“Tell it and tell it well”
Hermela Aregawi is an Ethiopia American journalist based in the United States. Here she reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on her career, on her journey to the North American nation, on coming back to Ethiopia and finally gives her advice to those who may want to emulate her journalism career. Excerpt:
The Reporter: Hermela, you have been a journalist for almost a decade now, working for big media outlets, among others, Al Jazeera and CBS. Share with me the highlights?
Hermela Aregawi: I am currently living one of my favorite highlights. Launching CBS LA’s 24-hour news-streaming service, CBSN Los Angeles, last June felt ground breaking. I anchor the mornings. We are at five million streams and counting. We have an excellent team. The leadership is top-notch. Stay tuned. Reporting on the aftermath of the murder of Nipsey Hussle was memorable. The impact he had on people was fascinating to watch. Interviewing his mom during the memorial procession was an unforgettable moment. Previously, being a part of launching Al Jazeera America in 2013 was a big move (NYC) and a big deal (National). Covering the 2012 US presidential election was exciting and fascinating. I learned a lot. I had a lot of fun. Met former Vice President Al Gore, who owned the network I was working for at the time (Current TV). And last but not least, the friends I have met in this business are a highlight that keeps on giving. Some, friends for life.
How did you get into journalism (who inspired you)?
I went to college knowing I would study journalism. I have my Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism. I gravitated towards the industry at a young age, 8/9 years old. I don’t know that I knew it was called journalism then. I just loved the process of discovery that comes with journalism, whether that is in talk show format or a packaged story, or just a casual conversation with someone that you approach with curiosity. That is a part of journalism. I ask questions. Then ask some more. Outside of work, people I meet or already know have told me they feel like they are being interviewed. And I say, what’s wrong with that?
My inspirations. The 1990s was a big time for talk shows and I watched a lot of them, while all the other kids including my younger brother watched cartoons. Can you blame him? I was the odd one. Some of my favorite journalists back then were Oprah Winfrey with her legendary talk show and the legend that is Barbara Walters on 20/20. Those are still thought of as iconic programs. I guess I had good taste at a young age.
You left Ethiopia and moved to the US at the age of seven. Tell me about that?
Yes, that is correct. We moved to the states because my mom had received a scholarship to get her PhD in medicinal chemistry at Ole Miss (University of MS) as an international student. As you can imagine, it was a dramatic life change, though one filled with big potential. More moves and changes followed. At times, it was tough on our family. Looking back, I realize how hard that really was but also how much of that probably plays into who I am today. My ability to navigate different cultural environments, my curiosity, my compassion, my independence and resilience.
You have, in recent years made few visits to Ethiopia. What has that been like and what impression has it left you?
I’m still trying to figure out Ethiopia (If ever one can figure out a place or country). It’s an ongoing journey. I learn something new every time I go. But for starters, there is a lot of development. The Ethiopia I left in the 90s is far from the Ethiopia I’ve been visiting in recent years. A lot of young professionals from the states are moving back, and even choosing to settle there. I find that intriguing. I‘ve met and know really smart, creative, and hard-working people that are doing and will do amazing things. It’s definitely a country to watch this decade. And separately, the food and coffee is amazing and I love the quality time I am able to spend with my family there. That is really the best part. And God-willing, I’ll be back for a visit soon.
Journalism is a very competitive field. To those who may want to follow in your footsteps, Ethiopian - Americans in particular, what advice do you have for them?
Go for it! The only way you’ll know if it’s for you is to give it a go. That is really the bottom line. But know this, it is hard work. At one point, I was shooting, writing, editing my stories and going live by myself every night. It’s hard work. Don’t let the hair, make-up and good lighting fool you. In some ways it’s getting harder because you are expected to have more skills. You are expected to know how to do it all (write, shoot, edit). But production equipment is also getting lighter, simpler and cheaper. It’s really a matter of do you love it enough? I think it’s important to like the storytelling more than the story. Because more often than not, you don’t get to choose your story. And you still have to tell it and tell it well.