AUGUST 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 8


The Million Dollar Reporter

Covering the Kennedy Tragedy
Sounding The Alarm


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  The Million Dollar Reporter


The situation sort of reminds me when, as a rookie, John Elway demanded a million-dollar contract - unheard of in those more fiscally-restrained days of the National Football League. The fans howled indignantly, even booed Elway for a bit, then marveled at his every move for the next 16 years. Let's hope CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour's career is as glorious because she is the first reporter ever to sign on the dotted line for a million bucks a year.

In such circumstances, people most often ask (usually indignantly): why does she deserve that kind of money? In the news business, the answer is simple: she gets the story. In the entertainment business, the answer is much more interesting and complex.

The irony of this is that Amanpour didn't even begin her career as a television reporter. Christiane Amanpour's assault on the records of reporting history started when she spent a couple of years at WBRU, a small college-based radio station in Providence, Rhode Island, before moving to television in the same city doing graphic designs - a humble start for the native of London, England. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism summa cum laude from the University of Rhode Island. Impressive enough to start.

Christiane Amanpour began forging a reputation for international reporting only a decade ago, and she certainly picked the hottest areas upon which to report: central Europe in 1989, the Gulf War in 1990 and the Soviet Union's breakup in 1991. Wherever the danger and strongest force of change, there was Christiane Amanpour with a microphone and an equally brave (or crazy) camera operator. If one survives such conflicts to report them, those reporting tend to get a lot of attention, and Amanpour is no exception. She has received a multitude of awards for her work.

But she really began to impact households all over North America (if not the world) when she joined the Cable News Network (CNN). It is there that the qualities which distinguish the great from the worth-a-million-a-year have emerged. From the global newsroom's decision to promote Amanpour to our decision to watch her, the issue is our sacred trust in the objectivity of news reporting. Basically, we tend to watch the news reports that we believe to be most objective. In that sense, Christiane Amanpour excels like no other.

She presents her stories as narratives of the visual image. Most reporters do that, but Amanpour takes it to a new level. Reporters often write their narration to fit with the visuals on the screen; they read and the pictures blink in succession. Amanpour narrates to a point, stops so we may hear a person on-screen give a testimonial to what she has said, then she continues to narrate. The story is told by the reporter and it is confirmed by a character, or by the pictures, in it. There are few better ways to build trust in your audience than that.

Amanpour goes the ultimate mile by guiding us through the context of her international reports. In some of her most recent appearances, Amanpour updated the latest events in the recently resolved (we think) Kosovo conflict on Larry King Live. In each case, she answered questions by explaining why the moves made by the political players did or did not make sense based on the history of region, not just the moments of immediate conflict. The reporter, then, must do more than just report; she must know how history could warn us of the dangers and possibly explain them. Lending history to a live satellite report builds instant credibility at home.

Such integrity feeds unto itself. Reporting on Kosovo, Christiane Amanpour secured some of the most coveted interviews in the world. As an agreement between NATO and the Yugoslavian government neared, Amanpour was granted a one-on-one interview with British Prime Minister Tony Blair - a very active figure on NATO's behalf in the conflict. It could be argued that Blair would opt to speak with a CNN reporter because the network is globally received. When it comes to jeopardizing the public's view of a politician, however, no political animal will take a chance. One must trust in order to confide. In the Balkans, and since, Christiane Amanpour continues to get her story while maintaining the respect of those on whom she is reporting.

So if you're an executive at a network with a worldwide reputation, you need to hire a Senior International Correspondent with the following qualifications:

  • will go anywhere to get a story.
  • will bring enough historical context to cause viewers to empathize with, and understand, the critical issues.
  • will work so diligently that world leaders will speak only to her for an extended period of time.
  • will reinvent news storytelling with new approaches to reporting.

You'd only have to let her reside in Paris, and pay her a million bucks. Christiane Amanpour is the one.

FEEDBACK: Is a news reporter worth a million dollars?

GREGORY J. ROBB, a high school English teacher, gained communication experience in radio, television and print. He is the staff television writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.

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