Spotlight: From Techie to Broadcast Journalist
(Left) Archith Seshadri: cut out to be a broadcast journalist!
Twelve years ago, as he tested circuit breakers in a Siemens lab, ARCHITH SESHADRI would have never imagined that he would work in broadcast news—in India. But today he finds himself in New Delhi at the headquarters of Zee Media Group’s first English news network, WION (World Is One News).
A Georgia Tech graduate, with a six-year stint at Accenture, Archith redefined himself when he realised that his heart wasn’t in computers and coding. Instead, he wanted to meet people and tell stories.
(Right) The young TV reporter in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the five years that followed, he reported and anchored from television stations across the South including in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Augusta and Macon, Georgia. In the course of this work, he trained with U.S. marines from Parris Island, South Carolina, reported from Atlanta on the Ebola outbreak, and travelled to Washington, D.C. for National Police Week. At the international desk in CNN International, prior to joining WION, Archith assisted with the coverage of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, the MetroJet plane crash in Egypt, and the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.
But it was the December 2015 flood in the city of Chennai, India, which became a turning point. Moved by the devastation of their home town, Archith and his brother Ashwin did a fundraiser concert and raised $9,000. Archith took time off work to go volunteer in Chennai, but he went with a mission: he wanted to help but he also wanted to tell the stories of the countless people whose lives had been altered by the floods. Thanks to his knowledge of Tamil, he spoke to people whose homes and businesses had been destroyed and whose livelihoods had been lost. He spoke to families who had been moved to makeshift shelters and the locals who were collecting food packets for the needy.
It was a pivotal moment in Archith’s life when he realized the sheer volume of stories that go unreported, simply because reporters don’t go there. And so he seized the opportunity when he was offered the job as a news anchor at WION, a place where he felt his American journalistic experience combined with his Indian roots would help him report on global news with a South Asian worldview. Towards that end, he was recently in New York covering the U.S. election results, and then in Tamil Nadu, India, for the death of Chief Minister Jayalalitha.
For someone who has learned to shoot, edit, produce and write news stories only a few years ago, this has been a remarkable learning curve and one can only wonder if it’s his sheer grit and determination, or his networking skills, or a little bit of “pure luck,” or a combination of all of those, that helped him carve a path for himself all the way from that Siemens lab in Atlanta to the WION newsroom, in New Delhi, India.
Your career trajectory from IT to broadcast
journalism is quite exceptional. Even in
media, the leaps from small-town Georgia to
CNN International and now to WION, in New
Delhi, make it appear as if you are able
to make desired transitions at will. To
what do you attribute this success?
I have been fascinated with television ever since I was 7-8 years old. I think that’s where my drive for journalism comes from. However, studying engineering was a natural trajectory, because, like most Indian-Americans, I was good at math and science. It was my safety cushion! But even when I was studying at Georgia Tech, I was writing for the school paper. We had done some events and a charity fundraiser, and I reached out to Khabar. In fact, that’s how I tried my hand at print journalism, writing for Khabar. So you see, journalism was like a little lightbulb, always there, just that it was never switched on.
But it was when I did my internship at Siemens in 2004 that I realised that sitting at a desk behind a computer wasn’t for me. I need to be out there interacting with people. Around the same time I started working at Accenture and exploring journalism. There was a time during my Accenture years when I was interning at CNN’s science and technology unit, and doing grad school all in one go. I really enjoyed my time at Accenture, but there came a point when I had to decide if this is something I would like to do for the rest of my life, and that’s when I decided that if I had to do journalism, now was the time.
The one common binding element in everything that I have done so far is the passion and the drive for it. If you want to accomplish something, then you alone can do it. You can’t sit around wishing for things to happen. You’ve got to start something, and hopefully, each thing will, sort of like a domino, lead to something else.
Also, I think, living in the United States, you can evolve and create whatever you want. You can take everything that you’ve learned and apply it to something completely different. That’s the luxury that America gives you.
Have all your career moves come about as a matter
of proactive choice of the next thing you want, or
have they been unforeseen breaks due to your excellent
You know, someone once told me that it’s not “what” you know, it’s not “who” you know, but “who knows you” that matters, and that really has been my guiding principle. Networking is so essential. I don’t know how you would succeed if you don’t have networking skills. Networking is not about getting someone to help you get a job but it’s strategically finding out how you can help each other, throwing out ideas, and having a conversation.
People think of networking negatively, but I think it’s about building and maintaining quality relationships with people. Most, if not all, of my career moves have been in part due to some level of networking. Networking opens the door for you. You ultimately have to be able to sell yourself. But networking, for anybody, in any industry, is such an important element. In fact, I have a little personal mantra when I go to a conference or a meeting: I make it a point to meet at least one person a day and it doesn’t have to be a CEO or President of a company. It could be someone starting their career, whom you could advise or who could connect you with someone in a new city. It goes back and forth.
I also think networking is just being proactive. At CNN, once I settled in, I set up coffee meetings with different people every week. When I had those informal chats, I would ask, “Hey, this is what I’ve done, my goal is always to be a correspondent, how can I do that?” They may not have had an answer but it is possible that they could connect you with somebody who does.
I don’t think you can ever network too much. If I didn’t network I wouldn’t have this job. There are some people who say, “Don’t network, focus on your job!” Well, absolutely, you should focus on your job, you should do your job and do it well. But at the same time nobody’s going to care about your career like you. You don’t lose anything by asking or reaching out or taking the initiative.
People call me ‘the networker,’ but everybody can do it. Everybody should do it, do it well and do it both ways––network to your own benefit, learn, and also connect other people in your network. That’s the key to being somebody who’s always plugged in.
(Left) In his current role – for World Is One News, Zee News’ first English news network.
How did you land the WION position?
I have always wanted to do international journalism. I lived in Germany for about a year when I was young, grew up in India, then lived in Australia, and finally moved to the US. That’s why I have always had that appreciation for international stories.
Then in December 2015 the Chennai floods happened. That was an eye-opening experience for me. Of course, I had seen videos and images of the devastation in the city, but physically going to those areas and seeing how bad things were, literally took my breath away. Walking through the footsteps of the people affected by the floods only further strengthened my resolve to step out of my comfort zone and do journalism in India. This was also the time that the international desk at CNN was undergoing major reorganization and everyone was looking for new opportunities. So, when I heard through a colleague that Zee is launching a new channel, I jumped at the opportunity. And that’s how WION happened. But this goes back to networking and being connected to people: if my colleague hadn’t been aware of my goals of being an on-air reporter, she wouldn’t have been able to point me in the right direction.
What have been the major
challenges in your career so
far and how did you deal with
One of the bigger challenges has been to deal with public criticism of the media and what we do. Especially when you are in a field like this, people get to critique and judge your work. Most professionals do not hear that kind of backlash. In many ways, I believe, we are like artists. Every day we paint a picture and put it out for the world to view. Some people may love it and some may not. But learning to deal with that criticism and building a thick skin is such an essential part of this job, because the media’s an easy scapegoat, right?
Another challenge is being away from family and friends. I think in this industry, in media, especially in news, you have to love your job. This is not your typical 9 to 5 job. You have to work weekends, holidays, and go where the story is. I am very close to my family and friends and it’s hard sometimes. But thankfully, technology, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Facetime, lets you live like you’re connected—but even then it is still not easy.
(Left) Interviewing actress Vidya Balan.
Where do you see yourself in the long term?
What are your ultimate career goals and ambitions? If you had asked me 5-10 years ago, I would have never picked this one. I don’t have an absolute answer, but because I like setting goals, I will say that I definitely want to be in the industry in some capacity whether it’s on-air or management or even as an agent helping connect people, using my life experiences of networking and journalism. Ideally I would like to have a show of my own like that of Sanjay Gupta or Fareed Zakaria. There aren’t that many primetime global anchors of Indian or Asian-American descent, and I think that would be a wonderful thing to aspire for. But again, you never know what’s going to happen. Reporting, anchoring, just being out there and telling stories is something I always will aspire to getting better and better at. That’s the plan for right now.
In today’s world, people get news not just from
TV but from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all
kinds of social media. Do you think any person, not
just journalists, can be relevant and effective without
a social media presence?
I don’t think so. People could still have an impact but they could be much, much more effective with social media. Recruiters in any industry first look you up on social media now. So, it is important to have that digital presence and showcase a positive image for the world. Moreover, most people are on social media now and that’s how they consume their news. So you need to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to reach those audiences, whether it’s the millennials or others.
Each platform has its own specialties. Instagram is solely pictures, “worth a thousand words.” Facebook is where you can comment, like a live blog. Twitter is short and sweet, gives you the gist of what happened in 140 characters. I’m on all of them, so even when I’m in the newsroom anchoring, I’m trying to juggle and process and also deliver information. But I also think it’s a Catch-22. As someone at CNN told me, “You will never be fired for not tweeting, but you will definitely be fired for tweeting incorrectly.” So, you have to use social media wisely to build your brand.
Social media has also encouraged trends such as citizen journalism. It helps keep people accountable, whether it is politicians who are backtracking on their promises or airlines that are taking advantage of their customers. It is also a great tool for communication. For example, during the Chennai floods people used social media to help each other out. They shared information about food delivery stations and times. The Facebook safety check feature is another example of how people are now communicating during times of duress.
Increasingly you see a trend towards opinionated
journalism and in the ratings game it’s these
outlets that seem to be doing well. So, clearly the
audience doesn’t want to hear the “other side.”
What’s your take on that? Should journalists have
That’s a great question. I don’t think we should always drive our content based on what the audience wants to hear. That’s not our job. Shows like American Idol get far more ratings than any news show, but that doesn’t mean we become a reality show. Our job is to give people the news and they can decide how they want to use it. It is important to have that sense of neutrality and objectivity on air. Imagine in a newsroom, if there are 10-15 anchors, and if each one of them has an opinion that they are going to articulate every hour, then the tone of the same story will change with each passing hour. I don’t understand how that adds value for the viewers. It would be appropriate, if you see a groundswell of opinion on a particular issue, to call the experts and have them weigh in on it. Your job is to state the facts, ask the questions, and hold people accountable. Your opinion is yours, and no one really should care about it but yourself.
Please talk about the similarities and differences
in your work environment between the U.S.
There are plenty of similarities but also some striking differences. There’s a lot of chaos in all newsrooms, even across different countries, because news is always happening and there are so many elements that you have to gather continuously. And in all newsrooms there is workplace politics. You learn to deal with it. In a newsroom, everybody wants the lead story, everybody wants to be deployed, and you see a lot of backstabbing and sabotaging.
One striking difference I see here in India is the hours. People in India definitely work more hours, and there is an expectation to work longer hours than your typical nine-hour day. In the U.S., you work your shift and then you’re done, and then the next shift comes in. Or if you are off, you call a freelancer in. But in India, people work longer hours, 12-13-hour shifts, weekends, and you also have to factor in commute time and traffic. Luckily, I live near work, but for a lot of people, it’s an exhausting day.
For the most part I feel that I have adjusted well. It’s not that different. A newsroom is a newsroom. A job is a job. It comes with pluses and minuses, and it’s how you learn to deal with it that matters. Communicate well, be a problem-solver, work with your teammates, and understand the social dynamics. That is the best you can do.
What have you learned about India that you
wouldn’t have if not for living and working there?
Indian Standard Time is real! And it’s sad and awful. Somebody has said that to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable. Here people are always late and they act as if it is normal, and I think we should be mindful that we don’t create that culture.
Is there anything else in particular that you
would like to add?
The most important thing is to “be nice.” No matter what you have—power, looks, fame, status, money— if you aren’t nice, it doesn’t matter. That being said, you have to be proactive and network. Remember, “it’s not the grades you make but the hands you shake!” And “it’s not what you know, or who you know, but who knows you!”
Deepa Agarwal is part of a Peabody Award winning team at CNN International, where she is a freelance planning and editorial producer, and was formerly a full time editorial producer.
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