Building Bridges, One Article at a Time: An Interview with Reporter Melody Hahm
Melody Hahm is the west coast correspondent for Yahoo Finance, specializing in business and tech. She is also the head of programming at the non-profit Yohaus, an organization focused on having conversations with renowned individuals to build community. As a Korean American woman, Melody has worked hard to highlight distinguished Asian Americans, some of her most notable interviews including Jen Wong (the COO of Reddit) and Andrew Yang.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you decide to become a journalist, and what made you choose business and finance journalism?
I feel like journalism found me. I loved writing and public speaking, so it was an amalgamation of my interests. Also, the summer before eighth grade, my mom sent me to a two-week summer journalism program at Columbia University, and I fell in love with being able to do that for a living. So, every summer in high school, I had family in South Korea so I did internships at KBS and MBC, which are two of the major broadcast networks there. A lot of it was grunt work, just translating between English and Korean, but I loved the newsroom environment. I’m very much an extrovert, and that draw to telling people stories-especially multicultural stories-got me interested in journalism.
I went to Bowdoin College. It’s a small liberal arts school, so they don’t have journalism or communications, and I’m grateful for that because I ended up majoring in Spanish literature and language as well as government. Through the alumni network, I got an internship in New Delhi, India the summer before my senior year, and I got to tell some really interesting stories for an international audience for a small publication there. And that was when I thought, “Huh. This could be my living one day.”
And to be honest, I had zero interest in business or financial journalism, but I quickly realized that finding a niche would be the best way to pursue a career in journalism, even if that meant pivoting later on. So I actually had a huge imposter syndrome complex and was crying the first couple of days at work because I knew nothing. I didn’t know what the Federal Reserve did, I didn’t know what interest rates were, I didn’t know the price of gold, and all of those became concepts that I had to quickly adopt. But I couldn’t be more grateful because it’s amazing to cover news through economics and business.
What was it like not knowing what you were doing, and how were you able to overcome that imposter syndrome?
It was very high-stress. Sometimes you don’t realize that it was stressful until you take a step back and you’re like, “Oh shit, that was full anxiety.” There was a period of time where I thought I had heart palpitations, because my heart was beating so quickly.
For me, a lot of the imposter syndrome actually came because the person who was training me was an Asian American woman, and she was pretty hard on me. She was not necessarily the most gracious teacher. She majored in econ and journalism and interned at CNBC every year, so she knew that was the job that she wanted. Whereas for me, I was in India and Korea and didn’t major in journalism. So I think she felt like, “Who is this girl? What does she know about this industry?” She sort of left me in the lurch or would roll her eyes at me if I asked a simple question.
But my strategy was to find allies. Thankfully, I was part of a news associate program where there were mostly people like me, who were new college grads. I also found other folks who had more of a diverse background, who perhaps were not set on business journalism.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your career as a journalist?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is there’s nothing like asking a question to somebody that they’ve never been asked before. That means doing enough research and having a holistic perspective on something, enough to whittle it down and find a new angle. For example, when I moderated a panel on the future of streaming, I did some stalking and saw that one of the panelists did Bhangra in college. When I brought it up, he was like, “What? I didn’t know that was still on the internet!”
I know it sounds frivolous, but that’s a way to immediately curry favor with somebody because they know you’ve done the research, and they know that you’re interested in beyond the superficial and beyond the immediate headline. And that’s served me well for my entire career, and honestly that’s the only reason I think I’m able to get some high profile guests to say yes to some interviews.
You’ve interviewed a lot of really remarkable people such as Andrew Yang. How were you able to get this opportunity?
Prior to running for president, Andrew Yang ran Venture for America. I had been invited to VFA galas in years past, so I was familiar with Andrew Yang, and I was on their email list. In April of 2018, I got a press release from VFA saying, “Andrew Yang is running for President!” So I immediately reached out, and he was very easy to book at the time because, to be honest, he was laughed at when he first announced he was running for president. I even got pushback from my own team saying, “Oh, but he’s not like a real candidate. He’s not a formidable player in this field.” and I said, “Yeah, but he’s still running.” And he actually was one of the first to fill out the paperwork to say that he is going to be on the ticket. So I was the first mainstream outlet to book him, and I think he was always grateful for that. It’s through that connection that I’ve been able to maintain contact with him.
So the bigger picture is to fight for people that you feel are going to be someone big one day. Whether that is the tech entrepreneur, the fringe candidate-anything is possible. Everyone can be somebody one day, so do not count anyone out, do not write anyone off.
How has your identity as a Korean American woman shaped your career?
Initially, I was just staying afloat and assimilating. It’s a white man’s world. Survive. But I have to say there has been a tectonic shift in our culture at large. It’s no longer a fringe thing to be a K-pop fan, it’s not a fringe thing to eat Korean barbecue. People are obsessed with kimchi; they eat it with their pancakes. There’s a complete momentum shift to: It is cool, it is acceptable, it’s pretty awesome to be Korean American and Asian American. I can’t deny that that has been the fire beneath a lot of my own interests and my own ability to be more open about my cultural heritage.
I co-hosted a show with two white guys, and we’re all around the same age. But one time, one of the producers after the show showed me a comment from a Korean American woman who said, “Look at these two white men speaking over the person of color. This doesn’t go unnoticed.”
And I remember I never even recognized that I was being talked over, because I was so used to this environment where I thought, “Oh yeah, they’re louder, and to be honest, I’m not going to fight for it. What I have to say is not actually that important.” And then seeing a comment like that shifted my mind. I was like, “You know what? If that means people who are younger than me-people who want to be in this industry and believe that they can have a voice-are looking at me and seeing that I’m not speaking up for myself, then that is a huge issue.
That inner desire to be seen as a role model and also the cultural shift, coupled together, have really been instrumental in me speaking up and saying things that, to be honest, five years ago I wouldn’t have been comfortable saying openly.
And how do you think this cultural shift has impacted the newsroom?
My main motivation is to be a megaphone to communities that are underserved and underprivileged, whether that is Black and brown folks or other groups of people. Now I’m trying to understand my own identity and how I can be a conduit for change and a bridge for different POC with a white world. I think, in the bigger picture, if I find myself in a position of power or if I have a seat at the table, I want to be able to say, “Hey we have to showcase Latinx communities, we have to showcase Black communities.”
What do you hope is the impact of your journalism?
I think especially during the pandemic, some of the stories that I found the most impactful were the ones showcasing teachers, Etsy sellers, DACA recipients. People who are often overlooked and underserved are the ones that are actually keeping our country together. So I hope it brings a different perspective or some nuance to someone society does not elevate and give a platform. My goal has always been, “What is out there that is not in your realm of consciousness? What are people doing, what are the passions that people have that you might not know about, that might not seem intuitive?” I hope that people get an additional layer of understanding, that a person is much more multifaceted than he or she appears.
What do you hope to be the example that you set?
I hope to show people to be confident in yourself; you’re clearly in the room for a reason. That space is yours. I want to empower the next generation to feel confident in what they do and know that they belong at the table.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m so happy that the stigma surrounding mental health in the Asian American community seems to be eroding. One piece of advice I have is if you feel as though you need to seek out a therapist, if you feel as though some of these problems seem really daunting, it’s okay to ask for help. Difficult moments are difficult moments. Hardships are hardships. You know what is right for you, and you need to figure out how you can better yourself and be the best person for your community.
And I think that has been one of the biggest personal wins for me, is understanding that that’s one of the areas I need to invest in to be a better employee, spouse, friend, and to ultimately be more successful. You can’t be devoid of self-love and self-encouragement. It’s not just “woo-woo” thinking. It will make you feel more focused, energetic, motivated, and I think it actually pays off dividends. And the return on that investment is pretty high, so I highly encourage people to pursue their mental health journey.
Anita Li (17) is a senior at the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C. After starting as a writer for Yelloh Moose, she’s so excited to step into her role as Co-Director of Interviews! When she’s not asking people questions, you can find Anita crying over a K-Drama or playing Cards Against Humanity with her friends.
Originally published at https://yellohmoose.org.