Q & A With Jessica Yellin

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October 11, 2016

Former CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin will deliver the Robison Lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 13, in Bradley's Michel Student Center ballroom.

Yellin is an award-winning political journalist who has reported for ABC, CNN and MSNBC. She has interviewed Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. She has covered state, national and international politics in addition to culture wars and issues women face in the workplace.

The lecture is open to the public.

For an introduction into her career and journalistic interests, Yellin answered a few questions for the Office of Marketing and Publications. Here’s what she had to say:

Why were you so interested in covering politics that you made a career of it?
My dad had a deep belief in the importance of public service. He taught me I had an obligation to contribute to the world; we all do.  As a family we watched the evening news every night and talked politics at the dinner table endlessly. Since I grew up in L.A., I loved Hollywood and the media from a very young age. I found a way to combine that passion for media with my interest in politics and making a contribution. I thought I could do that as a reporter.

What would you consider your career’s “defining moments?”
You might think the defining moments are also the high profile ones — interviewing the President, anchoring the national news. But for me the defining moments were much smaller: The first time I anchored live without a teleprompter for 45 minutes in Orlando local news. The morning I went to the Secretary of State’s office in Tallahassee after covering the 2000 Florida election for my Tampa station and the 2000 Florida recount began. Covering a mini riot in the airport after a debacle of cancelled flights. Standing inside the funeral that turned into a brawl. Off-camera experiences during the overseas trips with the White House.

So much of what you do as a reporter doesn’t happen on camera. Those moments teach you something about people and the world, and help you bring nuance and complexity to the work you do on camera.

Who is the most interesting public figure you’ve covered? Why?
All the presidents are fascinating because you want to understand what makes them tic.  I tend to find the not-famous people more interesting than famous because they are more revealed.

You noticed the media obsession with celebrity and personality. How did we get to this point?
The explosion of social media has allowed more people to become celebrities and expanded their reach. At the same time, traditional media companies, looking for ways to compete for eyeballs, are relying on celebrity to get fans. This happened at the same moment our culture is celebrating bright-light-private-jet values. I imagine this too shall pass.

How can we consumers find and encourage solid journalism?
Find and follow reporters you respect. By this, I mean judge the value of the news you’re getting by the person reporting it, not simply by the news organization with which they’re affiliated. Support news organizations that do quality work. For example, pay the small fee to subscribe to the Washington Post instead of reading their work for free. And support online and digital news sources as well as investigative reporting non-profits.

What might surprise us about life on the White House and Capitol Hill beats?
While the reporting is competitive, the reporters are very collegial. You spend a lot of time waiting around together so you develop professional friendships.

What are unique challenges of covering national/international affairs from Washington, D.C.?
The biggest challenge is getting out of D.C. to cover anything—domestic or international news—in the field. The second biggest challenge is convincing news managers that viewers want to watch stories about international affairs or local domestic affairs.

What encourages you about the media’s future as you meet with students at places like Bradley?
In this generation, there is such an innovative spirit and a commitment to doing something for the world that’s larger than themselves. I think this generation can create and support a new fourth estate in digital media that will ensure that the press functions not just for profit but also for our public interest.

I know you have a track record of advocating for women in the workplace. How has your status enabled you to be a trusted voice and friend to other women?
The workplace is better for everyone when we all speak up for each other. That doesn’t mean you ignore problems or overlook it when people aren’t doing the job. It simply means we can all play a part in ensuring we’re all being heard and treated with respect.



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