By Yasu-e Karunaratne & Amra Ismail
Kala Rama is the first TV anchor with a Sri Lankan lineage to join a New York TV network. She is now the weekend anchor and reporter for the New York City TV station PIX Channel 11. She was born and raised in Connecticut and she enrolled at Fairfield University as a Pre-med student. But after an internship at MTV News she knew that her path was changing. While earning a double major in Political Science and Communications, she worked at MTV Entertainment and WTNH-TV, which launched her journalism career. Kala was nominated for several Emmy awards while working as an anchor and reporter at WKMG, a television station located in Orlando, Florida. She believes that Free Press is the best press and is needed all over the world. Her journey is indeed a powerful reminder that nothing is impossible.
What was it like when you first started journalism?
I was just 20 years old and knew this field was very competitive. There are now so many different outlets to keep up with. You have TV news, newspapers, magazines, radio, online news and now social media to keep up with. Now, I talk with viewers during the broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. That’s very different from when I first started out! QWhat are the challenges you faced as an Asian woman assuming the career of a journalist? In smaller markets, there’s less diversity. People are interested to know who you are, where you came from and what’s behind my exotic look. In New York City, the number one market in America, there are so many people who look like you and are very welcoming. This city is a melting pot of cultures and I feel at home here. As a woman, you want figures in authority to take your questions seriously. In this day and age, I think they do, thanks to Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Megyn Kelly.
Can you tell us about your journey being a successful journalist?
I’ve been nominated for a few Emmys, but what’s important to me is helping people start their day with the information they need. Making a difference for even a handful of people means I’m doing my job. I met my husband, Anthony Di Lorenzo, another journalist at my first job. He helps me to make sure we always cover every angle of a story.
Journalism is a service -oriented job. What can you say about this with regards to your work?
Well the most recent example is a story I did about a new training programme for minority immigrant women who came to America and needed to figure out how to make a living. We shed light on this programme on how it changes women’s lives to help support their families as bakers in the food industry which is typically male dominated. The response from viewers was wonderful. They will now help support the programme by buying the bread.
You are the first TV anchor with a Sri Lankan lineage to join a New York TV network. How has it been so far?
It’s amazing. That was a goal for me, but there’s so much more to do as a Sri Lankan-American. This is a career that many Sri Lankans living in America never thought of and I think I’m opening their eyes to new career opportunities.
How has your Sri Lankan heritage facilitated your career?
My Grandfather, Visvanathan Dharmalingam was an MP and my uncle, Dharmalingam Siddarthan, is currently a Member of Parliament. They have always encouraged public service and spent their lives giving back to their communities. I’m proud to be a part of the Sri Lankan culture embracing education, hard work and family. My siblings and I were raised to help others when possible and to be grateful for our opportunities. Aside from volunteering my time, I’ve found a way to give back to my community through journalism.
What are the obstacles you face whilst balancing your family life and your hectic career?
Luckily I’m married to another journalist. He works with me and has an understanding of work schedules and how stressful the work day can be. It’s also nice because we can talk about news stories together and how to make them more meaningful to our viewers and take those stories forward. He is an Emmy award winning journalist for breaking news coverage and has been nominated a number of times.
Who was your role model who made you the successful journalist you are today?
Children of every ethnicity need a role model to show them goals that could be achieved through hard work and then aim even higher! In journalism, there are so many women I watched on the news who helped pave my way: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Leslie Stahl and Connie Chung and in local news, Kaity Tong. But really, my role model is my mother. She has kept me honest and hardworking, and also my biggest critic. She helps me grow as a person and as a journalist.
What advice would you give future journalists?
Internships are the key to success in any job and in making a career choice. An internship can show you what your life will be like every day. This job may look glamorous, but it is not. The news never stops. I have always worked on holidays and weekends. The hours are long and you’re not having your make-up done and hair brushed unless you make it to the top. You have to be willing to put in years of hard work.
Hopes for the future?
My plans for the future…are never revealed but you can bet I will keep reaching for the stars!