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August 12, 2011

Women Running the Show

As producers of the top news shows on TV, they're the first people on the scene when wars erupt, earthquakes hit — or a politico cheats. And they're busy trying to beat each other to big stories as we speak.

subrata de

Subrata De with President Obama and Brian Williams.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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The News Junkie
Subrata De, 39, Senior Producer, NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams

What I do: I'm always trying to get Brian Williams into countries that are in chaos: Egypt amid the revolution, Indonesia after the tsunami, Haiti after the earthquake. It was dicey getting into Haiti, and when we got there, Brian and I slept out on the tarmac, receiving visits from rats, since that was the safest place to sleep amid the aftershocks.

Crazy adventure: Once, when Brian and I were flying into Kabul, a tribal elder tried to kick me out of my seat. I was sitting near the front of the plane — which is equivalent to business class — and the man thought he should be sitting there instead of me, since I was a woman. The only way we could convince him to let me stay was to say that I was Brian's wife. We got a good laugh out of that one later. So did Brian's wife, Jane.

Proudest accomplishment: There are times, like when I'm strapping on my body armor in Afghanistan or getting ready to shoot an interview with Brian and President Obama, that I feel awfully proud to be doing this job as a woman of color and as a person with a disability. I was born without a left hand, and while it really is a nonissue for me, I'd like to give myself a little pat on the back for having come this far in a job that deals a lot in first impressions, and can also get pretty physical out in the field.

What it's like to work with Brian Williams: He's wickedly funny. That humor gets us through some trying times in the field. I just wish he'd eat a vegetable every now and then. When we're on the road, we often have standoffs over fast food versus healthy food. He usually prevails, due to sheer stubbornness. Somehow, we always end up at Arby's.

Worst part of the job: Being away from my daughter. She's 6. My greatest joy.

Biggest surprise: The fact that you can still be surprised in this business. Just when you think you've seen it all, something new happens: This year, it was the Arab Spring. Standing in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the revolution, I was most definitely surprised.

Greatest challenge: Keeping your emotions in check. It's hard not to lose it when people are sifting through the wreckage of their homes. You have to hold it together.

How I got my start: I started as an intern at TV Nation, the satirical news show, in New York City. I would sit in a back room slogging through tons of research, but I loved it.

Word to the wise: Follow your gut instincts. Treat others well. Break the rules, and don’t take no for an answer.

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