Ariel Mata Peele
The News Producer | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020
"It’s rewarding to have a job that has the ability to touch the lives of so many people. "
GET TO KNOW ARIEL
After working on her high school’s newspaper for two years, Ariel Mata Peele knew she wanted more out of journalism. She turned to broadcasting in college and is now a news producer at MSNBC in New York City. Her goal is simple: “I want to create content that makes people smarter.” Scroll down to read more.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
I have always loved writing. After two years working on my high school newspaper, I wanted more out of journalism and, for me, that meant television. The news was always on in my house when I was growing up, and when it became clear I wanted to work in TV, all the pieces fit together.
What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?
When you start working in news, you barely make enough money to live on your own and you work endless hours. Over the course of my career, I’ve spent almost eight years working overnights. News can also be extremely competitive. There are 210 television markets in all 50 states, with an average of four stations per market. If you look at just producing jobs, the number of people is equivalent to the size of a large high school. Because it’s so competitive, there are often people who don’t want to see you succeed. When you’re tired, physically and emotionally, it’s sort of a mental agility test to remind yourself why you want to do this job. But for every person who isn’t supportive, there are two, or more, who want to see you be successful. I think the biggest challenge I’ve overcome is learning how to value myself in a way that’s strong enough to withstand the pressures of the job.
Did someone help you get to where you are today, like a mentor?
I am extremely grateful to have worked with two of the best women in TV, Kim Christiansen and Adele Arakawa at KUSA in Denver. My relationship with them has never quite felt like a mentor-mentee relationship; they’re more like fun, experienced big sisters. They have guided me on everything from news judgement to navigating contracts to asking for more money. They helped me build confidence in myself to be able to move across the country.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being in the control room during my show, especially during breaking news and severe weather. You’re in the moment, making changes, talking to crews, looking at cameras, updating scripts, adding breaking information. You have to be ready to own any situation.
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Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate, loyal and punctual.
Your life philosophy is…
What is the best piece of advice you received?
An anchor once told me everyone in TV has a different path. Not everyone starts in a small market or in a network internship. Some news people may even start in sports, but they can all end up in the same market, at the same station doing the same job. I think this is especially relevant and valuable in a culture where it’s extremely challenging not to compare yourself to others.
If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?
Anywhere warm and dry. I’m still not used to the icy wind and humidity in New York.
What’s something you cannot live without?
My face cream.
Name a book you read that positively shaped you.
Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” and Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me.” Both books talk about what it’s like to be a woman and also be a producer and writer. While they both work in comedy, and I work in news, our goals are the same: to be taken seriously, to take chances and be the best you can be.
If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?
I ask myself this question often. Some days, when I’m exhausted and the news is particularly heavy, I wish there was something else I wanted to do. The truth is, I get to go to my dream job every day. There may come a time when it’s no longer a dream, but it makes me feel alive, fulfilled and truly content with how I spend my time.
How do you unwind or relax after a long day?
News never stops so it can be challenging to unwind on a daily basis. I like to wake up early on Saturday or Sunday mornings and sit with my cat, Minnie, have a cup of coffee and be on my laptop. That’s my time to peruse anything I want, news-related or not. I also take tap dancing lessons and I’m learning to play the banjo.
The most rewarding aspect of your job is…
My job is very personal to me. When I worked in Denver, in the market where I grew up, most every story had meaning to someone in my life. I work to apply that mindset to every story I produce, no matter the market. I see my job as a public service. While I understand there are people who have strong opinions about news, especially TV news, I know that for myself, every story I’ve ever written and put in a show is meant to make our viewers smarter. It’s rewarding to have a job that has the ability to touch the lives of so many people.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?
“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”—Karen Lamb
My different jobs in news have helped me see the benefits of what I think of as “laying the track.” One project or story you work on or one random meeting could lead to an unexpected opportunity years later. It took me two years to get my job at NBC. I interviewed for different jobs in different parts of the company. If that time taught me anything, it’s that I’m glad I didn’t start that process any later.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
For a long time, I believed that if you followed the rules, real or perceived, you would be rewarded. While that’s true in some cases, it doesn’t necessarily grow you as a person or further your career. You have to stand up for yourself because no one else will.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Say no. It is challenging for me to turn down invitations or experiences because I don’t want to let people down, but when I’m overwhelmed, I’ve learned I have to take time for myself and not feel bad about it. Sometimes, I just need a weekend where I’m not committed to anything.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)
One of the most worthwhile investments I’ve made was moving from Denver to New York City. If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I was the least likely person to ever leave Colorado. This experience showed me goals and dreams can be achieved and it is valuable to leave situations that no longer serve you.
Name a confident woman of character who you look up to? Why her?
My mom. The older I get, the greater my understanding is of how much she had to overcome to raise me by herself. It overwhelms me to remember all the things I was able to do because of her and all the experiences she afforded me.