Live from the Vatican

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ROME—Katia Lopez-Hodoyan lives the old saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That, and she also covers the pope.

With the Vatican and the entire Catholic world in a frenzy over the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis, the former Southwestern College Sun News Editor finds herself in the middle of the world’s biggest story, scanning the rooftop of The Vatican for the white smoke that means the world has a new pope.

As The Vatican correspondent for the Global Spanish News Agency, Lopez-Hodoyan reports on Rome and The Holy See for Spanish language TV stations all over the planet. She has done something a billion Catholics would like to do and got face time with the Holy Father.

“I did get to meet Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus,” she said. “I was able to cover his meeting with the Prime Minster of the Czech Republic, Petr Necas, in May 2012. The Pope constantly has diplomatic meetings with different world leaders. There are dozens of reporters who want to cover these meetings, but it’s just impossible. Journalistically, right now it’s the place to be, of course, with the election of a new Pope.”

Lopez-Hodoyan said people often forget that the Vatican is the smallest country in the world, but it is full of life.

“Rome is amazing, beautiful and to a certain point even magical,” she said. “There is just so much history here. They don’t call it the Eternal City for nothing. Chaos and drama are just part of the city. It seems like there is an ancient work of art in every corner. If you want to just walk around, you can—there is no need for a car.”

Lopez-Hodoyan said her parents are from Tijuana. When they were dating, her father crossed the border every day to work, but after marriage, they moved to Chula Vista. They enrolled Katia and her two sisters at a school in Tijuana to learn Spanish and to be in tune with their Mexican heritage, she said, and going back and forth across the border was part of her daily routine.

“For me, it was simply what I had to do to go to school,” she said. “Whenever I ask my mom ‘Wasn’t it hard for you to cross the border for so many years just to take us to school?’ she said, ‘Sure it was. But when you decide you’re going to do something and you believe in it, you do it, and that’s it.’”

After finishing high school at Our Lady of Peace Academy in San Diego, Lopez-Hodoyan attended Southwestern College in the summer of 1998. She decided to try a journalism course at SWC and said her professor Dr. Max Branscomb had a lot to do with helping her to find her career path.

“It started off as just a class,” said Lopez-Hodoyan, “but it quickly turned into a lot more. It was interesting, challenging, intriguing and constantly changing. It was everything I wanted in a career. I thought my writing was acceptable, just okay, nothing unusual. But Max would cheer me on and motivate me. Over time I thought, ‘maybe I do have what it takes.’”

Ken Pagano, who worked with Lopez-Hodoyan at The Sun, said she always smiled, told people to stay positive and never let anyone down. He said he saw her talent from the get go.

“Katia always had the right attitude about her goals right from the beginning,” said Pagano. “That kind of outlook doesn’t come naturally, it has to be coached. Look at where she is now, her career has taken her from reporting bi-national issues, cross-cultural issues to international issues. She has focus, determination and a support system in her parents and in the newsroom.”

During her two years at SWC Lopez-Hodoyan was the News Editor at The Sun, an ASO senator and a 2000 Student of Distinction Award winner.

Telemundo sports anchor Humberto Gurmilan said he met Lopez-Hodoyan at The Sun and they became good friends. He said she was a great writer from the beginning.

“I think the sky is the limit for her,” said Gurmilan. “She’s already doing things in her profession that others take years to do or even never get a chance to experience. I think she will continue to succeed in all her endeavors and no one will be surprised.”

After SWC she transferred to the University of San Francisco and earned a Bachelor’s degree in media studies. Soon after, Lopez-Hodoyan was ready to work for a newspaper.

“I wanted to be a print journalist,” she said, “but local newspapers weren’t really hiring at the time. Print journalism was still strong, but I wasn’t having any luck. After about six months of looking and sending applications, I was hired at Univision, a Spanish language TV station in San Diego. I was an assignment desk editor, so basically the person who helps reporters coordinate their stories for the newscasts.”

While at Univision, Lopez-Hodoyan freelanced for the bilingual newspaper La Prensa de San Diego, writing in English and Spanish. Next she was hired as a writer and producer for NBC’s “Mi San Diego,” a newscast in Spanish. That show eventually shut down, but being bilingual, she said her manager and news director gave her an English on-air reporting job at NBC San Diego.

Sammy Castañon, Editor-in-Chief of The Sun in Spring 1999, said the newspaper was always blessed to have great writers and Lopez-Hodoyan was one of them. She was always so dedicated and hard-working, he said, and he remembered telling her that she had what it took to go very far at The Sun and in anything she chose to do.

“We always kept in touch after our time at SWC,” said Castañon. “I ended up in TV news. And I got a call from Katia one day asking me all these TV-related questions. Turns out she had been offered an assignment desk editor position at Univision 17 here in San Diego. I answered her questions and told her to go for it! Next thing I know, she was reporting for NBC San Diego’s “Mi San Diego” Spanish newscasts … and eventually for NBC San Diego. Even though I’ve been an associate producer at News 8/KFMB-TV for the past eight years, I was extremely always proud to see Katia at NBC 7. She deserves all the success she has gotten in this business. Good things happen to good people and Katia is very good at what she does. And it all started at The Sun!”

Lopez-Hodoyan said her job at Univision was unique and a great learning experience. She said she loved the news stories and chaos, but remembers being stressed out. Lopez-Hodoyan admitted she had moments of doubt and wondered, “Am I cut out for this?”

“Difficulties are part of life,” she said. “There are challenges in any job. In this profession you have to be willing to work long hours. You constantly feel ‘on the clock,’ but it’s just part of it. It’s definitely worth it, though. Looking back, I can say I have no regrets, but I am where I am today because people gave me a chance.”

But looking back, she said she realized the old saying is true, that parents know best. Lopez-Hodoyan said her parent’s decision about her border-spanning education has definitely been the key to her success.

“Being from the border region and being fully bilingual and bicultural has opened so many doors. My parents say they never really thought about it as a ‘success formula.’ They wanted me to know and understand my Mexican heritage first hand. I think this fact made it easier for me to make the plunge and move to Rome. Like my parents said, ‘you make a decision, and you follow through.’ But with that being said, there is no place like home. I just signed another one year extension to my contract, but eventually I do want to go back to Chula Vista.”

Lopez-Hodoyan has succeeded in a business that is extremely competitive and ever-changing. Castañon said he sees her keeping up with these changes, and growing stronger and more confident as a TV news reporter.

“Even though we all knew she was destined for great things, I don’t think Katia ever imagined she would be an international TV news reporter,” he said. “She was able to break into the business on her own terms and has earned the respect and admiration of everyone in every newsroom she has worked in. She also never stops learning or updating her journalism skills. And Katia has kept up with the new focus on the Internet and social media in TV news. Word travels fast in our business. And the only stories I hear about Katia from colleagues are positive ones. She always wanted to travel the world, so she’s in the best possible position right now. I’d love to see her as a TV anchor or the host of her own news show. If she wants to go down that road, the possibilities are endless. But that’s what’s so great about her. She’s not afraid to take chances. She puts 1000 percent in everything she does. And that has taken her far in life and in her career.”

 

 

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