Posted by: lcowie | April 7, 2009

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper speaks to Elon University

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper speaks to Elon University community about his compassionate role in conveying the news

by Lesley Cowie

“I don’t see a huge conflict between being a human and a reporter at the same time,” said Anderson Cooper, the anchor of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. “It’s important, when you’re in the middle of a terrible situation, not to be overwhelmed but to continue to function.”

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper discusses the

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper discusses the difficulties of breaking into the journalism industry, as well as facing the horrible circumstances of war.

Cooper visited Elon University’s campus Tuesday to discuss his experiences with journalism and to offer advice for aspiring journalists. He explained the importance of reporting the news truthfully and with compassion for those affected by the situation.

Communications students were antsy and excited about Cooper’s arrival. Staring out the windows during class, many students were hoping to catch a glimpse of the “Silver Fox” prior to his question-and-answer session at 2 p.m. Some communications students were fortunate enough to hear Cooper speak in class.

The main event took place in the Koury Center at 4 p.m. Cooper spoke to a packed gymnasium of students, faculty, alumni and visitors.

Following one’s bliss

With comedy and metaphorical eloquence, Cooper captivated the audience with his tales of jobless woes and African famines.

Cooper, who never formally studied journalism, said he did not know what he wanted to do with his Yale education.

“My major was political science,” he said. “I had no idea what political science was going to do for me, and I’m sure the political science majors here know what I’m talking about. I attended college in the late ’80s. Most of my political science classes focused on the Soviet Union. When the Berlin Wall fell, I knew I was screwed.”

Cooper became interested in foreign war correspondents and decided to give journalism a chance. He wanted a job answering phones for a major broadcast network but did not get the job.

“That shows how much a Yale education was worth in those days,” he joked. “You all are lucky you attend Elon.”

After reading more about war correspondents, Cooper went to Africa.

“Africa opened my eyes and my pulse,” he said. “I fell in love with the differences. I read more about war correspondents. Because I didn’t get a chance to be one, I knew I had to take a chance.”

Cooper’s friend had made him a fake press pass on a Macintosh computer. Cooper used a hand-held video camera and decided to make his own news stories. Channel One News, a network aired only in high schools, bought Cooper’s news package and hired him as a fact-checker.

Cooper quickly meets with a student at the private reception.

Cooper quickly meets with a student at the private reception.

Believing in truth and compassion

“I was educated in Africa,” Cooper said. “It was an opportunity where many chambers of the human heart were open for all to see.”

Cooper spent time in Somalia, where he said he had never before seen famine up close. He recalled stories of struggling men, women and children.

“I could give testimony to their lives, and I saw value in that,” he said. “In war, you expect to find darkness but you find lightness as well…humanity. You’re literally on the edge of life.”

Cooper went on to say that it is very easy to look the other way when it comes to disturbing situations. It is important, he said, to look directly to the things that scare us.

“Too often we are encouraged by the media to pay attention to the frivolous,” he said. “We are encouraged to see things through a lens. People expect their news to have a slant. As a newscaster, I believe in facts, not opinion. Viewers want facts and information and are smart enough to make a decision. It is important to understand the ideas of our opponents as well as our friends.”

Having a conversation

Cooper ended his discussion with another question-and-answer session. Students asked Cooper questions relating to the future of journalism and how they can help shape its potential platform.

Following the discussion, Cooper attended a private ceremony in McKinnon for scholarship recipients and donors. Those invited were given a few minutes to shake Cooper’s hand, exchange words, take pictures and get autographs.

Tickets for the public discussion sold out within four days. A live broadcast of the discussion was fed to another audience located in McCrary Theater.

Anderson Cooper congratulates Elon’s scholarship recipients and thanks the donors for their contributions.

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