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Getting Real with Journalist Deborah Zara Kobylt

Strong, professional, and on point with a penchant for stories that have a social impact is how I would describe journalist Deborah Zara Kobylt. Deborah is extremely empowering in accomplishing her journalistic goals and her outlook on life. Deborah was born in New Jersey to a very colorful, loving Italian family. Deborah has always been interested in a person’s backstory and would interview friends and family about everything from where they come from, what they dream about, and how to make meatballs. She was also a competitive figure skater and swimmer. If she was not involved in sports, Deborah would spend Sunday afternoons at the dining room table writing about the latest news in school around the neighborhood. Overall, her career in journalism had already begun.

Naturally, this curiosity led her to a career in journalism, writing for local newspapers, and eventually landing her first TV job as a reporter and anchor in Atlantic City, NJ, covering crime, casinos, movie stars, and gangsters. Deborah also worked at PBS station WNET/NJN in NY/NJ and News 12 Long Island before moving to LA for her husband’s radio job, and ultimately hers on TV. Deborah's passion for journalism is very inspiring.

Deborah landed at KCAL9 News, then Fox11 LA, and CNN, covering LIVE breaking stories, entertainment, business, and sports. Deborah reported on everything from trials (including OJ), movie premiers, fires, floods, celebrities, you name it. To Deborah, being a journalist is about informing the community, and she has always considered it a privilege and responsibility.

"I love the people in this business, and many of my colleagues remain my closest friends," expressed Deborah.

After taking time off to raise her three boys, Deborah was was ready to get back to work but decided to put aside breaking news for long-form interviews and stories with social impact. Therefore, she created two live stream audio/video podcasts: Deborah Kobylt LIVE and Little Italy Of LA Podcast, interviewing guests from every walk of life around the globe. Creating and hosting her own shows have also allowed her to build sponsorships and connect with many wonderful people.

When Deborah had a moment to chat with Gemma Magazine, we stopped to talk. We were thrilled. So let's get into it!

What inspired you to become a journalist?

Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to know “why” things happened and “how.” I was extremely curious. Everything from my relatives to my teachers, artists, anyone, or anything I was curious about. I was always asking my mother questions: “Why does this cost so much, why does a dog have four legs, why can we fly to the moon on vacation….” There were always questions.

Since you were always curious as a child, were there any topics off-limits?

Nothing was off-limits to me as a kid. I asked about everything because there was so much to learn from what we see, feel, and hear every day. I was curious about people, why they behaved and spoke the way they did. I wanted to know the careers they chose, if they were happy, and did they want something out of their lives. It was always why, why, why. When I told my mom I was reporting for the college newspaper, it all made sense. I grew up where my dad had three jobs, mom was a waitress and cleaned houses, all of my relatives worked so hard, and I wondered what made them happy. It was family, but I was curious about the other stuff. We did not have much money to travel, but we did go to the Jersey shore in the summer, which was beautiful. But I was so curious about what was beyond our borders; I promised myself that I would find a way to travel to see other people and cultures worldwide when I was older. That’s what I did. I feel very fortunate to do that because I firmly believe we are all connected. Also, about curiosity, I would like to say this. I have a deep belief that who we are as kids is who we become as adults if we are allowed to explore. I see this with my three sons. They are who they were as little people.

I know that you are from New Jersey. How do you like Los Angeles?

I adore Los Angeles. I was born in NJ, and my parents moved to Sarasota, Florida, for my dad’s job at Tropicana Orange Juice when I was young. I loved it there, the water and sea life. I also loved NJ, the shore, the people, and my family and friends. I also lived in NY during and post-college because I love theater and museums, and I found the people and nightlife there fascinating. So when my husband and I moved to LA for his radio job initially, we both LOVED it on day one. It has culture, beaches, fascinating people, restaurants, and different neighborhoods. We remember turning on the news one night, and the weather graphic had seven sun balls. We had never seen that before. The weather is extraordinary here. Not one day goes by where I’m not grateful to be here.

Do you have a subject area on which you enjoy reporting?

I enjoy community news. People impact their world, which ultimately affects all of our lives. I enjoy exposing people who want to do good, people who work hard, stories about women and moms because I sincerely look at us as creators. We have such intrinsic value and much to contribute as community members in business and life. I have covered so many stories throughout my career, from presidential inaugurations to trials like OJ, the Supreme Court, The Oscars, you name it, but to me, it is all the human condition. We are all on this place called earth for just a moment in time, so I focus on the good people are doing and not the sensational.

My least favorite story out there - the car chase. They are addictive for people to keep watching; I turn them off because ultimately, why do I want to see what can potentially end in someone getting hurt or worse. I find that the worst of news coverage, the car chase. I do not see the ethical value in it.

In your opinion, what makes a good journalist?

Curiosity. Kindness. Toughness. A good writer or communicator who can relate to an audience. You need to be curious about what you are covering and have some compassion. I have never enjoyed knocking on the door of someone who just lost a loved one. I tried to have compassion if I had to do it; I did not bang them over the head for an interview. Then there is a time to be tough and relentless, particularly when looking for answers involving corruption or holding our elected officials accountable. It is important to wear many hats and know when to use them.

I see myself doing my shows from here in Los Angeles or anywhere. I’d also like to show women in their communities how they navigate work and life depending on where they live, their economic situation, religion, ethnicity, and how it impacts them as women in their communities and culture. I envision doing this locally or internationally; there are so many ways to approach this. (Deborah Kobylt)

How was your time at CNN?

I loved working at CNN and Fox11 LA, and K-Cal9 News. At CNN, we covered stories from LA with a national and international perspective. The Oscars, gas prices or environmental reports, trials of significance internationally such OJ. At Fox11 and K-Cal, it was more local news and LIVE shots from early morning until we went off the air in the evening. The stories I best enjoyed involved someone impacting a local neighborhood. I felt connected to that. There were the fires and mudslides, critical stories to be covering. And, of course, the LIVE shots cover everything from coyotes eating pets to unrest at an amusement park. It was constant.

How did Deborah Kobylt LIVE and Little Italy of LA Podcast happen?

My boys were growing up, and I had taken time off from covering daily news. But I wanted to get back to it, as I missed that connection to the community, but I was not sure I wanted to be doing LIVE shots during a snowstorm either (although that does sound like fun) because I wanted to be home at night for my boys. So I decided to start a live stream video and audio show about people impacting their communities. I interview many authors, artists, philanthropists, and so many others doing inspiring work highlighting everything from health care to climate issues to mothering and self-care. I am proud of my show, Deborah Kobylt LIVE, because it is self-driven. I decide on the content. I have interviewed some very famous people in their field and some not, what they all have in common is giving back. And I love that.

I was asked to serve on the Little Italy of Los Angeles Association board, located in the newly christened Little Italy district in San Pedro, where so many Italians first settled in Los Angeles. I have met so many exciting and inspiring Italians who are lovely people, contributing to this community's arts, culture, business, science, and more. I thought a great way to highlight what we are doing down there is to do a podcast about inspiring Italians around LA or Italians connected to Los Angeles. I named it Little Italy of LA Podcast, and it has become a joy.

You are an excellent reporter with a hectic schedule. How do you balance work and family?

I took time off to be a mom. But then I missed work. When I worked too much, I missed my boys. It is a balance most parents feel, and we do our best. Ultimately, it is helpful if there is family around or good friends or help, because that “it takes a village” phrase is true. I would feel anxious if I was not present enough at home, trying to divide my time between three boys, a husband, myself, and my parents and my in-laws, who needed care as they got older. That was not easy. We are a close family, and to have all that happen simultaneously was very difficult and took its toll emotionally and physically. My best advice? We can not do everything, and we are not built that way. Do not be hard on yourself and do as best you can. There is no judgment or scorecard. Be present for your kids; they need you most. And if you feel overwhelmed, reach out for help. It is okay to say you are not okay. I am grateful it has become mainstream to reach out for support when needed because more people will feel comfortable knowing they are not alone.

My way to cope with doing too much or doing it all?

I get out in nature; I love to go to the beach and walk for miles; I also enjoy biking and hiking. I completed the LA and NYC Marathons to de-stress as a goal and way. I also volunteer. I am grateful for everything I have worked for in my life, and I am aware there are so many people who need so much, so volunteering is another great way to de-stress while giving to someone else. And thank you for calling me “an excellent reporter.” I appreciate that.

Where do you see yourself in the next 2-4 years?

I see myself doing my shows from here in Los Angeles or anywhere. I’d also like to show women in their communities how they navigate work and life depending on where they live, their economic situation, religion, ethnicity, and how it impacts them as women in their communities and culture. I envision doing this locally or internationally; there are so many ways to approach this. But it’s also very time-intensive to produce, write, interview, and prepare posts. I’d LOVE to be picked up by PBS, Spectrum, Netflix, HBO, or one of the networks that share my vision. I want to continue telling stories with social impact, and to partner with an outlet that shares my idea would be fantastic. I’ve turned down offers that didn’t share where I want to be so that the right fit would be terrific.

In the meantime, I’m happy, content, and fulfilled doing what I’m doing now. And I love it. I want my children to feel content and fulfilled in their lives and have the courage to do what inspires them.

To keep up with Deborah Zara Kobylt:

Both Podcasts are video and audio. They are both LIVE on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm PST and can be seen on YouTube, IGTV, and Facebook. They can be heard as an audio podcast on iHeart, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, and on all audio and video podcast platforms on demand.

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