The news. Be it on radio, television, a publication or the internet, it never goes out of style, and no day is complete without it. It is necessary, it is all around us, it is controversial, and very real. And it’s up to the reporters, anchors, cameramen and crew to bring it all to us. That’s where Anusha Shrivastava comes in. Fearless, unassuming, dependable and direct, she’s made a career in front of the camera and behind it, and has since then segued into a career adviser’s role in a prominent university in New York City. This time however, she is the interviewee rather than the interviewer! Let’s hear more from this supermom of two, based out of Short Hills, NJ.
AM : Tell us a little bit about your background.
AS : I am currently a university administrator in New York City but spent more than 20 years as a business journalist, working in the U.S., India and Canada. In high school in New Delhi, I launched an inter-school magazine called ‘The Literati’ with two of my friends, wrote for The Times of India and worked at All India Radio. I was always interested in reporting and writing so I decided to become a journalist but didn’t study journalism until after working for about six years. I got a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2002 but prior to this, studied Political Science at the undergraduate level and got a doctorate in International Relations from the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. My parents were very clear that I could not give up my studies till my doctorate was complete. The logic was that I should have the option to teach at the college level, just in case the journalism bug faded!
While in India, I worked as an on-air reporter for BBC World’s “India Business Report,” then produced by TV18. It was a very exciting time to be a broadcast journalist in the early 1990s in India because for the first time, we had access to more than just Doordarshan, the state-run channel. I worked full-time for TV18 while I got my first master’s degree and then a Ph.D. so I was constantly running from campus to interviews to the edit suite.
AM : And were you energized or jaded by the experience? How was the struggle (or not) to find your first job, and other subsequent jobs?
(Anusha Shrivastava with TV18 colleagues in New Delhi in the early 1990s)
AS : I loved my first full-time job as a journalist at TV18 in New Delhi. My first manager, Raghav Bahl, is an extraordinary person, and taught the entire team how to function as professionals. For the bulk of us, it was the first job we’d ever had so there was a lot to learn. After I moved to the U.S. with my husband in the late 1990s and graduated from the J-School at Columbia, things were a bit more complicated because I was on an H4 visa and had a toddler. My first job out of Columbia in 2002 was as a web editor at The Globe and Mail in Toronto. It was a late night shift and my husband was still based out of New York, so my mother took a sabbatical from her work and took care of my son for about six months. I moved back to the U.S. once we got our green cards. I worked at The Associated Press in New York but then had to move to Connecticut when my husband changed jobs. Two years later, I moved again when I got a job as a corporate bonds reporter with Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal in New York. The first year in that job was tough because my husband and son were still in Connecticut and I got to see them only on weekends. Thankfully, I had very good managers and after a few months, I was able to work from home one day a week. This meant I was with my family for three days out of seven. Still, as any parent who has to travel for extended periods for work will tell you, it is not easy being away from your child so it was a huge relief when the family was reunited in 2007.
AM : Is journalism and/or reporting skewed in one way or another towards men or women? How have you kept afloat through all your experiences?
AS : I don’t think any of my employers treated me any different because I am a woman. I have been truly lucky that I have had managers who offered me flexibility. When I had my second child, I took four months of maternity leave and after I returned to the newsroom, I was able to pump twice a day without ever being made to feel as if these short breaks were an issue. I have heard from other women that they had to hide in the janitor’s closet to pump or had to sneak away. I never felt that way. Throughout my career, I have had only one below par manager. Thankfully, I had to deal with him for only one year because I moved on and got a better job with expanded opportunities like writing a weekly business column. Dealing with the sub-par manager did teach me to appreciate all the other great managers I have had since! Aside from good managers, I think the fact that my family and friends have been supportive is huge. To be able to do well at your job, you absolutely need everyone to help out.
AM : Do you believe in career redefinition, either due to personal reasons or just adventure?
AS : It seems to me the days when you could have a single job for several decades are over for the bulk of the population. More and more, people not only have multiple roles at the same job but also have several different jobs and careers. How many people do you know who’ve been at the same company for more than 10 years? I can count them on my fingertips and most of them belong to another generation – the one before mine! The challenge then is to acquire skills that help you mold your life such that you can move from one job or field to another. Don’t assume you can join a company in your 20s and stay until you retire. Always prepare yourself for change because you cannot be sure where the next job will be. Sometimes, the career change can happen without your having consciously planned for it. I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a university administrator but I’ve now spent five years in my current profession. On a daily basis, I use all the tools I used as a reporter, writer and editor but I’m no longer a full-time journalist.
AM : Who were your role models growing up? Do you still tend to follow or be inspired by anyone currently?
AS : My grandmother and mother are my role models. Both worked full-time all their lives and juggled work and family. My grandmother was a rare person in India in the 1950s – she worked full-time as a manager and raised four children. She even took her youngest child with her to Sweden where she got a master’s degree. My mother worked for over 30 years and raised three children. I am the third generation of working women in my family and strongly believe all women should work full-time. Short breaks for child-rearing are fine but a woman does herself a great disfavor by not working full-time. She becomes dependent on someone else and that’s not an ideal situation. She also fails to provide a strong role model for her children. One of my friends once mentioned that she felt fine being home with her children until her marriage began unravelling and she realized she didn’t have a 401 (K) to fall back on. This is something all stay-at- home women should think about. I am inspired by all women who balance work, family and life. I know and recognize how challenging this is and am always trying to figure out how they make it all work. Commuting, working full-time, running the household and being attentive to your spouse and children is not easy. There is a huge loss of flexibility and the mother constantly uses not only her physical but also her mental capacity in keeping everything going. Yes, spouses help and you can and should hire help if you can, but the overall responsibility still often lies with the woman. Look around you and tell me how many men you know who set up playdates for their children and organize birthday parties? How many keep track of registration for classes and camp? These things may seem trivial but they all add up.
AM : Is it safe to assume anything to do with the written word is your strong suit? Did you gravitate towards books in childhood? And why?
AS : Absolutely! I was a voracious reader and continue to read a lot. All my time on the train to work and back is spent with a book or newspaper! As a child, I read a lot of Enid Blyton’s books and then graduated to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. My mother took us to the book fairs at Pragati Maidan in Delhi and I still have the books we bought there in the 1970s and 80s. Books help all of us explore the world in the quickest way possible. It’s very tough not to be addicted to books!
AM : What was your first professional breakthrough, either on the field or in the newsroom?
AS : Getting my first full-time job with TV18 as a reporter was fantastic! I got my initial training as a reporter there and it helped me get started in the field I always wanted to be in.
AM : Did motherhood alter your attitude towards your profession in any way? What changes, if any, did you have to make in your lifestyle and work regimen?
AS : Yes, being a mom meant I wanted to be home to see my children every day at a reasonable hour. I turned down a job that offered me more money but way less flexibility only because my daughter was very young and I didn’t want to lose out on seeing her every evening before bedtime. I have never missed any of my children’s performances or activities at school because of work. I take a vacation day to attend their school events because that’s very important for me. Children grow up way too fast and I don’t want to miss out on their activities at this stage of their lives. I served as the treasurer for my son’s squash club and am a troop leader for my daughter’s Girl Scouts troop.
AM : How did SAJA come about? And what do you think is the current state of South
Asian journalism in the U.S.?
AS : I became a member of SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association, in the late 1990s, when we first moved to the U.S. At the time, if you met Sree Sreenivasan, the co-founder of SAJA, even for a couple of minutes, you’d find yourself signing up for SAJA! I joined the Board in 2008 and have since served as president for three terms. My current term as president ended on Jan 21, 2018. I now serve as an adviser to SAJA. Before becoming president, I was vice president for two years and secretary for another two. SAJA gave me the opportunity to meet other South Asian journalists and to get in the nitty-gritty of running a non-profit organization, right from organizing events to mentoring to raising funds. SAJA is a volunteer group of very dedicated journalists who help South Asian journalists network and help improve coverage of South Asia. The number of South Asians in newsrooms has gone up but we are a long way from where we’d like to be. We know and recognize how important diversity is but many newsrooms still don’t do enough to hire diverse candidates with experiences, perspectives and opinions that would improve overall coverage. Journalism is in a state of flux and SAJA members are impacted by this in the same way as all other journalists. If you or anyone you know wants to be involved in SAJA, I recommend you join: www.saja.org
AM : What is your forte when it comes to writing? Is there a particular beat that you are drawn to naturally? What else would you love to write about?
AS : I’ve been a business reporter for over 20 years and enjoyed it thoroughly. I covered credit markets during the credit crisis from New York and that was both challenging and
educational. Who knew in 2006 that covering asset-backed securities and commercial paper could be exciting but it really was! I wrote about credit default swaps, the ABX index and Federal Reserve programs like the TALF. These terms mean very little to most people but when you cover credit markets, you watch each move very closely.
While at The Wall Street Journal, I wrote for a blog called “The Juggle.” This was about the challenges of being a working parent and the juggle between work and life. It was the most fun blog I ever wrote because it came very easily to me and so many readers reacted to my posts. I would write story after story about credit markets and no one would comment and then there’d be a Juggle post and I’d get hundreds of comments!
Before The Juggle, I had written a parenting column for Mantram, a magazine targeted at
South Asian professionals. That was fun too, simply because it was so different from my
AM : How was it working in India vs. working in the US and Canada? What
differences and/or similarities did you observe along the way?
AS : I worked full-time for only one company each in India and Canada and had a very positive experience at both companies. I wouldn’t want to generalize based on those. What I would say is if you have the choice, work for companies you are happy at, work only for managers who value your work and surround yourself with colleagues who are team players. You spend the bulk of your day at work – make it a happy time.
AM : As an award winning reporter, what advice would you give for those starting out in this industry? What are the qualities that one must possess (in addition to educational degrees of course) to make it in this field?
AS : Work really, really hard. Be dependable. Always be on time, preferably early. Double-check everything you write. Never get anyone’s name wrong. Read widely and a lot. Talk to many people and help the bulk of them. The world is very interconnected and small and you never know who will provide you with the next story or job lead.
AM : Your top picks for fiction and non-fiction books among the ones you’ve read?
AS : The books I’ve read recently and enjoyed thoroughly are “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro, “The Boat Rocker” by Ha Jin, the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I read the last one on the Kindle on the train, the only way I could have! I am glad I read it at this stage of my life because I don’t think I would have understood the character fully had I not been a mother. Under non-fiction, I’d say I’d happily re-read “India after Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha several times over.
AM : Do you believe there are classics that every single person must read? Name a few.
AS : There are way too many to pick from but I’d say everyone must read literature from different parts of the world. Also, it is impossible to understand the culture of a country unless you read its history and have some knowledge of its economy.
AM : What is the most satisfying part of being a career management professional?
AS : I love it when students tell me how they did during interviews and negotiated their best offers. It is truly satisfying to see them get jobs and succeed after all the time and effort they put in their studies and preparing for interviews.
AM : In your role, you are required to review a lot of resumes and cover letters. What is your opinion on internships while in college?
AS : Students should do everything they can to get an internship or work experience while they are in college. This is a way for them to figure out what it is they want to do and what they are good at. It is also a way for them to learn the basics of being a professional: show up on time, dress like a professional, take responsibility for both your work and mistakes and perform to the best of your ability. In general, it is best for students to take internships at companies where they believe they may want to work after graduation. That said, no experience will ever go waste. You can always transfer your skills.
AM : I am sure someone like you cannot sit quiet or let things rest for too long 🙂 What are your future plans career wise?
AS : As I said, I never thought I’d become a university administrator and I’ve already spent half a decade being one! I want to write more, I want to meet more people and I want to continue to help my students find jobs. Life is unpredictable and you should never make a rigid plan. I want to keep working for as long as I possibly can because otherwise I’d be unhappy and make everyone around me unhappy. There could be multiple chapters in the rest of my work life!
There you have it, readers! I hope you enjoyed reading this interview, and I hope it makes you go out and grab life by the horns! Thank you Anusha, and wish you all the best in your next innings, whatever that may be!