It is 4:15 p.m., six hours before one of Germany’s most popular daily news shows is set to air. Pinar Atalay, the host, is sitting in the studio in a meeting with her co-host and a team of 12 editors.
Which correspondent should get how many valuable seconds of the show? How about the timing, is the Middle East conflict more or less important today than the war in Ukraine?
The exchanges get heated. Ms. Atalay listens but stays neutral. She only interrupts when the discussion turns to how she should introduce the news. “Everyone can send me a suggestion and the winner gets a lollipop!” she jokes. Laughter releases the tension in the room. “Pinar can handle it,” someone says.
Ms. Atalay is the new face of the news in Germany. She started hosting the show in March and presents the day’s biggest issues to two-and-a-half million viewers at 10:15 p.m. each night.
Ms. Atalay is the first Tagesthemen female host to have Turkish roots.
It is new for TV hosts to have names like Atalay or Zamperoni, or for editorial offices to try to reflect the makeup of the population in their staffing choices. Turks might make up the largest ethnic minority but TV presenters are almost always German and white.
When Ms. Atalay took the call offering her the job, she was on a train. She stepped out into the corridor so as not to disturb anyone. “The reception was bad,” she said, “and I wasn’t sure if I had understood correctly: Had I really been chosen for the job?”
Ms. Atalay didn’t go straight into journalism. After graduating from high school, she managed a boutique for a year in her small home town. But she knew that there was no future for her in retail, so she applied to train at the local radio station although she didn’t have a university degree. She was much younger than the other applicants, but she got the job. Early on, her boss recognized her talent and she moved quickly to television.
It was not always easy growing up in Germany for Ms. Atalay, who doesn’t flaunt her roots. Turks write her first name without the dot above the letter i: Pınar. But she prefers the German spelling; it’s less complicated and doesn’t stand out as much.
When Ms. Atalay’s parents moved from Istanbul to Germany as guest workers in the early 1970s, they settled in provincial North Rhine-Westphalia. As a girl, Pinar sometimes helped her mother, a tailor, with her sewing. Every night at 8 p.m., she and her father, a carpenter, watched the news together. “It was part of our daily routine,” said Ms. Atalay. When her parents were looking for a new apartment, landlords asked them how many people would be living there, in addition to the four family members – as if all non-Germans crowded dozens of people into their small apartments.
“Of course, I speak good German. I was born here.”
She faced other kinds of racism too. At age 14 at a fairground with friends, she recalls suddenly running into a neo-Nazi mob. Her only choice, she says, was to run away.
Ms. Atalay, with her olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes, doesn’t believe that her ethnic background has furthered her career, as some say. “I could be from all kinds of places, but if I wasn’t competent, no one would have given me the job of host,” she says.
People who are not used to seeing presenters from ethnic minorities on TV still comment on it. Both she and Ranga Yogeshwar, a science presenter on TV, hear remarks like “Wow your German is good!” Ms. Atalay shakes her head. “Of course it’s good,” she says. “I was born here.”
This article first appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org