By Madison Rudolf
On September 24, 2020, George Mason University’s Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) organization had the pleasure of hearing from Kevin Bohn, Supervising Producer in charge of CNN Washington weekend coverage. Kevin joined us Thursday evening to provide SPJ members with not only a glimpse of what it’s like to have worked with CNN for the past 33 years, but also to provide valuable advice to young and aspiring journalists ready to take on this fast-paced industry.
Bohn is a graduate of American University (AU) with a double degree in Political Science and Broadcast Journalism. He knew he wanted to be in TV news since he was 9-years old, and since he started at CNN in 1987, he’s built an extremely successful career for himself covering events as big as 9/11.
With CNN’s presence around the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests as well as the Gulf War in 1991, the network gradually went from receiving little to no recognition to becoming the major news entity we know today.
Bohn experienced first-hand what it was like working with no cable in Washington, D.C. or on Capitol Hill and trying to book guests for the weekend talk show using only his handwritten list of home phone numbers. In 1990, he became a White House producer under President Bush and President Clinton, and now, with the full benefits of cable, the internet, and social media, he oversees everything that premiers on CNN during the weekends out of Washington.
With Bohn’s long timeline of experience, one major topic that came up was his thoughts on the relatively new use of social media under the current Trump administration. He states, “whenever Donald Trump is out of the office, in one year or five years, I will be thrilled not to ever have to be asked again, what does he mean by a tweet?”
Bohn explains that there’s a lot of criticism with tweets and how we cover tweets, but he considers them to be official presidential announcements. You can’t ignore the tweets, nor can they dominate everything. President Trump regularly communicates directly through social media, so as journalists, it’s about finding a balance and sorting through what constitutes news.
Further, Bohn describes how we can make ourselves valuable as journalists: “The way I think you can stand out is experience, and the more experience and the more skills you have, then you’ll stand out.”
While in high school, he wrote letters to CNN, and he volunteered at the local TV station where he actually got to work with CNN for a month. In school, he knew he wanted to be in TV, but he also wrote for the school newspaper and became the editor in chief his senior year at AU.
“Everybody should be writing for the school newspaper. I don’t care what kind of journalism you’re in,” he states. “It’s all covering a story. If you’re a print person covering a story or a TV person covering a story, how you deliver is different but covering the story is covering the story.”
His biggest piece of advice moving forward is to not only get as much experience as possible and learn a variety of new skills, but to also make sure you’re reading at least one newspaper or two newspapers a day – The Washington Post and The New York Times. “You can’t know everything, so you have to try to prepare yourself as much as possible,” he states.
Elissa Free, who started at CNN before it went on the air, joined the call and discussed why she hired Bohn back in 1987. She was extremely impressed that he knew all about CNN, and “he must’ve been watching CNN in his crib, because he actually remembered that I had been on the air,” Free states.
With their wealth of experience and expertise, both Bohn and Free discussed how CNN truly revolutionized broadcast news. “You got morning news and nightly news and that was it. And then CNN came along and basically you could get news any time you wanted and if something happened…people would tune in.”
Reflecting on how much the industry has changed, Bohn proclaims that “It used to be like the daily news cycle and then the hourly news cycle, now it’s like the minute news cycle… it’s our job to try to put it into perspective, and we don’t always do a great job of it because we’re just trying to keep up with it.”
Despite the fast pace of daily news, Bohn leaves us with some parting advice, “You can’t be an expert on everything. You probably can’t be an expert on anything. But you gotta be able to understand it a little bit.”
We thank Kevin Bohn and Elissa Free for taking the time to speak with GMU’s chapter of Society of Professional Journalists!
Leave a Reply.