Renuka Rayasam

Media Minds: Renuka Rayasam

Renuka Rayasam has worked as a staffer for several American newspapers and magazines including U.S. News & World Report, Fortune Small Business, The Kiplinger Letter and The Austin American-Statesman. She has also written forThe New Yorker, Quartz, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Reuters and the BBC among other publications.

She grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, studied Political Economy and German at the University of California, Berkeley and has a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.

What makes a compelling story?

A compelling story is one that shines a light on the corner of the world that doesn't get much attention. I love stories that surprise me, make me think and challenge an existing point of view.

What story, in your career, are you most proud of?

In summer of 2008 I was at The Kiplinger Letter. I broke a story about the coming wave of community bank failures. There was a lot of focus, rightfully so, on bigger banks, but I was able to figure out how the teetering economy might topple smaller banks. I had to put a lot of pieces together, but when I look back the assessment was on the mark. It's rare for me to able to say that I saw something coming.

How did you get your start?

Luck! I got an internship at San Francisco's NPR affiliate (KQED) when I was in college. I had thought about being a journalist, but that year really cemented my desire to pursue journalism as a career.

What's your biggest pet peeve as a writer?

Laziness. There is a lot of content out there, but stories that are deeply-reported and well thought through are what journalism is supposed be about.

Why is journalism rewarding to you?

I love being able to tell people's stories and have an impact in some small way.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

There was never one moment, but every time I felt tempted to leave the business something pulled me back in.

What interview experience stands out in your mind and why?

This summer I interviewed six inmates in LA's prison system. They were so respectful, forthcoming and remarkably introspective. We often think of people in prison a certain way. But these interviews showed me how people and their motivations are never as simple or straightforward as they seem.

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

It's hard not to say Jesus - I would be curious to know what he was all about and who he was. For someone so influential, there is so little known about him. Also Hitler - not just because I lived in Germany for six years! We have tons of information about him, but I would be curious to interview the man who wrecked havoc on the world and changed the course of the 20th century.

How has social media changed the way you work?

Yes, absolutely. It can be a blessing and a curse. Editors are now looking for stories and headlines that are clickable and shareable, which changes how and what I pitch. But it also opens up stories to a broader audience.

What’s your news source?

I read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Economist when I can.

What’s the biggest challenge facing journalism today?

Financing investigative and international work. Good journalism is really expensive and unfortunately most news organizations haven't figured out a business model that funds important work.

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