CNN News Anchor: Erin Burnett Featured

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CNN News Anchor: Erin Burnett Photograph courtesy of CNN

CNN News Anchor: Erin Burnett

Erin Burnett’s Journey to Journalism

Erin Burnett is a news anchor who headlines her own show, Erin Burnett OutFront, on CNN. She also serves as the network’s chief business and economic correspondent. She has covered breaking news stories such as the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, and has reported from Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Israel and across Africa and Asia. Starting out as an investment-banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, Burnett went on to work at Citigroup, CNBC and now CNN. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie talked with Erin Burnett about her successful journalistic career and what she has learned along the way.


TJ: How did you get started in your career?
In college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I got into investment banking because that’s what a lot of people did from my school, and they said that it is a really useful thing. I did learn a lot and it’s been incredibly valuable – one of the best decisions I made. But pretty early on I knew I didn’t want to do it forever.

TJ: Do you have any role models in journalism?
Tom Brokaw was very helpful and a wonderful mentor when I was at NBC. Willow [Bay] was very influential. I would say there were a couple of people that inspired me to get into journalism on two different sides: Hedrick Smith, who was a print journalist, and Dan Rather; I used to watch him on the nightly news growing up.

TJ: What is your favorite and most challenging part of working at CNN?
I love a lot of things about it: what’s happening, feeling that your fingers are touching the important stories of the moment of our time. You’re not a part of them, you’re not a part of the story, but you’re touching them and you’re covering them. That is incredibly invigorating and it also makes you feel a great sense of responsibility to try and do your job the very best that you can. You just always have to be ready; you never know what’s going to happen. That’s the exciting part, and what makes the job so wonderful, but it’s also a big challenge. You have to be ready to just get on a plane like when we went to Paris or Brussels to cover the terror attacks. That makes the job worth it, and, of course, it’s a challenge.

TJ: What’s your regular work schedule like?
I’m usually awake reading stories at 3-3:30 am. Then around 6:30 to 7:30, we’re talking about stories, piecing it together and finding our angle. In the afternoon, we have a show meeting, so we all sit down and go do our segments the way they are. Then it’s the live show. My day ends after the live show at 8 p.m.

TJ: What would you say is your greatest skill? What makes you successful?
I’m determined as a person; I will work until something is done. I’m very committed to completing something, whether it’s staying in contact with people or staying on a story. It’s just never, never giving up; you might fail a lot of times, [but] just keep trying and eventually you get something.

TJ: Are you naturally inquisitive? Would you say that’s the most important skill for a journalist?
Yes. Everyone in this business is a curious person by nature. If you’re not curious, you’re not going to find the creative story or ask the questions that you would otherwise when someone tells you something. When you are curious, you always want to ask another question and that often helps you unearth the reality; that constant intellectual curiosity is crucial.

TJ: What else makes a great journalist?
Being determined, relentless and honest. I don’t think you can be good at any job without being honest. You have to be honest with yourself to the extent that you are honest when you have a preconceived notion and it doesn’t pan out the way you expect it to. I don’t mean honesty as a person; I mean honesty with yourself. And always be willing to challenge things.

TJ: Do you have any techniques to remain unbiased?
I always try to rip a hole into anything that I’m saying or doing. You keep asking questions, and then reiterate it. You basically argue both sides all the time.


TJ: What was it like working with Donald Trump?
My personal experience with Donald was that he was always professional. Now, of course, out there now are a lot of questions about Donald Trump and his relationships with women, and I am aware of someone personally who did receive an unwanted kiss from Donald Trump. These things happened.

TJ: Is there someone that you haven’t had an opportunity to interview and wanted to your entire career?
I interviewed the head of the CIA ( John Brennan at the time); it was just really fascinating to talk about so many of the issues, because, for me, national security is really our main focus. It might be interesting to have a real heart-to-heart with Vladimir Putin.

TJ: How about interviewing former President Obama?
I actually have not interviewed him, but I think he is going to be very interesting to speak to. When someone is and then isn’t in office, some of the things that they can say and do change, for better and for worse. I think President Obama will be fascinating having left office, because he will be unleashed to say things he wouldn’t have wanted to say when he was actually president.

TJ: What interests you so much about the Middle East? Is that your job or your interest taking you there?
It’s both. I have found it to be a region and a place that is central to the history of our time, and the history of our nation – a place that I am endlessly fascinated by and am always learning more about.

TJ: Have you ever been to Japan?
Yes! Travel is my main passion in life. I was in Japan and visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara. I did a week of vacation by myself; it was challenging and exciting.

TJ: What has been your most shocking experience overseas?
The old town of Sana’a in Yemen is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It was a stunning experience. I was befriended by a 17- or 18-year-old young man who took me around the city. What he showed me was unforgettable: a lunch place up on the third floor in one of these old buildings, seeing a camel walking around, stomping spices and meeting his family. It was a really unforgettable experience, something that I’ll never forget as long as I live.

TJ: Is it more challenging to be a female journalist than a male journalist in the Middle East?
I think it depends. I have had experiences where certainly my gender has been a factor in being treated differently, but it can help you because it gives you access to half the population that, frankly, is such a fascinating and poorly understood part of the population and part of the region. I remember one time in Saudi Arabia I was going to a place where women that had education would meet at this collective place in a low-income neighborhood. We went there to talk to [them] about their situations, jobs and how they felt about being a woman in Saudi Arabia. Then the cameras came in and the cameraman was Muslim and Egyptian. When he came in, they literally – all of them – immediately put on their abayas (robe) and sheilas (scarves), but when we were in there, they were wearing their normal clothes. They were talking and gossiping, doing whatever they were doing. And when all of a sudden he came in, it was like a flurry and everybody puts on their cover; then they were very reserved and quiet. It was this literal and figurative change. As a woman, you have access to that world that a man can’t.

TJ: Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you want to continue doing what you’re doing, or do you see yourself changing your career?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I love what I do and where I am. I found the right fit for me, and I feel very blessed by that. [My future] definitely is being in journalism and continuing to explore stories – and explore the world. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #279 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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