September 7, 2017

Lights, Camera, Action! Tips on Making it in Journalism, from a CNN Producer


Chris Lett ’06 is a field producer at CNN, headquartered out of Atlanta. Chris works primarily in live television, making sure the shoot runs smoothly, ensuring reporters know their material, and editing footage for on-air and digital platforms. If you’re interested in a career in journalism, Chris has a few industry insights to share.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in journalism? 
Chris: Go ahead and try to partner with a publication or an outlet that shares your interests. If you’re passionate about a certain topic, find an outlet that is covering it. If the topic is not being covered, cover it yourself. 

How do you find a good story lead?
Chris: Talk to people. Put your device down, take a beat, and have a conversation with someone. Those leads tend to make the best stories because they are coming from a genuine place and from someone’s authentic experience. 

What makes a good camera shot?
Chris: Activity. I produce live TV, so I’m constantly thinking about and planning for activity in my shots. At least point your lens in the direction where activity can happen. 

Imagine you need to fill an intern or entry-level position. What does a good resume look like? 
Chris:
I would look at a resume and ask myself, “Do they have experiences that would have pushed them outside of their comfort zone? Did they study abroad? Have they traveled anywhere? Is there some community-service aspect of their experiences where they’ve been required to connect with people that are unlike themselves?” Besides that, just some basic skills in writing, editing and shooting. 

What’s one necessary skill for your job, and how did you develop it? 
Chris:
Empathy — can you think outside of your own experience and then take your viewer along with you to see from someone else’s perspective? That comes from just engaging with people who have lived differently than I have. I studied abroad at Guilford and just generally was exposed to a lot of different kinds of people, but part of that empathy is a trait rather than a skill. But you can certainly foster that trait. 

What kind of majors end up in your field? 
Chris: I have an unexpected major for a journalist; I was a Business Management major with a minor in Communications. If I could tell aspiring journalists one thing about their studies, it’d be: Don’t study journalism. As a journalist, your job is to reflect the world. Journalism school may teach you to write better or shoot better, but the best journalists are great storytellers. Maybe they aren’t the best technical journalists, but they connect with people. There will be excellent journalists you’ll encounter that can help you improve your writing or shooting skills — I’ve been blessed to work with some of the greatest journalists in the world at CNN. But study something other than journalism.

Check out the other Real Guilfordians of Atlanta for more on how our alumni are taking on the city, or schedule a visit to campus to talk with students and faculty and learn more about Guilford College.

Take Chris' advice and get involved with a publication - The Guilfordian! Check out the other Real Guilfordians of Atlanta for more on how our alumni are taking on the city or schedule a visit to talk with faculty and learn more about Guilford College.