Journalist and Activist Campbell Brown Offers Advice, Inspiration to Students

News Story: November 19, 2015
Trustee Linda McMahon interviews Campbell Brown in the Martire Forum.

View additional photos from the talk

Campbell Brown encouraged students to work hard, take risks and follow their passions at Linda E. McMahon’s lecture series, “Women Can Have It All,” recently at the Forum in the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center.

The informal discussion led by McMahon, a SHU trustee, included casual conversations and inspiration from Brown, a former NBC News and CNN reporter and co-founder and editor-in-chief of a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site about education. Brown shed light on how she continues to balance her successful career and family. She also answered the question: can women have it all?

“I feel closer to that today than I certainly ever have; I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but I do think its true, woman can have it all—just not at the same time,” Brown said to McMahon and her audience of more than a hundred.

Brown talked about her early career and not being held back. She traveled for her job, spent months at a time on the campaign trail and worked holidays, all while having a great time. She instructed students in the audience to do the same.

“Take all the internships you can get,” Brown said, who once worked three unpaid internships at the same time.

“I loved it,” she said. “I ended up being successful because I pursued the thing I loved. Your passions will lead to success … so do the internships. You have no kids, go for it! Work like crazy … if you have big dreams, go for it.”

When asked by McMahon about what advice she had for journalism students, Brown said they have to be able to do it all.

“All the traditional media companies are kind of imploding; they’re cutting back, they’re laying people off,” Brown said. “The growth and the excitement is in digital media, which means you have to be able to sort of do everything … you have to be able to write, shoot a video, really understand social media and access all the tools of social media that are at your disposal to get your stories out there… If you are creative and entrepreneurial, you can do incredible things without having to go to work for one of the traditional big media companies.”

Brown was drawn to journalism because it was one the few professions that allowed her to ask questions and speak up for what was right. From an early age, Brown’s mother taught her to challenge authority. Asking questions and being “annoying” sent Brown the principal’s office on numerous occasions, she said.

“If I had not found journalism I would’ve been in serious trouble,” Brown said.

After sending her talent tape to hundreds of news organizations, Brown was offered her first job in Topeka, Kan., where she made $6 an hour. From there, she moved up the ranks and found herself as a reporter on NBC Nightly News. She eventually became the show’s White House correspondent, a job she loved.

Later Brown would move on to anchor Weekend Today on NBC and then host her own show on CNN, but as Brown started a family, her priorities changed, and she felt the need to redirect her life. She was missing too much at home.

It was difficult when her son cried out the nanny’s name in the middle of the night instead of “Mommy,” Brown said. As a hard-working, successful journalist and mother she found herself in some “ridiculous” situations, including pumping her breast-milk in an auditorium closet before a Democratic presidential debate and hiding her second pregnancy from her bosses for as long as she could because she didn’t know how they would react.

With ratings of her CNN show not up to par, Brown said she fired herself and took time to concentrate on her family. Three years later, she co-founded The Seventy Four, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site dedicated to covering education in American. The job is one Brown said she is incredibly proud of. She enjoys working with a group of talented young journalists, many of them women.

“We’re able to do extraordinary things, just because we are hustlers,” Brown said. “We decided we’re going to go all out on this one single issue.”

The job, while fulfilling, new and important, also gives Brown the opportunity to work her own hours—something she thinks is necessary as a mom. She said these opportunities are out there and can be achieved especially if people are self-starters.

“If you can be more entrepreneurial, you will find that success far faster than you will in a corporate environment,” Brown said. “I’m a nonprofit; I believe in this stuff; I think we have to stand behind it; I work my own hours. When you can be your own boss and create the life you want, you build it around the things that are important to you.”

After Brown’s discussion she took a few questions from the audience, and once the event officially concluded, students, faculty and staff walked over to Brown for pictures, handshakes and advice.

Emily Archacki ’16, a media studies major and editor of the student-run newspaper, Spectrum, said when she learned of Brown coming to the University, she was immediately excited.

“I grew up watching Campbell on Weekend Today with my parents,” said Archacki, who was able to conduct a one-on-one interview with Brown before the lecture began.

“It was a great discussion,” Archacki said. She said she will listen to Brown’s advice and take advantage of every opportunity presented to her.

Natalie Cioffari ’18, a media studies major with a concentration in journalism, shared Archacki’s sentiments. “I loved it,” Cioffari said, who also works for the Spectrum. “Being able to hear how she did it is really assuring.”