We continue our #HerStory series with Tanzina Vega, host of WNYC’s daily public radio news program “The Takeaway.” In this interview she discusses the difference in communication online and offline, and why women should be given the space to succeed, and fail.
As the host and editorial creator of “The Takeaway,” what kind of stories do you cover?
Tanzina: Every day we cover stories from sports to arts to politics and whatever's affecting the country. But really what I think about when I'm covering a story is, is this about inequality? Is it about truth, and is it about wealth? These are the things that sort of ground my reporting and my work.
You've worked across a broad range of media in many newsrooms — tell us about the genesis of your career as a journalist.
I grew up in public housing here in New York and being a journalist was not exactly one of the careers that you would think about. Um, you sort of think more traditionally. So I didn't really have this, you know, path toward being a journalist.
What ended up happening, I think, was that I had all the skills that, essentially, journalists need in order to be successful. So it's curiosity, writing, an interest in society — and as I evolved in my career, I realized that no matter where I went, I was still drawn into journalism. I've worked with The New York Times, I've worked at CNN, and now I'm a public radio host, so I feel blessed to have been able to work in so many different kinds of media in my career.
What was it that first drew you toward journalism?
I started working in publishing and I always knew I wanted to be a writer in some way, but I wasn't really sure how to go about doing that. And what happened, particularly when I traveled around the world, was that I began connecting the dots on what was happening in the United States to what was happening around the world, and how our society was being structured.
It was almost like I couldn't pull myself away from news and really trying to understand why — why are things happening — but not in an academic framework, something that's more accessible to people out there. That to me meant explaining everything from why something is happening to how things are happening to the structures that create the experiences that we see today. And so what's really driven me is inequality in the world, in our country, whether it's racial inequality, gender inequality, economic inequality.
What has your experience been like as a woman, and as a journalist of color, who has traveled the world and covers so many stories?
It sounds cliché, but this is really one of the most amazing jobs you could ever have. It's also very stressful, and it’s very long hours, but part of what makes it so amazing is the ability to literally connect with people anywhere. When I meet people in person, it's always different than when I deal with them on social media. I often wonder if people that say things to me on Twitter that aren't so nice would say the same thing if they met me in person.
I love being out reporting, talking to people. I’ve had some interesting experiences where people don't want to talk to you, but I think it's less about the individual when you meet someone and it's more about what you represent as a journalist. Sometimes there is a lot of hostility out there toward what we do, but there are also a lot of people out there who are hungry to have their stories told.
What do you think needs to be done within the news industry to ensure that female storytellers are front and center?
We need to give them opportunities that we may not have given them in the past. I often joke around about the title of editor at large, right? I think, oh, that must be wonderful to have a job where you can really kind of just go around and do all these amazing things. And behind the joke there is actually a kernel of truth, in that I don't often see women at all, and women of color even less, in positions like that — given the big titles, given the ability to fail, given the ability to try something out. The fewer opportunities we have, the less we are allowed to succeed, the less we're able to succeed, so we have to be able to put women in those big roles and give them the same ability to rise and fall that we give to our white male counterparts.
What are your Twitter habits like? How do you use it to report the news?
So I've had to pull back a little bit because if you leave it up to me, I would be scrolling through Twitter all day, all the time, 24 hours a day. I remember the first time I logged onto Twitter being so scared and thinking, what am I going to say to the rest of the world that's so important? Well, that obviously has devolved to a certain extent. I find that it's something that I need to be on as a journalist. I like to have fun with it — there are times on Twitter that I've literally laughed out loud, and I've engaged with people that I haven't ever met.
Who are some of your must-follows in terms of female journalists on the platform?
I have to say, just follow women. Please just follow us. There are tons of women out there who are covering beats that you may not even be aware of. I don't know if Margaret Brennan is a big Tweeter, but I really like her work. Yamiche Alcindor from PBS, Amy Walter, my colleague over at the Cook Political Report, Errin Haines Whack at the Associated Press, Maria Hinojosa, my contemporary over in public radio ... I could go on, but just follow us women!
Do you have any advice for other female journalists?
Don't feel forced to cover something because of who you are. In other words, I don't want to feel forced to cover issues that have to do with Latinos. Now, if there's an opportunity to do that, then by all means take advantage of it if that's what you're interested in, but I would recommend some of the areas that we need the most diversity and inclusion in are areas like tech reporting, politics reporting, etc. All of these areas that are perhaps not as interesting on the surface, but you'd be surprised how many opportunities there are there.