A Lifelong Passion for Journalism: After Four Years as Executive Producer of "Morning Edition," Madhulika Sikka Will Begin Directing NPR's News Operations in January

By Mele, Christina | American Journalism Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

A Lifelong Passion for Journalism: After Four Years as Executive Producer of "Morning Edition," Madhulika Sikka Will Begin Directing NPR's News Operations in January


Mele, Christina, American Journalism Review


Madhulika Sikka had a classic journalist's upbringing. She grew up in England watching BBC News and fighting over the newspaper with her news-loving father. Now executive producer of NPR's "Morning Edition," she has worked all over the world, won Emmy Awards and will soon trade in her 5 a.m. wake-up calls for a major new job.

In January, Sikka will leave behind her position of the past four years to become executive editor of NPR News. In that post, she will oversee NPR's desks and reporters and help set the news agenda. "NPR serves a really important function," she says. "I'm looking forward to being part of a team that takes us to the next level."

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Sikka, 50, was powerfully affected early on by her father's passion for news. Sikka says she was 16 years old when she knew she wanted to become a journalist. She attended college in England, earning a B.A. from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, and a master's in the economics and politics of development from Cambridge University.

"I had a lot of curiosity about the world," she says. "I thought 'journalism] was a wonderful way to learn about the world and impart it to other people."

There was no journalist in particular whom she idolized. "The interesting thing about growing up in Britain was that the journalism was the star," she says. "It was the idea of journalism that appealed to me."

After finishing her master's, Sikka moved to the United States when she married an American, James Millward. She worked for World Monitor Television, CBS News and NBC News before joining ABC News as a researcher in 1992. Sikka rose through the ranks, becoming the senior producer of "Nightline," the prestigious nightly news show. She joined NPR in 2006.

"At 'Nightline,' I was responsible for a half-hour show with a single topic," she says. "It's different managing a two-hour newsmagazine show, but the news aesthetic is not that different. The medium is different; radio is a much more intimate medium than TV."

At NPR, Sikka initially served as senior producer of "Morning Edition" before moving up to executive producer four years ago. "There isn't a typical day, which is what is fun for a newsmagazine show," she says. "There are days when it might be very news heavy. It can get a little crazy when we're doing things live."

Sikka's duties as executive producer include helping to harness ideas, working with the rest of the news division and making sure all NPR's assets are being utilized--"apart from telling everybody what to do," she says, laughing.

Margaret Low Smith, NPR Senior Vice President for News, helped recruit Sikka to the public radio operation. "I knew she was first class," Smith says.

Smith describes Sikka as super smart with a great editorial mind. She says Sikka was quick to understand NPR's culture. "She has made a significant difference," Smith says. " 'Morning Edition' has become a super relevant, smart, vital show." She identifies Sikka's main strengths as her imagination, ambition and "deep sophistication on a range of stories."

Sikka has received numerous awards, including four Emmys and two Peabodys. A breast cancer survivor, she is the author of the upcoming book "A Breast Cancer Alphabet."

During her career, Sikka has traveled to Pakistan, India, Rwanda and Honduras to cover a wide array of stories. She says the only anxiety she feels when traveling in risky locales is over the quality of the work. …

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