Tahera Rahman, a reporter for WHBF Local 4 News of Quad Cities, hasn’t only been delivering the news lately — she’s been the subject of the news. Rahman, 27, who began reporting earlier this month, is believed to be the first female, full-time TV reporter to wear a hijab on mainstream U.S. news.
Years before paving the way for Muslim women on TV, Rahman was breaking barriers at Loyola: She was the first Muslim editor-in-chief of The PHOENIX.
Rahman served as editor-in-chief her senior year at Loyola during 2012-13. She said she wasn’t aware she was the first Muslim editor-in-chief until after she graduated.
“When I realized I was the first Muslim one it was really cool to know that but … I was glad that I didn’t know it [until] afterwards because I mean I was able to focus on the task, focusing on the paper and making that the best it could be,” the Naperville native said.
Former sports editor Nick Amatangelo, who’s now a multimedia journalist at KETV in Omaha, Nebraska, worked with Rahman when she hired him on The PHOENIX staff. He said she was a leader who actually listened.
“She was the captain of the ship and she ran it, and she ran it very well and we were very successful under her,” the 25-year-old said. “We had a lot of great moments and a lot of challenging moments, but she was able to … help steer us through those moments and have us come out on top.”
Rahman, who was a journalism and international studies double major, said working for The PHOENIX gave her real-life experience with calling sources and she made sure to carry the advice she received from advisers with her after graduation. She said she loved working with the newspaper and had a close bond with the staff — with whom she still keeps in touch.
“I think in a lot of ways it’s such a hard profession and that … people get burnt out quickly or they just don’t want to approach it at all and so I think when you find people who are passionate about it in college that says a lot,” Rahman said. “I think that we all have … certain characteristics that are the same.”
After graduation, Rahman was a producer for a Chicago radio show and wrote for a Muslim women’s organization. She eventually took a job at WHBF as a producer and was working there for about a year and a half before she became a reporter. Rahman said she had applied twice for a reporting position at the station and almost gave up trying entirely after she didn’t get the job a second time.
“When I didn’t get it, I really thought … that was pretty much the end of it. And … I basically told my mom, … “Maybe I should just relegate myself to producing,’” Rahman said. “My mom basically kicked me in the butt and … she said, ‘No. I mean, of course you’re gonna keep going. This has been your life. You … have gotten up every single time and you get up this time, too.”
Rahman said after a few weeks, she started trying again and would come into work on weekends when she wasn’t scheduled to hone in on her reporting skills. She said she would set up her own interviews and helped other reporters with their stories to gain more experience.
“I knew I would always regret it if I didn’t keep trying,” Rahman said. “I’m the kind of person who isn’t happy until I … have achieved my goals. And so I knew that if I stopped … after a year I would probably be back in the same position where I wanted to gear up again.”
Rahman’s family was overjoyed when she finally got the reporting job, she said, with her parents tracking the analytics and reach of her stories. She said the response from viewers to her work has been mostly positive and she’s had messages from across the world pouring into her social media.
“When I’m here at work it’s very much like, ‘OK, I’m focusing on my job and nothing else outside this newsroom or the Quad Cities matters [because] I’m on deadline.’ But when I go home and I read my Facebook messages and my emails and my Instagram messages … it kind of weighs on me again with how big of a milestone this is,” Rahman said.
Rahman said she recently got a message on Instagram from a 13-year-old Muslim girl who wants to be an actress and was inspired seeing Rahman on TV.
“She said … ‘Since I see you, you look like me and my mom, and you’re on TV, now I feel like I can do what I want’ and so it was really, really powerful,” Rahman said.
Rahman has been able to carry the Loyola and PHOENIX connection with her to WHBF — her coworker is Grace Runkel, also a former editor-in-chief of The PHOENIX (2016-17). Runkel, 22, said she began working with Rahman as a reporter when Rahman was still a producer.
“She’s one of the hardest workers that I know. Whenever anything goes wrong during the day, you know, the rest of us might complain about it … but she kind of just takes it in stride and continues on and just does what she needs to do to get the story done,” Runkel said.
Runkel said it was fun having a PHOENIX connection between the two and she thinks the newspaper prepared Rahman well for her position.
“When she was a producer, you could tell she’s kind of used to being a leader and even now as a reporter, I think she’s still very much a leader in our newsroom,” Runkel said.
Amatangelo also recognized Rahman’s drive.
“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” he said. “She’s one of the hardest working people I know and she deserves everything she’s gotten and then some and with her work ethic, she’s just beginning.”
Rahman said it’s important to put in the work and keep at your goals even when they may seem unattainable.
“Things are going to be hard. It’s not easy to accomplish your dreams. It’s not,” Rahman said. “But if you put in the hard work and if you concentrate on being a better person inside and outside of your craft, people will notice.”