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CNN's Samuel Burke on how to succeed in journalism

Samuel Burke

CNN anchor Samuel Burke became fascinated with journalism while watching the nightly news as a child. The ASU alum says regardless of how the digital age has changed journalism, writing is still paramount.

September 28, 2015

CNN business correspondent and ASU alum Samuel Burke has found a way to parlay his passion into a meaningful profession.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist, who earned a master's degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009, worked his way up the career ladder by serving alongside some of the biggest names in TV news — serving as an intern for “Anderson Cooper 360” and as Christiane Amanpour’s digital and field producer during elections in Egypt.

In 2013 he began forging his own name when Burke was named host of the “iReport” show and a tech-news anchor for CNN, where he reports on the latest apps, social media and gadgets and examines how digital life affects the business world and consumer security.

Burke spoke to ASU News to discuss his education and how the Cronkite School prepared him for a career in TV’s big leagues.

Question: When did you first become interested in journalism, and why did you decide to pursue it as a profession?

Answer: My parents watched the local and national news every evening without fail. So at a young age, as the announcer would say the names of the local anchors, I would get up and stand by the TV set to introduce them, too. I was always captivated by the stories I'd see on the newscasts and envied how the reporters traveled the world. So from a young age I had an idea of what I would work in one day. Watching “60 Minutes” and Christiane Amanpour in my more formative years really cemented the idea that journalism would be the field for me.

Q: But you didn’t start as a journalism major. How did ASU’s interdisciplinary approach help shape your education?

A: My undergraduate is in Spanish, which I studied at ASU, as well as a year abroad at La Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara. My mentor and professor in that program — Dr. David Foster — let me combine my love of Spanish with projects that had a journalistic twist to them: recording interviews, for instance, with members of Mexico's Jewish community.

Q: How did your time in the Cronkite graduate program prepare you for a career in journalism?

A: No school could have prepared me to report and anchor the way Cronkite did. The school has a triple threat: They make you do it yourself (writing, editing, shooting, reporting), they have a great team of hands-on teachers who are journalists, as well as an incredible placement program. I interned at the local NPR affiliate, and then a trip I took with the dean of the Cronkite School to a journalism conference in New York helped me land my internship with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. That helped me get my first full-time job as a producer for Christiane Amanpour. And she helped me parlay that into reporting and anchoring on my own at CNN.

Q: You worked for Christiane Amanpour from 2009 to 2012. What was that like?

A: However tough and hard-working you imagine someone as fierce as Christiane Amanpour to be ... multiply that by 100. Christiane puts her all into everything she does. She is tough as nails, but whatever she expects you to do she’ll be there right along the way putting in the blood, sweat and tears too. The moment that will always stand out to me with Christiane was when we were doing a high-stakes report on the Middle East and she started to get shaky about an aspect of the story we were getting ready for TV. She stood up and roared that she'd call one of the most powerful leaders in the Middle East, if not the world, to check the facts for herself.  I thought, “Yeah, right.” She opened her address book and called the leader directly on his cellphone. No going through any secretaries. I was in awe. She confirmed the story and we went to air. She can get nearly any world leader you can imagine on the line, and all she has to do is open her address book. Along the way I got to meet and speak with some of the most influential presidents and prime ministers of the world. Even though I've moved on to my own gig, Christiane and I still email, text or call multiple times a day about the news stories that are fascinating us.

Q: You now work on CNN as a business correspondent and anchor. What do you like about your current job?

A: My reporting focuses on the business of technology and social media. Part of the reason I love the role is that I helped create the position because it's such a new part of journalism. That means I get to set a lot of my own agenda — for the most part I find the stories on my own instead of people dictating what stories I cover. The most rewarding part is covering how technology is improving people's lives. I recently did a report on how an app called “Be My Eyes” helps connect the visually impaired with sighted volunteers through a Skype-like app. This way if a blind person is lost, they can pull out their smartphone and someone on the other side of the planet can connect with them and look at their screen to help them get back on path. These are the stories that matter most to me.

Q: Any advice to college freshman getting ready to declare as journalism majors?

A: Focus on writing and digital. The entire business — print and broadcast — has already shifted to digital. Learn how to make online tools your war chest. No matter what happens with the business, writing is at the heart of journalism (whether you're in print or broadcast). I wish I could go back and take even more of the writing classes, which bored me at the time. And don't listen to anyone who says you'll be broke and you'll never find a job in journalism. The business is changing dramatically but there is an explosion of outlets, which has produced more employment opportunities than ever. Getting your first job out of college is probably easier than ever. Plotting your way up is the tougher part.

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