Kimberly Ammiano has always enjoyed writing and conversing with people and she’s been able to combine these two passions through experience starting as a freshman at Drew University. She majored in English and minored in Writing, Sociology, and Women’s Studies, and worked as the Lead Reporter and Features Editor for The Drew Acorn, the campus newspaper. Over the course of her four years at Drew, Kimberly had the opportunity to interview well-known speakers (local and national media and political figures) who were part of Drew’s Forum Speaker series – Condoleeza Rice, Tom Brokaw, Anderson Cooper, Gerri Adams, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, Robin Wright, Arianna Huffington, and Robert Gates. In addition to writing for The Acorn, Kimberly also wrote for The Gateway Messenger, a monthly campus newsletter and was a contributing writer for a community lifestyle magazine, based in Hoboken, NJ, called hMAG. She also wrote for The Daily Record Newspaper based in Parsippany, NJ, and interned at Lucky Magazine, a Conde-Nast Publication.
Always an aspiring broadcast journalist, Kimberly worked towards her career goals as an intern with the Fox Business Network, as a Production Assistant at HuffPost Live and as a writer and Associate Producer at Spectrum News’ NY1. Those experiences lead her to CBS News, where she worked for nearly two years as an Associate Producer for Newspath, covering the Northeast region of the United States. After that, she started her current job as an Associate Producer at the CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell, where she’s now worked for more than a year.
THE VALUE OF DREW
Kimberly grew up in New Jersey and came to Drew because she thought the campus was beautiful and welcoming. She knew she enjoyed writing, but didn’t decide to major in English until she took some classes in that department. She had wonderful mentors, like Dr. Wendy Kolmar, Sandra Jamieson and Dr. Patrick Phillips, who took her under their wing. She also includes former Provost Deb Liebowitz, and former Career Counselor and Professor Dr. Maya Sanyal, as mentors, among many others. Along with Kimberly’s reporting for The Drew Acorn (she wrote about 100 stories with 5 front-page spreads), she worked as a “Conversation Partner” where she met with an international student twice a week to help him develop his English language skills through conversation, and also worked as a Writing Center Peer Tutor. Her favorite memories of Drew involve working at The Drew Acorn. She was granted many opportunities to interview incredible people. She feels it was a great way to jumpstart her career as a journalist. “I will remember those interviews for the rest of my life,” she said. Other great memories include just “standing in a circle talking to people. I miss that sense of community that I had at Drew. I hold all of my memories from my time there in high regard.”
What attracted you to journalism?
Journalism combines the two things I love the most, writing and talking to people. I have an inherent interest in getting to know and understand people. I always thought I might have become a psychologist, if not a journalist, because I love getting to know and understand people and their stories.
How did you prepare for interviews for The Drew Acorn?
Among other things, I did a ton of research. I read as much as I could about the person. I also asked people in my life, including other students, what they were interested in knowing about the person. For instance, before I interviewed a politician, I would ask a friend who majored in political science what I should ask or what he would want to know. Asking other people for input gives you a new perspective. I now work on a small team (that is part of a larger whole) and I always ask my immediate group of four for feedback. I do a lot of research in my current job to prepare questions for interviews and to help put stories together.
Did you ever regret asking a particular question?
I never regretted asking a question because every response — even if its not the one you thought you were going to get — leads somewhere interesting.
Were you ever intimidated or star struck by someone you interviewed?
I’ve definitely been intimidated in various situations but once on the other side, all of the experiences definitely made me a stronger, more well prepared journalist. The moment that comes to mind off the top of my head was the day that I interviewed Condoleezza Rice. I was so nervous that I would say or do something dumb. I’m sure I did but in the end, the interview and the piece turned out great.
What constitutes a difficult interview?
There are many reasons why an interview can be difficult but for me, the most difficult interview is one where the person you are interviewing is not very talkative. Everything is a yes and no answer. Those interviews are definitely a struggle. Sometimes you can’t get the person to open up and there’s only so much you can do to make them feel comfortable or to encourage them want to talk to you.
Did you have a few favorite interviews?
Of my time at Drew, I would say Condoleeza Rice and Arianna Huffington. I learned a lot from both of them, even in the short amount of time we had to speak. It was so exciting to have one-on-one time with them, especially as a young journalist.
What do you think is the key to a good interview?
A real desire to talk to people and understand their stories is key. A good interviewer is genuinely interested and invested. Also, you must do your pre-research and reporting and go in to the meeting well prepared…confident, too!
Is there anyone you wish you could have interviewed when at Drew?
If I had to pick one, I would say Barbara Walters. I have always admired her as a journalist and interviewer. I really look up to her ability to ask difficult questions with such grace. She did come to Drew to speak at the lecture series, but I missed her by about a year.
You mentioned that Anderson Cooper gave aspiring journalists the following advice: “Find your passion, dive in head first, stick to the facts and don’t be afraid to outhustle anyone.” What do you think he meant by “outhustle anyone?”
I think it’s up for interpretation, but in my opinion it means you have to work to (delicately) elbow out your competition. You have to be aggressive to get the scoop. There’s a lot of competition, so you have to be tough and extremely comitted. Of course, you’re a human being first, but you do also have to prioritize your story and your sources because there’s always a deadline to meet.
How was your experience at Columbia Journalism School? Is there one specific thing you learned that has helped you the most in your current position?
I think the most important thing I learned at Columbia was more of a concept. The program was extremely rigorous and I was turning stories as a “one-man band.” I had to find a story, write it, shoot it, edit it and produce it myself. It was even more difficult than what I do now in many ways because I was doing it all solo. I learned how to meet a deadline. If you make a commitment to do an assignment, you have to do it and do it on time. I definitely learned discipline and time management.
Were you hoping to work for a magazine or newspaper or did you always have your sights set on Broadcast news?
I loved working at The Drew Acorn but it wasn’t until senior year, that I became interested in TV production and covering news through a broadcast platform. My first job out of journalism school at NY1 News, solidified it for me. I was a breaking news writer on a 4 a.m. shift and though the hours were tough, I was generally happy. When the really rough adjustment to that schedule didn’t make me dislike the work, I realized it was the right fit for me.
Can you talk a little about your internship at Fox Business Network and your time at HuffPost Live, including how you were able to snag those positions?
A counselor at the Career Center knew my goals and helped me find postings for related internships. With her help, I applied to Fox Business through the company’s database and was fortunate enough to get hired. It was my first experience working in a television newsroom. I worked primarily with one of the network’s booking producers. I learned how to find, connect with and schedule guests for live segments. It was a great experience.
Working as a freelance production associate at HuffPost live was also a very positive experience. At the time, it was my dream job because I loved the platform. My time there was short, however, because a full-time role at NY1 became available and it was more sustainable long term.
Could you discuss your responsibilities as an Associate Producer for the CBS Evening News?
My role is a pretty awesome one because it allows me to be a part of various parts of putting the broadcast together. Our unit is based in-house and is responsible for working with producers to see stories through from vision to reality. We gather reporting, conduct interviews and help gather elements. We also write and check copy, graphics and headline banners for editorial accuracy. We work to gather and digest data points used in story copy. Until we started working from home because of the pandemic, part of our responsibilties also included working in the control room during the show to help time the show and edit elements in real time.
What are some of the challenges you face?
In the news business, I would say meeting deadlines is among the the most challenging. Currently, because of Coronavirus, we are producing our broadcast from home. This situation has presented a few roadblocks and new challenges — we’ve had to kind of reinvent the wheel. I definitely never imagined we’d be able to produce a nightly newscast from our kitchen tables, but again, very lucky to have a fantastic team that has pulled it off.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the people I work with and being part of a brand and product that I am really proud of. Sometimes, when I hear our top of show music playing, I still can’t believe that I’m working for a platform I grew up watching and that I have the opportunity to do something that is a public service. Our unit is laser-focused on getting it right, every night, in every story, and I’m so proud to have that responsbility.
Since you have had so much experience interviewing have you ever considered working in front of the camera?
I thought I might want to be a correspondent when I was younger, but once I started on this producer path, I changed my mind. I came to realize I really like being involved in all aspects of production — many times, from an idea all the way through to reality. Being on camera comes with a whole set of different responsibilities. I guess I would say I haven’t totally ruled it out at this point, but I think I’ll continue on this path for the foreseeable future.
We’re living in a time where fake news runs rampant on social media and cable news stations are pushing their own political agendas while focused strictly on ratings. In your interview with Tom Brokaw, he said, “Afterward, it hit home for me that journalism is much more than ‘reporting the news.’ It’s being an authority figure, someone people can trust, a steady presence to rely on during times of crisis.” How do you keep integrity in the news to gain the trust of the public?
CBS prides itself on accuracy and truth telling. We work very hard to find the delicate balance between being first to get our viewers breaking news and being totally ready and without a doubt one hundred percent accurate. We never want to put a story to air with any inaccuracies or without absoloute confirmation on primary sources. Every piece that goes to air goes through a rigerous fact-checking process, during which everything from the story copy, graphics and headline banners are triple checked for correctness.
You mentioned that Arianna Huffington was your role model, “As a media mogul and advocate for women’s rights, she represents the culmination of my professional desires.” Do you feel you are there now or closer to your professional goals?
I am definitely a lot closer than I ever imagined I would be. I had always dreamed of working for a network broadcast and it now, it’s happened. I hope to stay on this track and grow with the broadcast for many years to come. CBS is definitely known as being a company its employees grow with and I hope that will be the case for me. I’m definitely starting to reach some of my career goals, but I hope there is still much more to come.
How has networking played a role in your career?
It’s played a massive role. I would not have had any of the previously mentioned opportunities without some degree of networking, but I do have to stress the appropriate amount of networking. You don’t want to be pushy. You do have to be aggressive, but don’t be off-putting. From the first day I entered Drew, I was forming relationships, getting to know professors. You don’t have to wait until a job is available to reach out to someone. Find someone your admire or someone that works for an outlet you’re interested in, shoot them an email, ask to pick their brain. Do not wait to network until you are hungry for work. There is something to be said for showing you’re genuinely interested in learning from those before you.
What do you believe is the key to your success?
Simply, really loving what I do. I truly have an interest in the work I do every day and I also want to be the best version of myself to make my team and the broadcast proud. I’ve also been so fortunate to have a lot of support from my parents, friends, professors and mentors that have helped me reach each milestone. I wouldn’t have the determination to work as hard, if it wasn’t for that support around me. Lastly, my Type-a personality, attention to detail, and ability to focus, while sometimes a little nerve-wracking in life, have definitely been beneficial in my career.
What advice do you have for students interested in getting involved in broadcast news or journalism?
Do not give up. It’s a tough business and certainly a difficult time in the world to work in it. It is definitely hard to get a foot in the door. You might have to take a job you don’t love and it may not be your dream job out of the gate, but try it, you may love it. Similar to my answer about asking the right questions, every opportunity leads somewhere!
Any fun facts or hobbies you’d like to share?
I’m pretty active — I love taking long walks, exploring neighborhoods and visiting independent coffee shops. I enjoy taking spin classes, trying new restaurants, spending time in beach towns and going to comedy shows.
If you could try any other career other than your own what would it be?
Psychologist/social worker or teacher/professor. I hope to teach journalism to high school or college students at some point in the near future.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go?