BBC World News presenter Yalda Hakim on getting her start in the industry.
How did you get into journalism?
I was about seven when I watched my first current affairs story and decided that I wanted to do whatever it was that they were doing on the TV. Global politics and issues of social justice were always discussed and fiercely debated in my family home when I was growing up. This definitely played a huge role in my desire to travel the world and tell untold stories, especially in places where people are either forgotten, or to cover issues that are no longer making headlines. My parents often wonder why I want to go to countries facing political turmoil, especially because they fled Afghanistan in search of a better life. But for me, given my Afghan heritage, and as a journalist, I feel a sense of responsibility to highlight these issues.
I started my career in Sydney as a university work experience student. I worked for two public broadcasters, SBS and ABC. But it was at SBS that I found my natural home. I would go to the station and work voluntarily for the international current affairs program Dateline, twice a week on my days off. I did this for an entire year, for free, until finally someone offered me a job. I was so desperate to gain as many skills as possible. I did a six-month stint with the network’s indigenous current affairs program, Living Black. I found myself travelling to some of the most remote regions of Australia to cover stories about the Aboriginal community. I learnt how to shoot and use a camera. I was very much in my element and doing what I loved. I was working in a field I loved and it’s not a job, it’s a privilege. I did not take any moment for granted.
What was your big break?
A month before I finished my cadetship at SBS I went to my executive producer and said: “I want to go to Afghanistan and shoot a story. I want to get a sense of what life is like in Kabul now and I may have a story for you.” He said: “Go for it.” Seven years after I first joined the network, I went full circle and became the host of Dateline, the programme I was once interning on. That for me was a great accomplishment.
What changed after your break?
I’ve had an extraordinary journey so far. I wake up every day feeling grateful and privileged that I do what I love. It has never been just a job for me. Working for the BBC, I love that I have a platform to bring human stories to a global audience and be able to tell people in, for example, Kenya what is happening in Indonesia. That for me is very exciting.
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had known that hard work and perseverance pays off and therefore I should have enjoyed those early days in my career a lot more. I’ve always been running my own race and have had five and 10-year plans set out with all my goals. I was told by one of my mentors to never aim low because I’ll always hit the mark. I believe I’ve always had a healthy amount of ambition and love challenging myself, so pushed myself to think outside the box and try different things like learning to shoot and being proactive by pitching story ideas etc. I don’t regret being in a hurry and devoting the last 10 years to my career. I feel it has paid off.
Is it harder or easier for people to break into the industry today?
I don’t think it’s a question of being harder or easier for people starting in the industry today. It’s a matter of how much you want to succeed in the industry and how hard you are willing to work for it. My first paid job in the industry was working night shifts, starting at 10pm and finishing at 6am. This meant I had virtually no social life and spent little time with friends and family. I think work/life balance is important but in the initial stages of your career, it’s a matter of doing whatever job is available in order to build your experience.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
I feel employers are always looking for people who are energetic and self-starters. I once had a manager who would say, “I often get CVs from aspiring journalists who write that they want to be presenters or war correspondents.” He would throw those CVs out because he wasn’t looking for people who just wanted to be a star or be on TV. He was looking for those willing to take on any task. I often repeat this to those starting out.
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