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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Erica Hill and Dr.Sanjay Gupta

From Kelly:
My question is why did you move from Tech Journalism to more mainstream journalism? Were there not a lot of opportunities in the tech media world, or was it time for a change and career move?

EH: I had a great time covering technology. Being in the thick of it during the tech boom was exciting, educational and very rewarding, but I got to a point where I was ready for a change. Interestingly, I think many of the tech issues and stories I covered are now more mainstream stories.

From Book Asylum:
Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you did at TechTV? Are you a technical savvy computer user? Do you prefer Macs or PCs?

EH: During the 4+ years I was at ZDTV/TechTV, I wore a lot of different hats. I started out working on the website in the very exciting job of digitizing video. When ZDTV Radio was launched, I was part of the team, and also wrote and anchored the morning news show. After that, I became a writer for the ZDTV News, then I produced the 1pm news show, then I was a reporter… and finally became an anchor/reporter. It was a fantastic place to work because we were all encouraged to learn every position in the newsroom. I had incredible teachers – news directors and reporters with decades of journalism experience to share. It also gave me a great understanding of how the news “machine” works, which is an asset to this day.

As for the “Mac or PC” question, I use a PC but admit to some serious Mac envy.

From Cactuskid:
Thanks Erica for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. I really like watching you on TV and think, also, that you and Anderson have great chemistry on air! My question is more of a personal one. Now that you are a mother how do you balance having a family and work?

EH: Hi, Cactuskid – thanks for the nice compliment. I have a great time with Anderson.

As for balance, I’m sure most parents would agree, “balance” depends on the day.
I also think balance is different for every parent, but for me, I like to focus on the positives. I’m very lucky that my schedule lets me spend the mornings with my son, and, for now at least, he is still up when I get home so I can also put him to bed.

I know that my son is very well cared for when we are at work. I also know that I enjoy working, and that having a job I am passionate about makes me a better mother. It helps me to appreciate the time with Weston… and having the world’s greatest baby waiting for me at home pushes me to be better at my job. I want to get it done well, get it right, and do all that on the first try, so that I can get home to my little guy.

It’s been easier than I thought it would be. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my son during the day, or that there aren’t days I feel like I should spend more time at my desk, but I try not to dwell on those moments.

From Purple Tie: I really enjoy watching Prime News and I love that you are so down to earth and that you are just yourself. Where do you see your career in 5 years? Do you think you'd like to move over to CNN and do a prime time show there or do you see yourself doing something different within the same field?

EH: Hi, Purple Tie. I’m so happy to hear you’re a Prime News fan!

I love the job I have right now. We tackle a lot of topics and stories other shows aren’t doing – it’s nice to be different. I would like to do more reporting, however. Ideally, I’d love to bring Prime News on the road.

In five years, I hope that wherever I am, I am happy in my job -- otherwise, it’s not worth it! I also hope that I am still growing and honing my skills. This format offers endless opportunities to grow as a journalist, and so my main hope is that in five years, I am better than I am today. I hope that I use the professional and personal experiences still to come to make me a better listener, better interviewer, and better storyteller.

I always thought a morning show would be a good fit for me. I like the mix of news and features, the fact that you can have a little fun, and the opportunity to anchor and report. As for moving to CNN, never say never! What’s most important to me is what I’m doing – I want it to be a show I am involved in, passionate about and proud of – no matter what time of day!

From Sheryn:
Erica, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! I really enjoy Prime News and appreciate the way you deliver the news with a hipper vibe than most at 5pm! I’m curious, did you have one major influence in your life or someone you admire greatly that help shaped the woman you are today? By the way, you were missed during last year’s AC360 New Year’s Eve coverage. Please say you will be back this year!

EH: Hi, Sheryn

What a beautiful name! Thanks for the compliment.

I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of great influences – from teachers to family. I think the most important people, though, are my parents. They are both very strong, intelligent, funny, hard-working and down-to-earth. We laugh a lot in my family, which is essential.

They always encouraged me and my sister to follow our dreams, no matter how outrageous they seemed. For as long as I can remember, they treated us as people capable of making our own decisions, and dealing with the consequences that come with our choices. They respected our choices, even if they didn’t always agree with them.

I first left home at 16, and the older I get, the more I realize how hard it must have been for my parents to let me go (I was an exchange student in France for the year), and how important it was for me go. They knew this would be an amazing education I could not get anywhere else, and they knew I could handle it. Their confidence in me then and now has made me the person I am today.

As for New Year’s, the AC folks haven’t asked me, but the two years I was in Times Square with Anderson were a blast. I’d definitely do it again.

From Brenda in Canada:
Could you give us a bit of a "behind the scenes" look at your work by describing your typical work week? Thanks very much

EH: Hi, Brenda.

So glad you’re watching in Canada. I have been bugging my husband for a couple of years now to take a Canadian vacation. Although, considering ,my list of places I want to visit spans the entire country, we may need to schedule more than one!

As you probably know, there’s not a lot of “typical” in TV news. Things can change in an instant, which is one of the reasons I love this job. It keeps you on your toes, is constantly evolving, and doesn’t offer much of an opportunity to get bored.

That being said, there is a rough schedule I follow every day.

My day begins at 5:30a when I get up to get breakfeast ready for my son, and to make my lunch and dinner to bring to work. If Weston sleeps long enough, I may even get through most of the paper… but I can’t count on it.

When he goes down for his morning nap, I scan as many news sites as I can and do a lot of channel surfing to make sure I am up-to-speed on the day’s news. I look for stories other major news outlets aren’t covering, so Prime News can continue to set itself apart.

I call into our daily news meeting around 10:45am; it lasts for about 30 minutes. We discuss the plan for the day’s show, talk about guests and segments we are working on, angles we need to cover, questions we need to ask. We flush out ideas other writers and producers bring to the meeting.

I am in the office by noon, and from the minute I log on, I am working. I begin by “reading in” – reading through all of the stories we are working on for the show, hopefully from more than one source, making notes on what I think are the most important details and noting any questions I have.

I do the same thing in the guest file, to see who has been booked and what we are working on, and add my questions to the mix.

From 12:30-1:15p I am in makeup, but when I get back to my desk, it’s back to work.

Most of the afternoon is then spent refining segments – meeting with producers to plan out an interview segment, deciding on elements (broll, soundbites, full-screen graphics we want to make, quotes and statements we want to incorporate), fine-tuning the focus of the interview and the questions.

Some days, I will also pretape an interview or two in the afternoon.

By 3:30p, I need to be in the rundown going through scripts, but I admit I usually get a bit of a late start. We have a fantastic team of very talented writers on Prime News, and they know my voice well, but I always want to make sure I am comfortable with scripts before we hit air.

Throughout the day, I am also constantly listening to my TV and checking the wires to make sure I have the most current information on the stories we are covering. This also helps me when I need to cover developing stories and when we throw out the rundown 30 seconds before air to go with breaking news.

Our show airs from 5-7pm. At 7pm, I go through interviews and segments from the show to see what I need to work on, how I could have done things better. If we have segments slated for the following day, I work on them to get a head-start.

I also go through the headlines I’m covering for Anderson’s show and check out the “What Were They Thinking” and “The Shot” segments.

After doing my cut-ins with AC, it’s home to my family.

From Phebe:
Since you’re a new mom you probably don’t have a lot of free time, but when you do have a spare minute do you have any hobbies? What’s the last book you read, DVD you rented, great meal you cooked, must see television program?

EH: I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while on a “break” from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It is heartbreaking but so important.

The last movie I watched (on HBO maybe?) was Munich.

I LOVE to cook and try to make Sunday dinner every week. It’s a little esier to do in the winter, though. Right now, my Sunday cooking involves a lot of baby food. This past week I made a chicken casserole, chicken with sweet potatoes and grapes, and a lentil-vegetable dish for the little guy.

As for non-news TV viewing, can’t wait for Lost to start again – February seems very far off! I also like to watch Deadliest Catch, Boston Legal (the writing is phenomenal and so timely), House Hunters, Big Love and Entourage – which really should be an hour instead of 30 minutes.

From Judi in Brooklyn, MI:
Can you explain the "It" factor from the media perspective and do the "suits" consider "It" when choosing on air TV personalities? Do their marketing departments take "It" seriously?

EH: I wish I could explain it to you, Judi. I hear about the “it” factor, but I think each person – including each “suit” – has their own idea of what that “it” is. People I enjoy watching on TV are smart, know what they’re talking about, and are real. I don’t like watching people who seem like they are acting or trying too hard.

I’m not sure how the “it” favor figures into the marketing department, but I would imagine the powers that be encourage marketing and PR to focus on the people they are putting their money behind….the ones the execs see as having “it”.

I’m not sure that was much of an answer for you, Judi, but I hope it helped a little!

From Leigh:
About all of the witty banter with Anderson, do you ever wish you were in the same studio or would that change the dynamics?

EH: Wow – I’ve never thought about it! That’s a great question, Leigh. It would be great to be in the same studio. I’m not sure if it would change the dynamics. We’ll have to try it next time AC in the ATL.

From Candy in New Mexico:
Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Has motherhood had a significant impact on your career thus far?

EH: Hi, Candy – and thank you! Motherhood is the best thing I have ever done. I’m not sure it’s had a major impact on my career thus far… but that may change as my son gets older. One thing I have noticed is that stories get to me even more than they used to. I’ve always had a tough time digesting certain stories, especially those involving abuse and cruelty to children and animals. Since becoming a mom, they affect me on a deeper level – I can feel them in my gut. They also make me want to get home as soon as I can to hug my family, and make me realize how lucky I am.

From Evelyn:
In a field that was not too long ago dominated by men, women are often degraded to being just lip glossed pretty faces who don't actually know anything. How do you show that you can be beautiful and smart, and also an objective journalist and what advice do you have for an aspiring journalist like myself? Thanks Erica!

EH: My advice is to follow your dreams and your gut, Evelyn. Hold your ground at work and don’t settle for the “lip gloss” role. I am involved in my show from start to finish everyday, and am very vocal. I speak up to push for a story, and to push for not doing a story.

Like any journalist, you also need to do your homework, to make sure you are well-informed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is something I struggle with sometimes. There is always that fear that someone will think you didn’t do your homework or that you’re really just there to be on TV. That someone with decades more experience will cast you aside as an ill-informed little girl. Don’t let them win. I’m getting better at putting that aside. I know the most important thing I can do is to ask a question when I need clarification, and this proves I am not just a talking-head; I care too much about what goes on the air and what comes out of my mouth to not ask that question, even if someone else thinks it’s silly.

From Blade:
Who comes up with the "What Were They Thinking"photos?

EH: It’s a group effort. Anyone can submit a suggestion, but usually it’s Jenny Blanco, one of the producers, who finds the winner – and she definitely picks some winners!

From Maria:
What is your favorite part of your workday and why? Thank you for putting a happy face on news. :)

EH: Hi, Maria. I think my favorite part of the day is my prep time. I love doing the show, but I really enjoy hashing out a segment with producers, making sure we are covering all the angles (to borrow a line from a certain CNN anchor!), getting the elements together… even the last minute scramble to get more information or reaction.

Inevitably, our conversations get off-track, but I enjoy that, too, because my coworkers are also my friends, and I love catching up with them and cracking jokes.

From Velvetandlace:
Just wondering what you thought of entertainment reporters/anchors such as Giuliana DePandi? Is entertainment an area of the industry you ever really considered, and do you think that sort of avenue is more "expected" of women and therefore easier to work in than news?

EH: I think Giuliana DePandi is fantastic. She is clearly a very intelligent women, and she is great at her job. I especially like watching her cover live events.

While I do indulge in the latest celebrity gossip now and then, I have never considered covering entertainment. I don’t think it’s expected of women, but I think a lot of young women are attracted to the idea of covering entertainment. However, I’m not sure they’re interested for the right reasons.

The past two summers, I’ve come across some female interns who were completely star-struck by the idea of covering celebrities. The more I spoke to them, it became clear these women weren’t interested in covering the story, they were interested in becoming the story. They saw the job of entertainment reporter as a way to achieve fame and to be friends with the celebrities they would be covering.

Of course, that’s not really how the job works. Giuliami DiPandi, and closer to home, CNN’s Brooke Anderson, are perfect examples of the smarts and tough work ethic you need to do the job of entertainment correspondent. I have worked with Brooke for nearly five years, and she is a true journalist. She works her butt off, she is intelligent, fair, and not after a personal mention in the latest gossip mag. I hope anyone interested in covering entertainment looks to Brooke as an example.

I also want to stress that for all the girls wanting to be the story, there are plenty who want to cover the story. Two of our interns this summer, Nicole and Sara, are definitely in the latter camp. These young women are entering their senior year in college and they are fantastic. They have a passion for journalism; they are smart, fun, and engaging. They are already great writers, they are eager to learn and have excelled at everything they have tried this summer. They will go far.

From Copperfish:
Being a woman and have a successful career in the media and family life as well, what can you say or your take about the growing number of violence/aggression against women not only in America but in the world as well. How can women draw the line if they are bound by traditions and culture?

EH: That is a tough question, Copperfish and a delicate one. The violence sickens me even more since I became a Mom. I know a lot of parents who say they, too, are more affected by stories of abuse and cruelty since having kids.

You’re right that in many areas – both in the US and outside this country – tradition and culture leave women feeling as if they are helpless. I’d like to see this as a call for those of us who can to step in and help. Of course, this is where it gets tricky. I don’t believe it’s right to push your culture, tradition and views on others, to tell them they are wrong because they’re different, but I also don’t believe it’s right to sit back and do nothing when you know an atrocity is taking place. It’s like that saying about the Nazis and WWII where they come for everyone but the person doesn’t speak up because he’s not a Jew, Gyspsy, Catholic, etc. until one day he’s the only person left, and there is no one to stand up for him. I think we all need to start small, because one person can change the world. Saving one women allows her to be an inspiration to others, to save others herself, to share her story and wake people up, and that is how we make change… frustratingly slow as the process may be.

From Debbie Darby:
I've noticed that you are always extremely poised and composed. Has there ever been a story you've reported on that caused you to lose that composure or come close to losing it?

EH: Hi, Debbie – that’s very kind of you. There were more than a few times the week of September 11th – especially that Friday, September 14th, that I was too choked up to get my words out, and that I wasn’t always able to keep the tears from flowing. It’s tough to lose that control, but I suppose it’s part of being human. I would be concerned if stories didn’t get to me, because I would worry I had finally become too jaded. When that day comes, it is time for me to leave news or to take a very long break.

From Aruna:
Erica, thank you for taking the time to do this, it is much appreciated! I am a graduate in engineering and understand the situations of being a woman in a field that is still heavily male-dominated. While journalism may be different in some ways, a few prominent female figures (like Barbara Walters) seemed to pave the way for aspiring women journalists to take a place in the anchor seat. I'm wondering if you had any interesting experiences in the once heavily male-dominated journalistic world and if you have any role models that you can attribute to your success as a leading anchor with a successful show.

EH: Yes, my Mom. Growing up, my parents never let us believe we were limited to certain careers because of our sex. My sister and I were encouraged to follow our hearts and our dreams.

I remember my Mom telling me that when she was in school, your career choices as a woman were secretary, nurse and teacher – a career you’d likely give up once you became a Mom. I had never imagined limits like that!

My Mom is an incredible teacher (now a Guidance Counselor) who loves her job, but I realized at one point that she may have chosen a different path if she felt more doors were open to her. I think that’s one reason she and my Dad brought us up to believe everything was open to us, and that confidence has helped me get to where I am today.

From Nage:
If the news isn't that exciting (peaches rolled out onto the highway), you still make the story more fun than how the person preceding you reported it (made for one heck of a cobbler). Are the side remarks you make included on the prompter (for instance, when I first saw you on air, you were talking about someone who purchased a winning lottery ticket with a stolen credit card, and remarked 'stupid!' and how the person won't be getting the winnings) or do you make them up as you go?

EH: Hi, Nage. Those comments aren’t usually in the script. My producers tend to build a little extra time into the show so that I can throw things in.

From Em:
I am always impressed with your professionalism and competence when anchoring Headline News. I also really enjoy the humor and sense of fun you bring to your reports for AC360. I think you would be an excellent co-host for a daytime talk show. Have you or would you consider working on a daytime talk show such as the View or a Regis and Kelly type program?

EH: Thanks for the lovely compliment, Em. I don’t know that The View would be my speed, but Live with Regis and Kelly would be a blast. I think I would miss the news, though.

From Megan:
I am a huge fan of yours. I love your style of journalism and your winning personality; it just shines right through the television screen. My question for you is:
What is the funniest thing Weston has said or done so far?

EH: Wow – that’s a tough question! He does so many wonderful, sweet, funny things it’s tough to choose. I am a big fan of the faces he makes when he’s eating. We’re trying a lot of new foods, and he is starting to feed himself – well, he’s learning to feed himself. There is nothing like seeing that sweet face covered in avocado or banana with a grin poking through. If I smile back, he starts to giggle and you can’t help but laugh along.

From Kim:
Hi Erica! You and I have something in common. We both went/go to BU and COM students. (I'm going to be a senior this fall.) While you were in college what types of internships did you have? What types of on campus activities did you do? Did your involvement in those activities help your career?

EH: Hi, Kim – love that you are in COM! In college, I interned at CBS News in New York the summer before my senior year. I worked in what was the future CBS New Media department, where we did a lot of research and worked on a website.

First semester senior year I interned with the Software Publishers Association Europe in Paris. I helped redesign their site and also worked on the planning for their annual conference in Cannes.I went back to work at the conference as a conference coordinator the summer I graduated.

Second semester senior year I interned at PC Week for PC Week Radio, which was their streaming department. I traveled around and did webcasting, and also worked on the mini tech newscast they did – I would help write, occasionally anchor, and edit the newscast.

On campus, I didn’t do a ton. I was very involved in activities in high school and by the time I got to BU, I was burnt out. Sophomore year I joined a sorority (AEPhi) where I held a couple of positions. Looking back, I would have loved to work at the Freep or done some radio.

I think some of the best experience came from my classes in COM. I loved shooting stories and putting them together, and out professors really pushed us. To this day, one of my favorite stories I have ever done was one I did junior year with my friend, Paul Tritter, on vendors at Fenway. I still get a kick out of watching it!

From ACAnderfan:
Erica, if you could go back in time and live during any time period which time period would you choose and why?

EH: Hmmm… it’s tough to pick just one. I wish time travel were possible because there are so many I’d like to check out. I think either the 60’s or World War II. I read a lot of WWII-era books – fiction and non-fiction – and for some reason, I am really drawn to that time. I feel a strange connection to a lot of the personal stories. I also think we need to keep learning about the atrocities that happened, to keep them from being repeated… though I worry that message is being lost in places like Darfur.

From a Viewer in Virginia:
How do you like living in the South?

EH: The South has really grown on this Yankee. I love the pace of life and people’s kindness; Southern hospitality is a wonderful thing! I’ve also become a huge fan of grits – who knew?! We live in a wonderful neighborhood with a rich history and a very strong sense of community.

But I must admit, it was definitely an adjustment at first – especially coming from San Francisco. I miss the diversity of SF, and am still surprised at how segregated certain areas can be. I miss living near the water – this is the first time I’ve been so far from the coast.

All in all, though, Atlanta has been very good to us.

From Sapphire:
Hi Erica
I thought I would play a mini version of 20 Questions and ask questions that I would want to ask a best friend since I am a huge fan of yours. So here we go:
1.What is you favourite memory?
2.What is your guilty pleasure?
3.Where is your favourite place in the entire world?
Thank again so much Erica for taking the time to talk with us and please know we are watching you on Prime Time News and AC 360 every day.

EH: Hi, Saphire – thank you for watching.

My favorite memory is the moment I met my son… my eyes well up when I think about it. I couldn’t believe he was finally here, couldn’t believe we’d made it through labor. It was even more magical – and yet oddly surreal – the first time I was able to hold him and look into his eyes (I ended up having an emergency C-section so I couldn’t hold him right away).

My guilty pleasure… hmm, it depends on my mood! One of my current guilty pleasures is a nap with my son on a weekend afternoon. I know I won’t be able to do it for much longer, so I have to take advantage of it now. The laundry can wait.

My favorite place in the entire world is where my family is. There are a lot of places I love – the beach, the Northern California coast, the garden at my host family’s in a tiny village in the Puy-de-Dome in France – but those places are really wonderful when the people I love most in the world are there with me.

From Lisa:
I really enjoyed the few reports you did from the field during Hurricane Katrina. Would you like do to more field reporting or do you prefer being in the studio?

EH: Thanks, Lisa. I would love to spend more time in the field. I am constantly bugging my bosses to let me go… I think I am starting to wear them down.

From Mandy:
I was watching your show again today, and though you probably report in the most interesting way at CNN, I can't help but wonder, with all that crime news, you're show isn't ‘just another Nancy Grace’. My question is, with your ability to report with humor and creativity (as seen in the 360 bulletin), why be limited with constant reports on the latest abduction or abuse charges when you can focus on other major headlines? Thanks.

EH: Hi, Mandy. At Prime News, We do try to expand beyond what most news shows are covering, and lately we’re trying to work in more human stories. Sometimes it’s tough to avoid those abduction and abuse stories, and I wouldn’t always want to. As painful as some of those stories may be, there is always the chance that someone will see that abduction story and a missing person will be found. As for abuse, I also have to hope that it will stop someone from hurting another person, or will compel someone to get help for themselves or someone they love.

I’d much rather cover the gruesome dog fighting charges against Michael Vick than the Paris Hilton jail drama. If by covering those horrific charges I can get one person to understand just how wrong animal cruelty is, then it’s worth having to read that indictment and talk about the gory details.

Our deepest thanks to Erica Hill for taking time out of her very busy schedule to answer our questions.

On Friday, August 24, 2007, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joined Atlanta’s mayor Shirley Franklin for her monthly book club featuring his new book, Chasing Life. Once a month Mayor Franklin selects a particular book and invites the author in for discussion. Dr. Gupta spoke to a crowd of about 60 city employees.


Sapphire said...

Great Q&A with Erica......she is so awesome and a great person to write about here on ATC.

That is so cool that Dr. Sanjay got to talk about his book with the mayor and city workers. Way to get your book picked by the mayor Dr. Sanjay!!!

Eileen said...

I love CNN. Erica Hill and Anderson Cooper have great chemistry. She's adorable when she rolls her eyes at AC. When I saw her on CBS, The Early Show this Sat.a.m., I almost died thinking she left CNN. Tell me it's not so.
Thanks, egrego