JP/R. Berto Wedhatama
Some people like to stay in their comfort zone, but definitely not news anchor and producer Retno Pinasti.
The 35-year-old news anchor and producer for SCTV talked about her passion for journalism and the decisions that led her around the world and back again to seeking out new challenges in her home country during a recent lunch break with The Jakarta Post.
Born in Yogyakarta, Retno went to high school in Wonosobo, Central Java, as her father worked at a local mushroom-producing company. Although she aspired to become an architect after graduating, she failed to secure a seat in an architecture program, and was accepted instead by Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University to study English literature. Driven by a thirst for knowledge, she also simultaneously pursued an economics degree at Pembangunan Nasional University (UPN).
While she was in college, the eldest of two got her first glimpse of journalism when she participated in a news presenting competition held by SCTV. As one of the winners, she earned an internship with the TV station in Jakarta — an opportunity that helped to crystallize her thinking about what she would do in the future.
“When I was a kid, my father was afraid that I would not settle on a career because I got bored easily. So journalism was the right choice. [As journalists] we can learn about various topics and meet various people,” she said, adding that journalists who have mastered certain subjects should broaden their coverage to other topics.
Thrilled with her internship in Jakarta, Retno took a side job as a news anchor at national television station TVRI as she finished her bachelor’s degree in economics. After graduation, she was awarded the Chevening Scholarship in 2001 to further her studies, this time in TV journalism in London.
Retno’s additional studies paid off, earning her a spot as a news anchor for Liputan 6 news program in 2003, and an opportunity to move to Washington, DC, two years later to work for Voice of America (VOA).
Being based in Washington, DC, Retno was often at the center of world events. However, after six years, she longed to return to Indonesia, even if it meant leaving behind a steady job that guaranteed a pension as a civil servant with VOA, a comfortable life in a global metropolis and being surrounded by her dearest friends. She could not just ignore the part of herself that wanted to return to Indonesia to pursue her journalistic calling.
“I wanted to be at the center of hot issues in Indonesia. I felt like going home when I watched breaking news about the country. I covered exciting news such as the last US election, but after that, it was just quiet,” she said.
In addition to her career goals, Retno wanted to return to Indonesia to be close to her parents.
“Thank God, both my parents are still alive. Some people rush back to Indonesia because their parents are sick or to attend their parents’ funeral. I didn’t want it to be like that,” she said.
Retno said her decision to come home took some encouragement from her friends to really take such a bold step. She finally landed in Jakarta in December 2011 and hasn’t looked back since.
“There are many opportunities in Indonesia along with the uncertainties. Some people may enjoy security in their life, but I think I am not one of those people,” she said.
Hoping to reestablish herself in the Indonesian news world, Retno applied for a producer position in Liputan 6, now SCTV’s news division. In the end, she got two jobs — one as the producer of Liputan 6 Siang, an afternoon news program, and Liputan 6 Petang, an evening news program, and the other the main anchor for Liputan 6 Petang, even though the idea of going in front of the camera again made her a little nervous.
“When they asked me to become a news anchor, I was thinking of my wrinkles. I thought that people of my age should be behind a desk. I wondered if I still appealed to the audience’s tastes,” she said, referring to the trend at the time when most TV stations were hiring young and pretty news anchors who wore casual clothes on screen.
Despite her initial reservations, Retno was inspired by the success of senior journalists such as Andy Noya, the host of the talk show Kick Andy on Metro TV, and Sukarni “Karni” Illyas who hosts Indonesia Lawyers Club on TV One, who entertain viewers with smart content rather than their looks.
Retno credits teamwork as the determining factor for a successful program.
Being a producer as well as a news anchor means taking on the dual responsibilities of preparing the news budget and performing in front of the camera, she says she enjoys the hectic preparation.
“The thrill is in breaking news. We will drop our previous plan and scramble for updates from the reporters on the field,” she said, adding that the slow days were the toughest to handle.
During her career, Retno has experienced her fair share of breaking news stories. From the Aceh tsunami in 2004 to witnessing US President Barack Obama inauguration in 2009, Retno has seen it all.
She has also interviewed state leaders such as then Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and recently held an exclusive interview with Surakarta Mayor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who is set to square off against Fauzi Bowo in the second round of the Jakarta gubernatorial election.
While many others may be star-struck by such high-flying friends, Retno remained cool.
“The best moments in my career are not always about interviewing prominent leaders because sometimes they are surrounded by tight protocols,” she said.
Some journalists feel proudest when they can cover a war story or secure an exclusive interview with a source. Retno firmly said that inspiring stories were her favorites.
She recounted one memorable interview she had during an investigative report in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, about migrant workers who had to come home because they were pregnant.
“There was a kid named Muhammad Ali. He told me he wanted to become a pilot in the future, so he could fly to Mecca to look for his father,” she said.
Her eyes were lit with enthusiasm as she talked about her involvement as a jury member of the Liputan 6 Awards, a program that honors inspiring individuals.
One of the candidates that stuck in her mind was Sugiyanto, a man from Jember, East Java, who lived on Buri Island in Maluku. The man traveled 100 kilometers by motorcycle to teach reading and writing in a meager classroom in Lele Village.
“I am not sentimental, but I could feel my tears falling as I was writing the text and editing the scenes. I shivered because it was a strong story with strong pictures,” she said.
As a television journalist, it is the humble and inspiring stories that she finds the most rewarding. She hopes that when they are aired on television, such feature news stories can inspire other people and trigger a multiplying effect.
“They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. These are the kinds of things that I would miss if I stayed in America,” Retno said.