By Iman Sadri
January 16, 2019
Sanaz Tahernia is a name you will be seeing a lot more of on your TV screens. Especially if you live in Northern California. Sanaz is a TV Reporter/Anchor for KRON 4 TV in the San Francisco / Bay Area. Sanaz started her career as a successful attorney in Los Angeles prior to switching to her real passion, Broadcast Journalism. She is a Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude graduate of both UCLA and Boston University, respectively. She has had a broad and wide-ranging career. From working as a civil litigator to reporting on fires in Reno. She has a smile fit for the screen and is undoubtedly on her way to the national stage. To get caught up with this Prime Time Persian we had an insightful interview with Sanaz Tahernia.
Iman Sadri : Thanks for meeting with The Persian Observer. Can you please describe your early life and education ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I was born in Iran in 1980 and my family and I came to the U.S. in 1982. We first lived in Kew Gardens, New York. We left in 1989 to move to Southern California. We lived in Palos Verdes and that’s basically where I grew up.
I went to UCLA for undergrad. I studied Sociology there and graduated Cum Laude with my bachelors degree. In 2004 I went to Southwestern Law School, and got my J.D. I passed the California State Bar exam in 2008, and I practiced law for several years before deciding to go back to school and get my master’s degree in journalism. I went to Boston University in 2015, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2016.
IS : What prompted you to go to law school ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I went to law school because I didn’t know what else to become. I always wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but I’m sure, as many Iranian people know, medicine, law and engineering are our career options growing up. I always say, my brother became the doctor (he’s a plastic surgeon by the way…I’m a proud sister), and since science isn’t my strong suit, I became the lawyer.
To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of law from the beginning. After my first year of law school, I thought about dropping out, but I obviously didn’t. It’s not my personality to not finish something I started, especially with regard to education. I really wanted to make my family proud, and I’m also very driven so I decided to stay. After I graduated, I thought the next step, logically, was to take the bar exam. When I passed that, I thought the next step was to get a job. So my drive to fit a cultural mold put me down a career path that was very unfulfilling (and very expensive).
IS : Did you practice law? If so what kind ? What were some challenges and highlights ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I did practice. I was a civil litigator for about 6 years. I originally wanted to become a District Attorney because I always did my internships at the DA’s office, and criminal law was always interesting. I applied severals times, to multiple counties and I’d always get an interview. I’d make it far in the interview process too, but I never got hired. So that was frustrating, but in hindsight I feel like it wasn’t meant to be for me.
For the first three years of my legal career, I worked for a private government liability defense firm that contracted with Los Angeles County. We represented the sheriff’s department in excessive force cases, and cases involving civil rights violation claims. 99 percent of our cases came out of LA County Jail. I did that for 3 years.
The remainder of my career was spent in business litigation on both the plaintiff and defense side. That was the worst! I hated that type of law so much. It was boring, and the clients were the worst.
One element of the field I also didn’t enjoy was the fact that, on several occasions, I’d have male attorneys assume I wasn’t an attorney. The story I always tell people is one time, I was in Compton court, dressed in my suit, with my case files in hand, waiting for my case to be called. An older male attorney approached me and said “Excuse me miss, you’re the Spanish language interpreter, right?” I respectfully said no, and told him I’m an attorney, and he turned out to be opposing counsel on my case. Unfortunately, stuff like that isn’t uncommon, however encountering it in career you hate was like adding salt to a wound.
Highlights? I enjoyed being in court and presenting arguments to the judge. I guess looking back, I’ve always liked the element of presenting and public speaking.
IS : What inspired you to change careers to become a reporter ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I always wanted to become a journalist, ever since I was a little girl watching Connie Chung on television. But it was my time at the last firm I worked for that really pushed me to pursue my dream. The partners at the firm weren’t getting along, so they decided to dissolve the partnership. One of the partners told me he was opening his own firm, and that he wanted to keep me as an associate, but offered an absurdly low salary. Naturally, I declined, and it was at that point that I realized I needed a game plan. During that time I was teaching fitness classes, and I decided to get a job at Lululemon, I loved the clothes and the discount was nice!
At the same time, I was also applying to local stations, but because I didn’t had any on-air experience, they would never call me back.
This was all in mid-September 2014. My friend Sepideh was visiting and I talked to her about my situation. She told me that I was perfect for TV news and that I should go after my journalism dreams. She also told me that I needed to put together a reel to send with my applications. I had no idea where to begin. Where was I going to get equipment the equipment to properly film myself? How was it going to look professional? I didn’t even know how to edit raw footage! I was completely lost, and I realized I needed proper training. I also figured if I went to a good school, I could get my foot into the door with good internships.
That night I went home and researched. I literally Googled “what do I need to apply to journalism school?” I don’t know why, but I always thought a journalism master’s program was going to take another 2 to 3 years, and I thought that if I wanted to get into a good program I’d need some sort of journalism background. That night I found out I was wrong – programs were anywhere from a year to a year and a half, and a bachelor degree in journalism wasn’t a requirement. All I needed was to take the GRE, and some schools didn’t even require that (however in lieu of the GRE, they required a writing exam).
I also researched to see what schools have good programs, and when the application deadlines were. I narrowed my choices down to Columbia University, CUNY, Boston University, Georgetown and USC.
The next morning, after teaching my morning Barre class, I went into the office and immediately signed up for the GRE and I took it about 3 weeks later. I was on a time crunch because applications were due in the beginning of November, and I was going on a long trip to Europe October 9th, so I took the GRE on October 8th – so it all timed out perfectly.
Fast forward to March 2015, I got accepted to all but one school and decided to go to the #4 program in the country – Boston University. It was at BU that I realized journalism was meant for me.
IS : You worked in Reno as a reporter. Can you describe your work experiences there, as well as some highlights ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I started in Reno in June 2017, and I was the live morning reporter for the NBC (News 4) and Fox affiliates (Fox 11) there for 14 months. I got a chance to cover some amazing stories. For example, I was the only morning reporter there so within a week of my first day on air, I was covering wildfires in Northern California and Northern Nevada. I think I covered the fires for almost the entire month of July and then at the end of July I covered the OJ Simpson parole hearing. Then in November I covered President Trump coming to Reno, and I did the live coverage of Air Force One landing at the army national guard base.
I also got to do things I would have never done if I wasn’t a reporter there. I did several live shots hundreds of feet over the ground in a hot air balloon, I rode a camel for the camel races, I got to fly over Lake Tahoe on a Chinook. I feel very lucky to have worked there. I absolutely loved the people I worked with – everyone from the anchors, to the producers, to my cameraman. It really was like one big giant family.
The worst part of working was my hours. Because we’d go live on air at 5am, I’d get into work at 3am, so I’d have to wake up at 2am. And it wasn’t a matter of just rolling out of bed to go to work, I had to be camera-ready when I got in. So in order to maximize my sleep, I’d shower before bed. I was going to sleep at about 5:30 pm. The shift was social suicide, but because I loved my job there so much, I was absolutely ok with sacrificing everything else for it.
IS : Can you describe your typical day in the life of a reporter ?
Sanaz Tahernia : There’s no such thing as a typical day when you’re a reporter, haha! But basically you go work and you’re assigned the story you’re covering for that day. 99 percent of the time, you don’t know what you’re covering until you get into work. Some people may feel uncomfortable with that, but if you work in news, then you probably enjoy the spontaneity of it all.
Once you get your story, you reach out to the people you want to speak to, set up interviews, shoot footage, write your story, edit your video and package it for whatever show you’re assigned. In Reno, I was the live reporter, so as soon as I’d get my story, my cameraman and I would leave the station, go to where ever it made sense to go live from, and go live 8 times throughout the morning, talking about the story you’re covering.
There’s a LOT of running around. You’re working on a deadline, so it’s critical to get all the elements you need. And sometimes when you can’t get one of the elements (i.e., an interview), you have to make a judgment call – ‘do I keep trying, or do I just work with what I have?’ A lot of times you end up having to work with what you have to make deadline – assuming it’s sufficient to tell your story effectively and impartially.
For me, law was so monotonous and boring, and reporting really broke that monotony.
IS : Would you consider doing legal reporting? ie: Having a Legal Show ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I do legal reporting when a story warrants it. In Reno, I reported on various legal issues like the possibility of President Trump being removed from office by impeachment or the 25th Amendment. I also did stories on the legal duty companies have regarding sexual harassment claims. So if a story calls for legal analysis and reporting, I do it. I would never say no to being a legal analyst for a network, or having a legal show on a network. Is that my goal? No.
IS : What is your 5 and 10 year goal regarding news reporting? Where would you like to stay in S.F. longterm ? Would you like to be an anchor inside the studio ?
Sanaz Tahernia : In 5 years, I hope to be at network level, and in 10 years I hope to be well into my ultimate dream job – on the Today Show on NBC, or hosting my own morning lifestyle show on a major network. The Today Show would obviously be in New York, but my lifestyle show could technically be filmed anywhere. Either way I plan on keeping a base in Los Angeles where my family lives. So if I don’t live in L.A., I’ll live between two cities.
IS : What are some of your favorite topics / genres to do reporting on ?
Sanaz Tahernia : I absolutely loved covering events in Reno. It kind of coincides with my desire to do a lifestyle show. I really enjoy meeting people, speaking with them and events usually involve people that are happy. I really get to be myself on those kinds of stories, and my personality really shines through. Believe it or not, while it’s not my favorite, I do enjoy legal reporting somewhat because I understand legal doctrines, and theories and I’m able to break it down for someone who doesn’t understand it.
I also enjoy criminal reporting because it’s very fascinating, but it’s also a little scary because stories you read about, we see first hand. News can be very depressing at times, because it seems as though people are constantly getting killed, or something bad is happening. Really, when it comes down to it, as long as I’m telling a story, I’m happy !
IS : Imagine you are 100 years old and reading your Wikipedia profile page what other career milestones would you like to see on there?
Sanaz Tahernia : It’s funny because I’ve thought about this so many times. Some personal goals of mine is to obviously have my own show and retire my parents and do more for them than they did for me (if that’s even possible). But also, my goal is to make a large donation to Boston University College of Communication because it was an integral part of my career change. I want to actively be involved with their journalism program, and I’d like to open a separate journalism college within the school. Right now, it’s a part of the college of communication, but I think it needs to be separate.
Some people might find this funny, but another thing I’d like to do is be chosen to be a commencement speaker. I feel like a person has really made it when they are chosen to deliver inspirational words to a graduating class.
I also hope, one day, to become known as one of the top influential women in journalism, and as a whole. As far as women have come in society, I think there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, and I believe that seeing successful women is only motivation for young girls to do their best.
In a world where people become famous simply through social media likes and followers and provocative tapes, young girls need to see women grow and succeed through hard work. I hope to be one of those women.
” YOUNG GIRLS NEED TO SEE WOMEN GROW AND SUCCEED THROUGH HARD WORK.I HOPE TO BE ONE OF THOSE WOMEN. “
Sanaz Tahernia can be followed on Instagram @SanazTahernia and @SanazTaherniaTV. She can be followed on Twitter @SanazTKRON4
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver