Radio Reporter and Political Pundit
Photo: Matthew Pearson/WABE
Rahul Bali, as an informed radio correspondent, has for years shared his perspective on the state of affairs in Georgia. He is WABE’s politics reporter. Bali held news anchor spots for the Oconee Radio Group and Cumulus Media, and has done field reporting from the Georgia Capitol. He also reported, produced, and edited for CNN Radio, WSB Radio, and WTOP Radio. Bali spoke with Khabar about the challenges of mis- and disinformation, diversity in media, the perils of personal social media posts by rookie journalists, and what his kids think of his job.
You came to Atlanta in 1994 to study engineering at Georgia Tech and realized engineering wasn’t for you. How did your career in radio and TV take root and flourish?
I worked in radio while getting my college degree at Georgia State University. I worked with Z93 radio, which no longer exists, WCNN, WSB, and eventually onto CNN Radio. I got married in 2006. While shuttling between Washington, D.C.—for my wife Dru’s work— and Georgia, I did TV work in Augusta and Atlanta. In October 2021, Dru retired from the military and went into civilian medicine. That’s when I joined WABE Radio as a politics reporter.
What inspired you to become a journalist/ storyteller?
I just wanted to be on the radio. My eventual passion became turning state and local political news into something that is interesting, compelling— and something that matters to listeners, viewers, and readers.
How does print journalism differ from—and is akin to—radio/podcasting?
I have never been a print journalist, but I have written plenty of digital stories for my TV and radio stations. Similarities include getting and keeping the attention of the reader or listener. There are differences in the product. The audio clip in my radio story may be different to the quote in a print piece. Radio stories are generally shorter than print stories, so you have to decide what needs to be in a story.
What challenges does the media face in the age of disinformation?
In the age of disinformation, we have to do stories with more context and more explanation. To serve an audience, you can’t just say something is not true, you have to explain why. Media literacy is also important. That means meeting people and answering their questions about how we do our jobs. For example, speaking to a local Rotary Club and answering their most basic questions about my daily routine.
How do you sift through raw information and narratives to craft unvarnished stories for your audience? What is the key to telling compelling stories?
First and foremost, you have to be “out there.” I think about how many people were commenting on the Georgia Governor and U.S. Senate races, yet the number of people on the campaign trail on a regular basis was maybe twenty. My WABE colleague Sam Gringlas was one of the first to pick up on folks who were going to vote for both Governor Brian Kemp and U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock. I kept meeting voters who were planning to vote for Governor Kemp and then vote Libertarian, Democrat, or just skip the U.S. Senate race. These are trends you can only pick by being on the trail and talking to voters.
At the State Capitol, I like talking to state lawmakers in person. I like reading their bills myself. And if I find something interesting, then look into it. And I do bounce things off my wife, kids, and friends for possible interest. For example, stories on banning car booting or allowing heavier trucks on Georgia’s roads. You have worked at local and network levels.
How do you get young people involved in pertinent and authentic news in the age of TikTok?
We are content creators. We have to find the platforms and more importantly the folks with major social followings that want to share our content with a wide range of people from young to old, liberal to conservative, interested in politics to not engaged.
What is the most remarkable story/interview you have ever conducted? What makes it stand out in the archives of your memory?
Presidential inaugurations are special. I have only been to two—President Bill Clinton in 1997 and President Barack Obama in 2009.
As the national director for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) Radio and Podcasting Group, you have the unique vantage point of gauging progress and participation. Can you tell us about your role in AAJA and how the composition and compass of the organization has evolved over the years?
The most important thing for AAJA is being a resource for fellow journalists and the community. In the days after the 2021 Asian Spa Shootings, AAJA Atlanta was an important resource to fellow Asian- American journalists, local news organizations and the local Asian community that needed information, guidance and help being connected. I helped put together a TV show with the six Asian-American state lawmakers at the time, along with an AAJA-Atlanta Press Club joint panel.
As an Indian American, how do you feel the tenets of diversity, representation, and equality have fared over the last decade? What are some ways to propel the principles further?
It is not a straight line. There are times news organizations do better at diversity and representation than others. But it is also important that colleges, organizations, and communities help support the pipeline of Indian American journalists. Especially when they work in smaller cities on a path to bigger cities and national news organizations.
What are some of your favorite books and podcasts? What makes them special to you?
I don’t read, watch, or listen to anything on a regular basis—I bounce around a lot. I just watched Bo Legs, which is about former Atlanta politician Marvin Arrington, Sr.—and Senna, about the Formula 1 legend. Sometimes I just watch to see how people tell stories like on ESPN’s 30 for 30 or how journalists ask questions on 60 Minutes.
What advice would you offer young journalists looking to break into the current media space?
Be careful what you put on social media now because it might make it more challenging to hire you or for you to do your job.
On a personal note, how do your wife and your two children view your work? Is there general political consensus around the dinner table, or are there animated discussions stemming from varying perspectives?
My wife is amazingly supportive of my career, while she has her own career in medicine. My kids are eight and 12 and think what Daddy does is boring!
Author of Kismetwali & Other Stories, Reetika Khanna is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who likes to spotlight people with purpose. She has worked with ELLE as a senior features writer, and as an associate features editor with ELLE DÉCOR, Mumbai. For more, go to ReetikaKhanna.com
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