We recently spoke with journalist Fredricka Whitfield, anchor of the weekend edition of CNN Newsroom. She shared with us her insights on career success, her definition of courage, and more.
Your father was an Olympic runner. Did he encourage you to set high goals?
My dad didn’t boast about being an Olympian. It was funny, we would always get the new editions of Encyclopedia Britannica and my brother, sister and I thought it was amazing when we’d open it up to “W” and see his name. By virtue of who he is, he encouraged us to reach high. He went from being a boy with nothing, no material wealth whatsoever, to being highly successful.
How did you know that journalism was your passion?
After his Olympic years, my dad became a diplomat with the State Department. We were based overseas and I spent my earlier years in East Africa. A number of our family friends worked for the Voice of America, the State Department’s radio news outlet for American expatriates and anyone who wanted to know about what was happening with the American government. So I interacted with a lot of foreign correspondents and journalists early on and it was intriguing.
You’ve reported on Hurricane Katrina and from places like the Persian Gulf. What helps you maintain composure during emotionally intense stories?
I stay focused and don’t think about myself or my emotions. I’m there as a messenger. I want to tell the story, not become the story.
But there are times when, as a human being, something just touches you. Right after I returned from maternity leave, we reported on violence at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. One of the victims was a pregnant woman. It really affected me both because I was born in Nairobi, and because I was a new mother.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your career?
I get to learn something every day and, by virtue of that, I’m learning about myself. I go places few people get a chance to visit. Most of us hope that our jobs will bring us personal growth and enrichment, and this is one of those occupations that does that.
What’s your definition of a courageous woman?
You have to give yourself a chance to grow personally so that you know who you are, what makes you happy. When you have that perspective, you’re more willing to take chances and go outside your comfort zone.
Also, when you’re faced with challenges, courage means taking them head-on. At one point in my life, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When I went to see the doctors, they couldn’t find anything, they said everything was fine. So I had to insist that they do more tests. I said, ‘I know what feeling good is and I’m not feeling right.’ After having surgery and recovering, I look back on it as one of the greater things that happened to me because I had to rise to the occasion and face it.