Jessica Yellin, former national political correspondent for CNN, replaced Ed Henry as the network’s chief White House correspondent last month. She shares a few thoughts on the new position, reporting in the digital age and seven-second delays.
So the June 29 press conference with President Obama was your first day on the job? That’s pretty intense. I can tell you something about that press conference. The day it was announced, I was filling in on John King’s show as an anchor, so I wasn’t actually in the job. I was anchoring the show and they read in my ear, ‘We have a little bit of breaking news, read the prompter.’ I was doing a live interview and I came out of the interview and I said, ‘We have some breaking news. The White House has just announced that there will be a press conference tomorrow.’ [laughs] So I found out by reading it live on television.
Have you always been interested in politics? I have. I was always interested, even as a little kid. Some people grow up talking about sports—we grew up talking about politics.
How have things changed with this new position? Well, parking’s a lot harder. I’m on day two, so it’s still hard to say. But it’s one issue at a time, and with more depth.
How does the nature of online news and the 24-hour news cycle change your reporting strategies? I covered the Bush White House in 2005. You don’t stop during the day. You have to be on top of news all day long, 24 hours, be in constant contact. And you have to work well with your team. You’re never going to know about everything that’s on the Internet, right?
Do you use online tools like Twitter? I know you’ve mentioned it in some of your reporting before. Ok, I need to step up my Twitter game. I know. I’ll get on it. I follow people on Twitter, people who make interesting observations on the world. But it’s challenging being on Twitter because part of the job is bringing information in, and then disseminating it internally and online.
Part of what I learned coming up in local news is once you learn [to multitask], it’s in your blood for good. I used to work for Central Florida News in Orlando. I did video with my own camera—they gave me a two-way walkie talkie that I used as a cell phone. On day two, they gave me an address, a map and I just had to go and shoot my own tape, take notes, get back to the station. And once you get good at that, you do another one—maybe two a day.
So you’re accustomed to taking in a lot of information at once. So online is sort of another element thrown into the mix, which you’re accustomed to. It’s that kind of juggling mindset.
Who would you like to interview, alive today or in history? I’d say Nelly Bly. She’s one of the first female reporters in American history. She did the kind of journalism that so few get to do—exciting and adventurous. She went undercover in a mental institution and was known as one of the first female investigative reporters. She was a role model for me growing up.
I don’t aspire to interview famous people. But I mean, give me an interview with the president, the first lady, Secretary Clinton—please. But real people, innovators, who are looking for solutions… It’s not as sexy an answer… but I like regular peoples’ stories, who think of creative solutions to problems.
Does CNN have a seven-second delay like MSNBC supposedly does? That’s a good question! I’d never heard of it prior to. Or a producer that has to push the button.
Or knows how to. For me, it’s if you don’t want it heard, don’t say it. But I mean, when you’re on the air all the time, you’re mic’d, you’re standing around for hours… but [my comment is] probably going to be something more like ‘I’m hungry.’