When Araksya Karapetyan returned to Armenia in 2006 – 16 years after she’d immigrated to Palos Verdes with her family as a seven-year-old – she didn’t want to be a tourist.
Karapetyan had just graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in broadcast journalism and international relations, so she picked up her camcorder, stuffed it with tapes and was off to explore.
Her family had left Armenia in 1990, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union and after the 1988 earthquake that devastated much of the country’s northern regions, killing thousands and leaving even more homeless.
On her trip, Karapetyan noticed earthquake victims still living in trailers provided to them after their homes were destroyed.
“They had interesting stories and it felt like those were the people (who) people walk by and don’t pay much attention to,” she said. She spent her days interviewing sunflower seed vendors and visiting orphanages, psychiatric wards and elderly homes.
“I go home sometimes and I’m like, okay I know I didn’t cure cancer today…but maybe I brought light to an issue…or I gave someone a chance to have a voice when they have no voice.”
Hearing their stories ignited her passion for journalism. When she returned to California that summer, she simultaneously took on two internships at KABC-TV in Glendale and KFI Radio, and a job at Torrance Citi Cable 3. She’d wake up at midnight to work the overnight shift at KABC, after which she’d head over to KFI in Burbank, and finish her day in Torrance a couple times a week. “I’m very extreme with what I do,” she laughed.
Her husband, Amir Yousefi, noted Karapetyan’s determination. “They ask her to come in to work for nine hours she goes in for 13 hours,” he said. “She knows what she wants.”
And her mentors noticed. “She really stuck out,” said KFI reporter Steve Gregory. “She’s by far my most impressive intern and I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”
Upon meeting her, Gregory recalled asking her: Do you want to be a TV star or do you want to be respected? “She said she wanted to be respected,” Gregory said. “She was very eager, she was like a sponge. She wanted to learn everything.” Gregory took her everywhere from red carpet events to a Santa Clarita detention center.
The 29-year-old was recently hired as a fill-in news anchor and general assignment reporter for FOX 11 news. Karapetyan gleaned experience from her two previous jobs in smaller markets – she spent two years at a local television station in Idaho Falls and another two at a CBS affiliate in Portland.
Her career in news was foreshadowed early on. As a kid, she’d pretend to be a news anchor with Scarlett Davis, her first friend in America. One evening, the two were sitting on the living room carpet among a stack of National Geographic magazines, while Karapetyan’s family was watching the news. “She handed me one and she said, ‘Ok, pick out an article and we’re going to pretend like were news anchors like the lady on TV now,’” Davis recalled.
Growing up, Karapetyan was a performer, said her mother, Gayane Tumanyan. “Whenever there were people gathered together, she’d find something and make it look like a microphone and start talking reciting, singing, dancing,” Tumanyan said, with a laugh.
She credits her work ethic to summers spent working at Malaga Cove Ranch Market, a grocery store owned by her uncle. Her grandfather, at 84 years old, still goes to work there everyday. “There was no cutting corners. If I didn’t do it, my grandpa would have to do it,” she said. “I wasn’t looking to get out of there, clock in, clock out. If I was sick, I was still showing up to work…That’s really what shaped me.”
As a reporter in the small town of Idaho Falls, Karapetyan described herself as a “one-man band.” “I had to shoot, edit and be the reporter. On weekends I would produce, sometimes report on a story and anchor all in one day,” she recalled. “It was hard work. It was a lot, especially when you’re not getting paid very much.”
She looked at the experience as graduate school, a training ground on which she could hone in her skills. On occasion, she’d imagine pulling over on the icy road and plugging a hole in her tire so she wouldn’t have to continue her assignment. But she never did. “If you don’t care, then you’re not going to do justice to the people there or the story,” she said.
For one particularly memorable story, she headed to Mexico with KFI’s Gregory to report on an amusement park at which park-goers simulate the border-crossing experience. Would-be immigrants gathered on a dark campground – rife with border patrol officers chasing them, demanding for papers – to act out what it would be like.
Her station couldn’t afford to send her abroad, so she paid her own way. She’d promised her news director she’d find a local connection – why would this story be relevant to the Idaho Falls community? So she navigated through the Hispanic community, eventually finding an immigrant who’d crossed the border illegally from Mexico who was willing to share his story.
“I found that connection then went off to Mexico,” Karapetyan said, with a bright smile. While she traveled with Gregory, the two were reporting separately. Again, Karapetyan was a one-man band. “Sometimes I wanted to be in the shot to do standup, so I would hand the camera to someone, give them a quick lesson: this is what you do, follow me when I go this way, pan and zoom.”
After collecting 10 hours of footage, she headed home to edit. The story earned her a regional Edward Murrow award for best hard news feature in 2008.
Still, Karapetyan is continually looking to improve. “I watch my work every single day, I watch it to see how I did it and how I could’ve done it better,” she said. “No matter where you are or how far up you get, that’s the only way you’ll keep growing and getting better. There should never be a point where you are satisfied with your work.”
A main factor in choosing to pursue a job opportunity in Los Angeles was to be near her family. She wanted her grandparents to be able to turn on the television and see her reporting the news, live. “They made a lot of sacrifices to come to this country,” she said. “I know it’s very difficult when you’re established in another country, you have a position, you’re respected, you’ve built your whole life there. Then you come to a whole new country, you start all over…It was important for me to be able to be here for them so that they could know that it was worth it.”
The family has remained tight-knit – Karapetyan said it’s like Thanksgiving every night, as her grandma often cooks for the whole extended family. Karapetyan’s family and friends call her Nana. “I see her in the morning, then I see her on TV, I can’t really imagine that it’s the same person. It’s Nana, it’s the same Nana on TV,” her mother said, adding that Karapetyan often gets called into work at or before 4 a.m.
At Fox, Karapetyan wants to continue to cover stories that are memorable and have an impact. “Sometimes I think we get caught up with the flashy stuff, the drive-by shooting, the car chase or the fire,” she said. “I think that sometimes the real good stories kind of get lost.”
Karapetyan’s family and friends note that she’s always wanted to make a difference. “I go home sometimes and I’m like, ok I know I didn’t cure cancer today, I know I didn’t invent some invention that’s going to change the world in any way,” Karapetyan said. “But maybe I brought light to an issue that otherwise wouldn’t have, or I gave someone a chance to have a voice when they have no voice. That’s the most fulfilling thing.”