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Hari Sreenivasan: From Nathan Hale High to 'PBS NewsHour'
An interview with Hari Sreenivasan, a trailblazing South Asian anchorman, who is covering the 2012 presidential election for 'PBS NewsHour.'
Special to The Seattle Times
'PBS NewsHour: Election Day'Election coverage begins at 11 a.m. online (www.pbs.org/newshour) and at 5 p.m. on KCTS-TV and continues until 9 p.m. or later.
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"PBS NewsHour" correspondent Hari Sreenivasan first started thinking about a career in media as a disc jockey at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, but his interest grew during his years at Tacoma's University of Puget Sound. In part, it was a reaction to what he didn't see in American media: people who looked like him.
"At the time there was hardly a South Asian on TV," he says. "The most famous one was Apu from 'The Simpsons' — this is pre-Sanjay Gupta — and it was a caricature of our community to be represented by a cartoon figure."
Sreenivasan, 38, emigrated with his family from India to Renton in the early 1980s. He attended Spring Glen and Seward elementary schools and Eckstein Middle before graduating from Nathan Hale in 1991.
When viewers tune to PBS for election coverage Tuesday night, they'll see Sreenivasan, who is also director of digital partnerships for "PBS NewsHour," presiding over a digital map of America and speaking with public-media reporters across the country about demographic data in battleground states.
Sreenivasan went to work at "PBS NewsHour" in December 2009, but he's been advancing in his TV career since college internships at Seattle's KING-TV and KIRO-TV. Those were followed by a stint at KAPP-TV in Yakima, where he lived in an apple-orchard trailer during an unpaid internship. After college he worked as a reporter at WNCN in Raleigh, N.C., followed by a six-year stint at CNET in San Francisco.
"It was a license to stay curious," Sreenivasan says of reporting. "The most amazing thing is I'd literally be talking to a homeless person and a mayor within a matter of hours."
Sreenivasan first jumped to a national platform in 2004 when he joined ABC News as an anchor at ABC News Now, a digital channel. He also worked to get reports on "Good Morning America," "Nightline" and "World News Tonight" and he anchored for the overnight broadcast "World News Now."
In 2007, Sreenivasan moved over to CBS, reporting from the network's Dallas bureau and later from New York for reports that aired on "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," "The Early Show" and "CBS Sunday Morning."
Then PBS came calling.
"It was out of the blue," Sreenivasan says. "I hadn't really considered it and what I've come to realize since I've been here is this is the last place on television you can find intelligent, informed people who can disagree agreeably about matters that matter night after night and that should carry some weight over time."
Regarding Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney's vow to cut federal funding to PBS, Sreenivasan says that's had no impact on "NewsHour" coverage of the campaign. It's a threat politicians have made in the past and "NewsHour," like many other PBS shows, receives the bulk of its funding from nongovernment funding sources.
"It was a great one-liner, but I don't think it changes the conversation on whether PBS is of value or not," he says. "I think most people value PBS and put their money behind it and support it and are happy to see it in their communities."
It's a sense he also gets when reporting for the "NewsHour" on the road.
"Thanks to the idea of public media, they know we're not interested in the flash-in-the-pan sound bite or looking aggressive," says Sreenivasan, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008.
"We're trying to simmer it down and say, 'Why do you feel this way? What about this other idea?' People respond to us differently than if they think we're a person coming out chasing ambulances."
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook
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