Dreaming of Becoming a National Correspondent? Ed Lavandera Has All the Tips

By: Breana Albizu

As a journalism major specializing in multimedia reporting, I always meet aspiring journalists who are eager to enter the local television industry. However, it’s very rare to meet someone like me who is interested in eventually working for a national or international news network. It was a comforting thought to know that I wasn't the only one. At the College Media Association Fall 2017 Convention, CNN's Ed Lavandera hosted a panel about how to become a national correspondent and what it takes to succeed with the position.

From the wrath of Hurricane Harvey to the aftermath of Katrina, the Dallas police ambush to the violence in Charlottesville, Lavandera has covered some of the biggest stories across the nation as a CNN Dallas-based national correspondent. He began his career as a news anchor and reporter at KOSA-TV in Midland/Odessa, Texas and eventually landed a job as a news reporter at KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas. Since joining CNN in 2001, he has covered numerous stories for the network, most notably being a part of the Peabody Award-winning team to cover the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

Lavandera started out his panel with a key concept- journalism is not a job; it’s more of a lifestyle. Being a journalist is considered one of the most respectable jobs in the market (although some people may disagree with that statement nowadays). To truly succeed as a journalist, especially when covering national and/or international news, one has to have the ability to do everything, which means tons of practice! In today's industry, broadcast journalists are not only expected to compile a TV news script 1but to prepare stories for online print as well. Along with story writing, photography/editing skills and social media are also encouraged to work in a news industry. As Lavandera put it, the longer you keep doing the work, the better you get at perfecting your craft.

One of the reasons why Lavandera got his job at CNN was through personal connections. His friend at the time happened to work for CNN, so he was able to showcase Lavandera’s work to his co-workers. When wanting to impress a staff focused on talent development, journalists need to learn how to tell the right stories and to know what makes them stand out.

For the show-and-tell part of his presentation, Lavandera displayed his most recent, and a personal favorite, CNN story he produced about two Mexico City earthquake survivors who were found under the rubble of one of the many buildings that collapsed. When he was asked how to handle situations where he had to conduct personal interviews to victims of horrible disasters, he reminded all of us, that as journalists, we’re humans first. We want to be cautious of certain things, such as the wording of our interview questions and the overall patience that is needed when dealing with someone who may be overcoming grief and/or loss. In most cases, natural disasters are classified as breaking news pieces, so he was often required to think fast, such as when he asked for text messages that a female survivor sent to her husband while she was under the rubble, so certain that she was going to die. Or when Lavandera retrieved video from a male survivor who took photos and a video of himself while under the rubble of the building as well.

As young journalists hoping to become national correspondents, he encouraged us to identify key themes of stories when trying to turn a local story into a national one. Not only will they be fantastic stories, but they are more likely to make someone like me stand apart from my colleagues who are in search of jobs. I truly enjoyed Lavandera’s panel. With a photo and an email address, I now know I have what it takes to be working for a national or international news outlet like CNN.