Whether he's on the air to talk about local weather conditions or relaying vital information in the midst of a natural disaster, FOX 2 Detroit news reporter Roop Raj said the key to connecting with viewers is by being himself.
"Believability is critical. When you show up on the air, people with a PhD or a GED know when you're being you and being genuine. They can sense that," he said. "Being believable means being real and being genuinely who you are on the air. I'm lucky to work for a station that encourages that.
"We are people with feelings, and we are not afraid of sharing our feelings. There are some things that are indefensible – they effect you, and to share that on the air is the believability people want when they are watching the news. I'm not sure anyone is going to do well in this industry if they aren't believable."
Raj, who was raised in Troy, moved to Bloomfield Township in 2009 when he joined FOX 2, after spending seven years in New Orleans as a morning anchor/reporter for WDSU-TV.
Growing up the son of Indian parents who moved to the United States in 1973, Raj said he rejected the traditional career paths of medicine, engineering and law that second generation children are often pushed toward. Instead, he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a television journalist. Instead of fighting him, he said his parents encouraged him by making him read news reports and writing his own. Through reviewing his summaries and critiquing his work, Raj learned how to take in and analyze the news, and then convey it to others.
"That's a skill I picked up early on," he said. "I give credit to my parents for that."
During his teenage years, Raj started his own television show, Voices of Troy, on Troy's cable access channel. His work earned him national attention when he appeared on The Phil Donahue Show in 1992.
"I wanted to go into television, but nobody would hire me because I was a kid," he said. "I decided to start my own show. I did that until college. That was my ticket into getting into television."
While attending Michigan State University, Raj worked at the Lansing CBS and ABC affiliates before later moving to New Orleans.
It was there, while covering Hurricane Katrina for nearly 17 hours straight, that he understood the news he was relaying could have an immediate impact on people's lives. The ability to reach people who were stuck in their homes and direct them, through their televisions on where to go to find water, relatives or other necessities, was vital to the welfare of many in the crisis. The experience, he said, also showed him another side of news and journalism.
"What I really learned through covering those stories was that there are other types of storms that are going on in peoples' lives," he said. "When I moved back to Detroit, there was a different type of storm happening.
"People are really struggling. Our job isn't just to entertain people and give them fluff, but to give them a real understanding of what is happening around them. It's really giving them useful information so that they feel they can't only connect with anchors, but hopefully learn from them and make their lives better because of it."
Photo: Laurie Tennent