1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a journalist? What attracted you to this professional? If journalism wasn't your initial career goal, what was?
Nguyen: I initially planned on becoming an attorney but, after working at a law office in high school, I realized it just wasn’t for me. What I did enjoy – were my classes in debate and drama – and we all know TV news has a lot of both. I also had a passion for writing. So once the idea of becoming a journalist crossed my mind, there was no turning back. I was sold.
2. What was your big break (or are you still waiting for it)?
Nguyen: So far, CNN has been my big break. I didn’t even apply at the network. Here’s how it happened: I was leaving a job fair at a journalism convention in San Diego when I passed by the CNN booth. The Talent Director asked if I had a resume tape and luckily I had one left. I handed it to him and headed out the door, not thinking anything would come of it. A few months later, he called while I was working for the CBS affiliate in Dallas and asked if I wanted to audition for CNN. That was an easy answer.
3. Who was your mentor?
Nguyen: There have been numerous people throughout my career who’ve given me guidance like college professors, newsroom managers, and other journalists. I’ve never been shy about asking for advice.
Vino Wong/AAJA Atlanta
4. What's on your iPod? What's in your Netflix queue? What was the last book you read (or the one that you're currently reading)?
Nguyen: Estelle, Mary J, Kanye…Dave Matthews, Robin Thicke, John Legend. It varies but the majority is R&B and rap. I don’t get Netflix, VOD, or anything of that. Honestly, I rarely have time for a movie. However, I did finish reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and I’ve started on Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.
5. Please tell us a little about the off camera Betty. Your family, hobbies, favorite authors, favorite episodic television, things in your life that you are the most proud of, etc.
Nguyen: When I’m not working, I’m usually on a plane somewhere. I love to travel. Whether it’s Phuket, Cabo, Montego Bay or Nha Trang – I haven’t met a beach I didn’t like. I also try to spend time with my family in Texas. My little sister is still in high school so I make a point to get home as often as I can. There’s not much time for TV shows. I’ll catch a few episodes of Lost or Brothers & Sisters every now and then. I used to make a point to watch 24 but Jack Bauer seems to be MIA. These days I dedicate a lot of my free time to Help the Hungry, a non-profit my family and I founded to assist poverty-striken families. Right now, we’re gearing up for a humanitarian aid trip to Vietnam later this summer.
6. You have made it a life mission to give back to your homeland. Can you tell us a bit about the charity work you support?
Nguyen: When my Mother and I returned to Vietnam for the first time since fleeing the war, the poverty, hunger and despair was still very evident. I couldn’t help but think that could be me. In the rural areas of Vietnam, families have little more than grass huts with dirt floors and hardly enough food to survive. Combine that with the annual monsoons and the destruction is both devastating and deadly. Something had to be done. Help the Hungry is the result of a simple passion to assist those in need by providing food, clothing, medicine and other basic essentials. But here’s the beauty of it – the people we help are the ones who give a much greater gift to our volunteers and donors. We’re able to see, first hand, the smiles of a hungry child, tears of joy from worried parents, and relief in the eyes of the elderly. Help the Hungry’s mission is more than just delivering aid, it’s about experiencing life in a meaningful way. If you’d like more information, please go to http://www.help-the-hungry.org/.
7. What's your favorite must have gadget?
Nguyen: My blackberry. I feel lost without it. There has to be some kind of treatment for this problem.
Vino Wong/AAJA Atlanta
8. Live television can be unpredictable- can you tell us about an on air moment that didn't go quite as planned or went awry?
Nguyen: Can be unpredictable? It’s often unpredictable. That’s what makes it both fun and frustrating. One of the more memorable moments happened during breaking news. I was about to do an interview with a foreign official. With just seconds to spare, I was still waiting to hear how to say this person’s last name. It was spelled Dikshit. Now that’s one you don’t want to mispronounce.
9. What's been your most difficult assignment as a journalist to date?
Nguyen: I remember holding a small child who got lost during Hurricane Katrina. Every time a young woman walked by, she held out her arms and cried “Momma”. I later learned her mother was just 13 years old. So essentially, you had a lost child looking for a lost child. I also don’t think I’ll ever forget my assignment in Sierra Leone, Africa – the world’s poorest country. I met people who had both arms hacked off by rebels during a decade of civil war. They were so eager to have a voice in their country’s Presidential election that one man showed me how he planned on voting with his toes.
10. If you could pick one story from history to cover, what would be your dream story be?Nguyen: Looking back through history, there are many stories that have had a profound effect on our lives. But personally, I would not be where I am today had my family not fled to the U.S. as Saigon was falling to communism. Too young to remember any of it, I would love to document my mother’s harrowing journey. Like thousands of others, she faced heart-wrenching decisions and harsh conditions in order to give her family a shot at freedom and opportunity in a place called America.
11. What is your guilty pleasure?
Nguyen: I don’t splurge on much but I’m a sucker for designer handbags.
12. Where is your favorite place in the entire world to vacation?
Nguyen: I couldn’t possibly pick just one. There’s just so much out there to see that I try not to vacation in the same place twice. Some of my favorite cities include:
Cape Town, South Africa
Thank you so much to Betty for taking the time to answer our questions. It's really a great treat for our favorite CNN personalities to give us a peek behind the scenes.
If you have any requests or suggestions for future q & a's please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ~Phebe