Editor’s note: This essay is part of an occasional series presenting the reflections of Chipsters as they complete their CQS internships.
Examining identity and privilege as a journalist
by Rishika Dugyala
I went into journalism because I liked the idea of taking real experiences and facts to create a compelling narrative that tells readers something about the world we live in.
This year — through my professional internship experiences, the Chips Quinn Scholars Program and the Asian American Journalists Association — I came to realize just how unprepared I and many of my peers were for the field. A largely unresolved issue, I think, is people of marginalized identities not checking their own privilege when they have it.
I am a brown-skinned immigrant, from India, and a woman. I’ve dealt with my share of racism and sexism, of course. But I grew up in Santa Clara County, in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where I was part of the majority race. My parents, though divorced, are both in my life. And being middle class, we could afford AP exam fees and college tuition.
Most people in my Bay Area community don’t equate their being Asian with the words “minority” or “disadvantaged.” They think of affirmative action as helping only “the blacks and the Mexicans.” And they don’t close their mouths for the n-word when singing along to a song.
Last summer as I traveled from coast to coast I was surrounded by a true diversity of experiences and backgrounds, and it really hit home.
My love for journalism has changed. I notice when it goes wrong more than I used to, but I stand by it more strongly than I used to. I’ve focused on covering the impact of policy and institutions of power on people from different walks of life — explicitly through writing stories about race, religion and political views and implicitly by interviewing a diverse range of sources.
Until last summer I covered subjects traditionally suited to this goal: housing, education, the 2016 election and the run-up to the 2018 midterms. But working at Reuters in New York made me a better journalist because it opened my eyes to the world of finance: a complex and initially scary field that can be dominated by coverage that doesn’t leave much room for the voices of consumers and employees.
Under the guidance of many mentors within the news organization and without, I focused on stories not only about earnings calls and Wall Street executives’ hiring moves, but also about financial literacy efforts geared toward communities where banks are in short supply and whether bank branch transformations were really helping customers, as executives claimed.
I don’t know where my career will go from here. But I’ve moved beyond thinking I can automatically understand and adequately tell someone’s story because of my own marginalized identity. I’m starting to feel more confident in how I can bring in diverse voices across various reporting topics.
It all started with internalizing and grasping my own privilege, a concept I had associated mainly with wealthy people, white people and men.
Rishika Dugyala was a 2018 Chips Quinn Scholar at Thomson Reuters in New York.