Sukanya Krishnan entertains a fantasy about her participation in today’s hyper-connected world. She would love to “unplug” and live without her BlackBerry and iPad, as well as without her Twitter and Facebook accounts and, really, all things digital.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. Sukanya, or Suki, as she is also known, is the straight-talking anchor and reporter for the PIX11 “Morning News” in New York, Tribune Broadcasting’s CW affiliate. She admits, too, that she “loves the everyday hustle” of her job, in which she covers the New York City metro region, one of the world’s most demanding markets.
Suki is also a three-time Emmy winner, an icon of New York media, a dedicated newshound, a wife, the mother of a toddler son named Kiran, a sister and a daughter. To Suki, digital is as integral to her life as are a studio set, pen and pad, and hair and makeup.
“Digital has changed everyone and everything,” says Suki. She and her team, like news organizations everywhere, cull leads from viewers or so-called citizen journalists as well as from police and firefighters, using Twitter and other types of digital tools and social media. For example, the first image of a helicopter crash in the Hudson River last fall came from a Twitter user.
Suki herself is active daily on Facebook and Twitter (@SukanyaNYC), which means that she maintains the posts and tweets herself, a task that some anchors delegate to others. On Facebook, she is nearly at the limit of 5,000 connections (a total of your Friends and the pages you “like”). “I like to respond to people who didn’t like what we did or are offended,” she says of messages she receives through social media. “You put yourself out there for better or for worse, so you have to put up or shut up.”
With so many digital tools at the ready, Suki at first says that “everyone can be a journalist,” then corrects herself. “Everyone” certainly can witness a news event, aid in gathering information and serve as a tipster, she notes, but it takes a professional journalist to report the story, nail down the facts and interpret them, and determine the news value in a way that makes sense for viewers.
Watching Suki switch with seeming ease from a kindergarten segment to a report on the assassination of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi to breaking news of a fire in Queens, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t plan to be an on-air broadcaster. “It’s not like journalism is in my blood,” explains the daughter of doctors who emigrated from Madras, India, to New York when she was seven.
In fact, she majored in Spanish at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and also studied abroad in Malaga, Spain, because she found the romance language “so full of love and alma [which means soul in Spanish].” Later, as a journalist working in a Dominican neighborhood, knowing Spanish helped Suki do her job better because she could communicate with the residents.
It was a journalism professor at New York University, where she was taking a postgraduate course, who encouraged Suki to go into the news business. Later, when Suki interned behind the scenes at WLIG Channel 55 (now WLNY) in Melville, Long Island, she reported an on-air story and her broadcasting career was launched.
Among her other stops have been WUTR-TV, an ABC affiliate in Utica, NY; WCBS, in New York City, for five years; and WHP-TV, a CBS affiliate in Harrisburg, PA.
As an experienced broadcaster, Suki has advice for the next generation. Hone your skills and learn your craft before speaking up, she says, because at the beginning “no one wants to hear what you have to say.” Dress appropriately for work: “No UGGs, flip-flops or sweats or pants with Juicy across your ass.” And treat your superiors with respect. At work, “we aren’t all friends,” she says. “You have to know when to pull back. There’s a line in the sand that you don’t cross. If Ms. Johnson [your boss] is now Jean, that doesn’t mean she is your friend.”
It is Suki’s “old school” immigrant background that contributes to her sense of propriety in dealing with both interview subjects and superiors. “I grew up in a loving family, not a formal family,” she says. “But we knew when the big dogs [the older generation] barked at us to get off the porch, we got off the porch.”
She encourages any talented, hardworking woman, or man, to go for a career in broadcasting, regardless of whether they fit the physical mold. She is well aware that the business can zero in on cookie-cutter looks, favoring people of a certain age, race, size and gender. When Suki started out, for example, South Asian women as on-air broadcasters were virtually nonexistent in the United States. In fact, she remembers one studio executive asking her to alter her eye makeup to give her eyes more of a Far Eastern look, because in those days Chinese and Korean on-air talent fit in better with the news scenario than a woman from India.
Now it’s hard to imagine New York media without Suki and her singular talent and perspective.
“I wish there were many more faces that looked like mine on-air,” adds Suki. “I love seeing people of color in broadcasting. It’s up to the next generation to make that change happen.”
This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of CONNECT. Photo by Melissa Hamburg.