This “American Woman” is not messing around. CNN Newsroom Anchor Brooke Baldwin, who sits in the anchor chair weekdays from 2-4pm, is tough: she has no time for ‘fake news’ and knows that there has never been a more important time to be a journalist. After hosting her two hour show, the Peabody Award finalist took the time to talk to me in a phone interview about the beginning of her career, her upcoming series: American Woman with Brooke Baldwin, and more.
Ally Roche: How did you know that journalism was something you wanted to do? Did you know in high school?
Brooke Baldwin: I was aware of certain journalists when I was in high school. I remember admiring Jane Pauley, for example. I have no real recollection of my parents watching a ton of local news, but they read a lot of news. The journalism bug didn’t really bite until I was halfway through college. When you’re from Atlanta, which I am, you drink Coca Cola and you watch CNN, right? [laughs] That’s where it started! So halfway through college, I got an internship in Atlanta at CNN. I had never been in a newsroom in my life. I remember I interned for a travel unit that no longer exists. I ended up sitting in a dark room and just logging really fabulous travels around the world from all these amazing correspondents. In a dark room, just logging all the tape, but I found it actually fascinating. In my off time, I would just sit and watch the anchors through the glass wall, peering in at these live shows, hearing the clickety-clack of keyboards, and fully appreciating the jobs that journalists do. After that summer, I knew that I wanted to become a journalist. My first thought was, “I’d be a producer.” That changed in the end of my senior year in college.
AR: In your commencement speech at UNC, you talk about the beginning of your career. I loved the speech by the way!
BB: Awww! Thank you! I poured my heart and soul into that.
AR: It was great! In the speech, you talk about the beginning of your career. Were there any aspects of the job that surprised you in your early days?
BB: Let me think. I started in Charlottesville. I mean, it is the kind of thing, and this applies to so many different careers, [when] you are in school [and] you’re in your classes, you’re doing fake live shots and you’re writing stories that don’t really get published. In some cases they get published and sometimes you’re on cable access which some of us were, right? [laughs] It didn’t feel fully real until I started doing live television. So I think [with] realizing that we had an audience, I realized what I did every single day [mattered]. Starting from the morning; reading and pitching ideas to my assignment desk, going out and carrying out that pitch into a package, and being live at 5 and 6 o’clock at night. Realizing that what I said mattered. Realizing the power of words and images helping people, inspiring people, and listening. To actually be doing that in a real job, I think that was new, and a surprise, and extraordinary.
The more and more you do it, the more and more you dig a little deeper, you ask tougher questions, and you really learn how to really listen. I carry that with me, 17 years later. I think to meet people – like you Ally, honestly – people who watch and are inspired, or engaged, or informed or people [who] stop me on the street and say “Thank you for being a journalist.” I’ve had more people do that in the last year and a half. People will say “keep asking tough questions.” That still surprises me.
AR: I want to talk about Donald Trump and his attitude towards the media. With his use of the term “fake news,” how do you feel when he uses such strong language against journalists? Specifically when he targets your network?
BB: I never talk about “fake news.” I personally just ignore the phrase all together. Listen, the fact that he has attacked CNN as much as he has, (in the free world, with free speech, he can as much as he wants) that is only going to make all of us want to do our jobs even better, ask the tough questions of people in power, like the president and people in his administration. To be fair, we have incredible people, especially a lot of incredible women at CNN, even on the bench. Some of the things his supporters have done to colleagues of mine who were covering him at his rallies [includes] keying cars and spitting on female reporters. Not the president, but people who had supported him. It is despicable to hear. Never has there been a more important time to be a journalist.
“Never has there been a more important time to be a journalist.”
AR: Have you noticed anything different in covering this administration versus covering past administrations?
BB: Well, certainly it is never dull! [laughs]. There has never been a slow news day in who knows how long. It is fascinating, but if there are constant movements, headlines, things being said, and different versions of how the message comes across from, say, The White House. Our job is to make sure that we are listening to people who support the president and who don’t support the president. And all my job is, whoever is in charge in Washington – democrat or republican – my job is to take it in, have people on my show who represent all viewpoints, and have a discussion. I prefer no shouting. Sometimes it happens, but I think that it is a microcosm of how people feel in America. I treat every president the same.
We don’t always get access to the president. When was the last time he did an interview with CNN? He seems to sit down with “friendlier” interviewers and that’s frustrating. Previous presidents, again, on both sides of the aisle, would be a bit more fair about who they would speak to and I wish the president would sit down with CNN.
AR: I’ve noticed on your Instagram, you’ve been posting pictures of you interviewing some very cool women like Ava Duvernay and Tracy Reese. I notice you always put #AmericanWoman in the caption. What is it all about and when can we see these interviews? I’m excited to see them!
BB: Yes! This has been my passion project for all of 2017. I got this idea, this was my baby. Back in December, post-election, I heard about this Women’s March in Washington that would happen, coinciding with the inauguration. It is hard to think back-back, but people weren’t sure if it were going to be a couple hundred people. It wasn’t really organized in the very beginning. I was reading an article in The New Yorker that my best friend put out about certain women who would be showing up and why they wanted to be there. I think this idea came from this notion that women’s voices through this election, and particularly young women’s voices were becoming louder and louder. I think that a lot of women have felt very empowered to speak up on a variety of different issues, politically speaking. And I just think that is awesome.
So, between seeing that, because I covered the campaign, and talking to young women, and knowing that some women were going to be showing up in D.C. for this march, and covering the march and then seeing how many people were there, I immediately went to CNN and I was like “Guys. There is a real opportunity for us here to talk to women about how they’re feeling about in America in 2017.” So, the idea morphed into talking to the kind of women that I refer to as “a woman’s woman.” These are women like Issa Rae and Ava Duvernay and Sheryl Crow and Pat Benatar, who are bad-asses in their own right and in their own careers, but are just beautiful people that also inspire me. These are people that I legit respect, love, admire, and fangirl over [laughs]. So we started, and I took this mission on in my “free time.” I booked a lot of these women myself, and when you want something done, you do it yourself. So it has evolved into what is going to be a series that debuts this fall. We are thinking early November but that’s TBD. It’s called American Woman with Brooke Baldwin. It is a whole digital T.V. thing for season 1. We’ll have a big launch party.
I haven’t been this excited about something that I’ve done in a long time. I want this to continue to be apart of this dialogue and I really want feedback from women, especially. We are already booking women for season 2!
AR: That is so awesome, because I know so many young women, my friends, who have been excited to get involved and get their voices heard. They’ll be so excited for this!
BB: Awesome. Awesome!
AR: Because a lot of our readers are young women and many are interested in journalism, they probably wonder if there is or isn’t a great deal of sexism in the industry. What is your experience with it?
BB: I think I have been fortunate in that I have never had a male boss look me up and down or treat me inappropriately. I haven’t. I work with and I have worked with a bunch of amazing men. I also really do toot CNN’s horn in that we have an incredible, incredible list of ladies. Most of us are buds, some of whom, you’ve interviewed [laughs]. We stick together. Are there, aren’t there times when we feel like there are certain moments where men are given opportunities more than a woman? Sure. But I am proud to work at an organization that props women up. You interviewed Dana, [CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash] and you look at someone like Dana who sat on those debate stages interviewing candidates with millions of eyeballs on the screen. Not only that, but she’s someone who, during my show at a commercial break, I’ll email if I have a questions about something going on in Capitol Hill. She’ll email me back in a second. It goes both ways. My whole thing, and people hear me go on about it, but my office door is open. We women have to support one another.
“We women have to support one another.”
Here’s the thing that sort of sucked; I don’t have a real female mentor that is older than me who does what I do. I have women who are a little bit older at CNN who are bosses and senior producers who I can go to. I have Patricia DiCarlo, Meredith Artley, Jennifer Hyde. I call them, like, my “high council of big sisters.” These are the women who I can go to for advice and be frustrated with, personal and professional. Early on, it was kind of hard to find someone older, who was a woman. You know, sometimes we women aren’t so nice to each other. I’ve just made it my mission to have my office door open and really let women, especially younger women know that they can come in and feel comfortable and to talk to me.
AR: What advice do you have for young people that want to be journalists?
BB: To listen. It sounds so silly and so simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people have their own preconceived notion of what the story is that they’re going to go shoot or interview. You need to be open. You need to be on your toes, have some sharp elbows, but listen. Be respectful and be kind. Just be kind.
“You need to be open. You need to be on your toes, have some sharp elbows, but listen.”
AR: So, I’m a junior and I’m beginning to look at colleges, just as a lot of our readers are. I’ve been told that I should major in journalism, because I would learn the basics. I’ve also been told to find an expertise and to major in History or Political Science, or something of that sort. You studied journalism, so what do you suggest?
BB: It’s a great question. The truth is, you can do any of the above. I ended up doing Journalism and Spanish double major. I was an English major until I decided to switch over. I had a love for writing. I would say you’re good [either way]. If you end up majoring in, let’s say, Poli Sci, I would highly recommend going and interning. Even if you’re in J-school, go intern so that you can understand the tools of putting a package together, how television works, editing and shooting, and how an assignment desk works. Go make buddies with the guy in the edit bay, or the gal in the edit bay. Learn how to do everything. That’s my other huge piece of advice. Learn how to do everything. You don’t have to be great at everything, but so you’re eventually empathetic with people you work with down the road. Then if you end up majoring in journalism, just be curious. Just because you’re majoring in journalism, you should want to have a thirst for knowledge and reading and asking questions. Take other courses in other things. That’s the coolest thing about college. You can still be on this one track to have this one major, but that’s what the liberal arts education is. One of my favorite classes in college was ethnomusicology. That’s what I would recommend to someone who majors in journalism.
You can catch Brooke Baldwin on CNN Newsroom from 2-4pmET on weekdays. Click here to watch the trailer for her upcoming series.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.