just going to get after it.” I can’t wait to see everything they get up to.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: It’s so much fun to see them do what they do, and in that vein, again, I’m going to put myself in the seat of a high school journalist. What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

MS. NAWAZ: Oh, I think it’s kind of a hodgepodge of a number of pieces of advice I’ve gotten. I like to tell young journalists these days something I didn’t hear enough coming up, which is you have to take care of yourself too. I don’t think we talked enough about it when I was coming up. I saw and I covered a lot of things that stayed with me in ways that I never fully really reckoned with, and I’m reckoning with now. And I talk about therapy and self-care because I wish more people had talked about therapy and self-care with me coming up. So I hope that is true for young journalists, but also keep it simple, right? Fairness and accuracy and fidelity to the facts above all else. Be kind to other people. Treat other people’s stories with the same care and attention that you would want your story treated if it was being told.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: Well, unfortunately, we are out of time, so we’ll have to leave it there. Amna Nawaz, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MS. NAWAZ: Such a pleasure. Thank you so much.

MS. HERNÁNDEZ: And thanks to all of you for joining us. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to to find more information about all of our upcoming programs.

I’m Arelis Hernández. Thank you for joining us.

The post Transcript: Race in America: Giving Voice with Amna Nawaz appeared first on NY Times News Today.

This post first appeared on NY Times News Today, please read the originial post: here

Share the post

Transcript: Race in America: Giving Voice with Amna Nawaz


Subscribe to Ny Times News Today

Get updates delivered right to your inbox!

Thank you for your subscription