CNN Producer Provides Inside Scoop on 24-Hour News
By Lakisha Hatton
Special to the Live Wire
Wolf Blitzer is a gentle and generous guy and those who work at CNN don’t think their coverage of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was excessive. These and other secrets were revealed by CNN producer Jess O’Neill during a talk he gave at Manchester Community College last month.
More than 70 students, faculty members, and guests gathered in the Fireside Commons in the back of the library to hear O’Neill, who was invited to the campus by his cousin, Communication Department Co-Chair Dr. Rebecca Townsend. O’Neill is a producer at CNN’s world headquarters in Atlanta, working with Blitzer, Ashleigh Banfield and Michael Smerconish, among others.
O’Neill, who has been in the broadcast journalism field for more than 15 years, started at the beginning talking about how he got his start in the business. While in high school, O’Neill said he knew he wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting, but having graduated with a 1.75 GPA and receiving rejection after rejection from schools to which he’d applied, his future was uncertain. The seventh school, Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., accepted him. But the downside was it had no broadcast journalism program. So O’Neill majored in English and used internships to get newsroom experience.
One included study abroad at the BBC of London doing political research.
“You got to make the most of it,” O’Neill said of internships. “It is what you make it.”
Another internship led to a part time overnight position as editor. Other jobs took him across the country, from Columbus, Ohio, to Palm Springs, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M., and Orlando, Fla. He worked behind the camera as a producer and in front of the camera, as an anchor.
O’Neill said internships are very valuable experience for students.
“It provides real world experience and good work brings job offers,” he said. “You’re not just a name on the desk.”
Over time, O’Neill said he learned that writing and producing was it for him, it just felt better than being in front of the camera.
“As an anchor you are a public image, you are subject to judgment and can’t get away,” he said of the viewers. “You have to ask yourself if that’s what you want to do. And I’d rather be six shades of annoyed.”
So he market hopped around until he was finally offered a producer position at CNN by the head of the newsroom. He said his position as producer requires him to keep up on current events and juggle many interests and responsibilities.
“It’s an interesting, intense job. There’s lots of competition, and an expectation to be correct, not necessarily first,” he said. “We (CNN) are the one people come to for breaking news. We report the facts then let the viewer decide. I feel compelled that I’ve got to get this news to the world.”
Most of the students in the audience were interested in the communication field, but O’Neill’s talk was compelling to others like nursing student Kandi Abulurin, who happened to be studying in the Fireside Commons when the event started and stayed.
“I started paying attention and was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
To watch a video of the complete talk visit the MCC library.