How I became a news anchor: Erin Burnett of CNN (2024)

Welcome to our series “How I Became a …,” where we’re digging into the stories of accomplished and influential people and finding out how they got to where they are in their careers. We’re finding out what their biggest challenges, their biggest passions and their biggest pieces ofwisdom are — for you.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited.

CNN's Erin Burnett has had quite the career. The prime-time newscastergraduated from Williams College with a political economy degree, spending the first part of her career as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs before taking the leap to pursue a career in media.

How I became a news anchor: Erin Burnett of CNN (1)

From the Middle East to Africa to China and the United States, Burnett's reporting has taken her all over the world as the host of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront. USA TODAY College caught up with Burnett to talk about taking risks, driving through Iraq in the dark of night and thriving on deadline.

What's your coffee order?

I like decaf with half and half. I broke the caffeine habit a few years ago.

Who is your mentor?

I have had several during my career, in different ways. One of them is Willow Bay, who's currently at the USC journalism school. Tom Brokaw was a great mentor for me, and still is. Mark Haines was my co-anchor on CNBC, and he was just an absolute wonderful partner. To mention my career and who's been important, he would be right there at the top.

What's the coolest thing you've ever done?

One time I was on a shoot in Dubai, and I decided to go to Yemen afterwards by myself, with a camera. I went for a couple of days and did some reporting, and it was a really amazing experience on so many levels. There have been many cool opportunities in my job that have been very transformative.

What's the best advice someone's ever given you?

Someone said to me to look where you would be in five years. From where you are, what are people doing in 5-10 years? Someone told me that and at the time I was an investment banking analyst. I was learning a lot, and it was a phenomenal opportunity, but I looked at people 5-10 years in the future, and I didn't want to be doing that.

When you're young, 5-10 years seems like such a big horizon; you're not thinking like that. It was very grounding for me to be told that, and that's why I wasn't afraid to leave banking and go into media. I didn't know if that was what I wanted to do, but I knew that what I was doing wasn't what I wanted to be doing along the line. If it's not right for you, don't be afraid to take a leap.

What does your career path look like, from Goldman Sachs to CNN?

My brother-in-law and sister sent me an article that was on the front of the business section of the New York Times. I was an an analyst at Goldman and I'd been doing an all-nighter, which is kind of the standard operating procedure in that job. The article was talking about Willow Bay and her new job with Moneyline, the show she was working on at CNN.

When I was young Willow was the face of Estee Lauder and a very famous model, so I had followed her and knew who she was. I sent her a letter -- which I've described as my 'stalker letter' -- and said that I've read your ad and that I'm very interested in doing this.

Willow brought be in and interviewed me. She took a risk on me and wanted me to do some research and work that would be related to my work as a banking analyst, so I came over to Moneyline and took this risk to go. Maybe I went because I was too young to be wary of taking risks, which is why I would encourage people to take risks when you're younger.

I worked for Willow and loved that, but I didn't think I wanted to be in TV forever. I thought about going to business school, and I had a friend who said they interviewed at this thing Citigroup was doing: talking to CEO's and analysts and business people around the world.

I did that and it ended up being the job for me. We were building that business, so I had to do the on-camera part of it as well. It made me realize, hey, I really love doing this. This is really interesting. I was able to do it in a format where, frankly, not a lot of people did see it. I could learn and improve in that environment. But, I realized that was what I loved doing, and so I decided to make a reel of myself, and I sent it to a local station in Sacramento, a local station in Boston, and to Bloomberg.

I ended up getting a job at Bloomberg, and I was a producer for a little while and then went on-air. I learned an incredible amount and it was a phenomenal place to be. NBC News called and I went there, and I loved it. I did CNBC and a lot of the Today Show and nightly news. Business was my main focus, and and I got to do a lot more related to foreign policy, from the Egyptian revolution to the going to Nigeria for the underwear bomber. I got to travel the world, to Iraq and all kinds of places, and that was an amazing place to be. Then CNN came with an offer that I couldn't really refuse, and I've been here ever since... It'll be six years in June.

What's your favorite part of your job?

I love so much about it. I think that our job is like breathing. It's just what we do. It's one of those things where I just love it, because it's part of what I love to do anyways. The things we cover are the things that I would read or do in my personal life. Anything from the Muslim Brotherhood to ISIS to the economy that I'm covering, I'm reading anyways. I love all parts of it.

I love the deadline. The part that's really stressful is also very exciting, and I think you have to feed off of it. If it's stressful for you, you're probably not going to enjoy it. You're out there, you've got to find something, you've got to deliver.You get the excitement and the feeling of accomplishment of putting that finished product out there for people to see, and yes, that comes with the opportunity for criticism and all those other sorts of things, but it's the unique thing about our job. We get to put things together that people see, and it's one of the wonderful things about journalism; you can have an influence and an impact by telling a story.

Have you ever had a scary experience when reporting abroad?

There have been times where me and my team have realized the broader situation. There was a time once in Iraq when we were driving -- and you're not supposed to be in certain areas after dark -- but the the schedule worked. ... There was a car behind us and the security team got really nervous, and everything ended up being okay, but being in a moment where they decide to off road and do it all differently, that's a moment where you realize the significance of where you are.

What advice would you give an aspiring journalist or someone who wants to follow in your path?

  • Don't be afraid to take a leap, and don't be afraid to try.
  • There are a lot of times when you try, and at first you fail. We all fail. There's a first time you go on air and you freeze. There's a first time that you write a script and it's absolutely terrible. There's a first time that you do research and you don't really understand what the research is about and you do the wrong thing.
  • Learn from your experiences. Don't be afraid of failure. You can't really become good at something until you do it, and realize that you're not as good as you thought or that you didn't understand. That's when you double down and say, "I'm gonna get better."
  • Some people are lucky enough to know from a young age what they want to do. I was not one of those people. That would make me say, take the best job you can, even if it might not be one that you want. Take the job where you can learn the most.
  • When it isn't right, go on and pursue that other thing. Parlay those skills that you learned into a lot of different directions. I've been really impressed when some young people have come to me or my team, and have done that. These are some of the best people at what they do, who we want to retain And they say that they don't want to be a producer or an anchor. They want to do something totally different, and they go for it. I have great admiration for that. That's the recipe for a fulfilled life.
  • Take risks.When you're younger, you're not afraid to take them and you don't have much to lose. Life gets more complicated, and you don't want to end up wishing you'd tried earlier.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Where I am right now, the hardest part is making life work. Life is very full for all of us. For me right now, life is very full; I have two young children. I love my job and making all of the things work is a constant juggling act. Making the trains run on time and not having a ball drop is definitely the most challenging part of where I am right now in my life and my career.

Susannah Hutcheson is a Texas A&M student and a USA TODAY College digital producer.

This story originally appeared on the USA TODAY College blog, a news source produced for college students by student journalists. The blog closed in September of 2017.

How I became a news anchor: Erin Burnett of CNN (2024)
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