| Home | Interview with CNN's Joie Chen -- December 2000
September 19, 2014

Joie Chen is an anchor at CNN. Before joining CNN, Chen worked for six years as a reporter and anchor at WXIA-TV in Atlanta. She began her broadcast journalism career as a reporter for WCIV-TV in Charleston, S.C. Chen also was a correspondent for USA Today's television program. She received her bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. There's been some criticism that CNN and other cable networks are too quick to put live events on the air without even knowing what is happening. Do you agree?

Joie Chen: I'm less concerned about that oddly enough. It's important that we be responsible. But I think generally, the people who make those decisions are making them with a good sense of caution and concern about that issue themselves. We've been burned more than once. I am concerned that when we use live material on the air, we do it just to use it. It becomes meaningless. Viewers can't see what's important and what's not important. We do it at the drop of a hat. For example, during election coverage, we had a graphic that said "breaking news" and we had it up for 24 hours. It wasn't breaking news for 24 hours. At 3 a.m.on election night it WAS breaking news, but at 3 p.m. the next day, the election results were no longer breaking news. With TV news and online media competing to be first with breaking news, are we seeing more reporting mistakes?

Joie Chen: I don't think the breaking news pressure is caused as much by online media, because the audience is still different from the on-air audience. But I do think that the expansion of cable channels and increased competition from a shrinking pool of viewers even for the broadcast networks has upped the ante on "being first." People will point to the election night fiasco with the Florida vote count. I believe the bad calls made that night were based on faulty data that all the networks used and trusted to be correct. Did news executives make their decisions to go on the air with some thought to "being first?" Probably, but the irony to me is that I very much doubt that the average viewer has any idea which network was first to call the race, much less which one was first to retract the call. In broadcast news, do you feel that it's becoming more important to be good-looking than to have strong writing and reporting skills?

Joie Chen: What seems to be valued on TV today is that people be unusual looking or have some kind of charisma, and that emphasis can be as superficial and unfortunate as an exaggerated emphasis on attractiveness. I think in the short run, the "performance" factors are over-emphasized by hiring executives. But in the long run, for each of us as journalists, I still believe writing and reporting skills are critically important, and could be the key to career-preservation, especially in the online age. Longtime CNN anchor Bernard Shaw announced in November that he's leaving the network in February. Any thoughts on his departure?

Joie Chen: I don't think Bernie's really departing. I do believe that he's entitled to use the time to spend on his life. But I think he'll still be a part of CNN, visiting us on the air occasionally. I think that's important. That continuity is important. He's so much a part of what CNN is, that I can't imagine it being without him. There's a handful of names that you see when you think of CNN. Bernie, Christiane, Wolf. Those people will always have an identity with CNN. Bernie especially because he has so much integrity and so much experience. Bernie was quoted as saying "I have always wished for more company of color and gender in our busines as it evolves, and we have miles and miles to go on that point." Do you agree?

Joie Chen: I think that it's readily apparent to me that journalism must evolve that way. It is behind society and it should not be behind society. It should be ahead. It's clear that we are behind society as a whole particularly in management. Today you see more color on the air and that's probably a change from Bernie's generation to mine. I see more of that. But I think that if you look at management, the business still needs to diversify.

What I fear in journalism is that it becomes a girl's job the way we used to see nursing in a perjorative way, or teaching. It's what girls do before they get married. It's losing its image as a lifetime profession. If you go to journalism schools, you find that classes are overwhelmingly female, filled with very attractive women. That's not a bad thing, but there's the expectaton that all of these pretty women are going to be on TV. It's also very low-paying at the entry level. I think that in a lot of families, certainly there's a sense that I don't want my son taking a job making $15,000 a year. In the Asian American community, for example, there is often the expectation that a son will make more and have a solid financial career. Families are more willing to let a daughter take a chance on becoming the next "Connie Chung." How does being Asian-American affect your work as a journalist?

Joie Chen: I think everything about us as individuals affects the work we do. Ethnicity is part of who I am, and it contributes to my awareness and perspective. I don't subscribe to the notion I was taught in school, that a journalist can be "objective." I think it's a myth that anyone can see any story without bringing their own view into the picture. What I think is critical is that we be aware of our own subjective judgement and that we be fair. For three years, you worked as an anchor at CNN International, which broadcasts overseas. Do you think there is enough international news on the air in this country?

Joie Chen: I think there are a couple things at play. Most of the audience doesn't know enough about international news to be interested in it. As a consequence, when you put international news on the air, they turn away from it. They're bored by it. From a business standpoint, there's enough international news on the air. But I think journalism is about education, educating viewers. From that perspective, we don't do nearly enough international news. What was your first job in journalism?

Joie Chen: My first paying job was at WCIV-TV in Charleston, South Carolina. I was a reporter for the 6 o'clock news and also got to produce. But I was really bad as a producer. My first newscast at 11 o'clock began with two minutes of public service announcements. That's because the director looked at me and said "I'm not going into the control room until you get your sxxx together." I was very disorganized. My problem was I couldn't delegate. I didn't have enough experience to do it all, but I didn't delegate. So consequently nothing got done. That show ended at 11:28 and the phone rang in the control room. It was the executive producer. He said, "That was the single worst television newscast I've ever seen in my life." And the only thing I could say in response was, "I know." That pretty much ended the producing thing. I became a full-time reporter. Is being an anchor very different from what you envisioned when you were just starting out?

Joie Chen: CNN is different for anchors because there is so much more live coverage. It's a lot closer to being a reporter who's sitting down. At a local station, anchoring is a much more predictable job. They know when they get on and off. Our day is more similiar to being a reporter. I never envisioned it being that way. And I have to wear a lot more makeup than I even thought I would.

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Other interviews:

  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- November 2000
  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter and author, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000