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Tips From Campbell Brown
Interview by Ellie Bosies, Alexandra Conway, and Molly Wienberg
Scholastic Student Reporters


Molly Wienberg, Alexandra Conway, and Ellie Bosies interview Campbell Brown. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)
After filming and editing a piece on the New Hampshire primaries in the NBC News work space in Manchester recently, Campbell Brown spoke to Scholastic Student Reporters about life as a journalist—something she should know about.

Brown is co-anchor of NBC's Today Weekend Edition. She has been a White House correspondent since February 2001, where she reported for Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Today, and MSNBC. Before that, she was part of the NBC News team that covered the presidential campaign of Republican candidate George W. Bush.

Brown reported throughout the Decision 2000 election cycle, and covered the Republican primaries, the Republican National Convention, the Presidential Debates, and Election Day. She also spent over a month reporting from Austin, Texas, on the post-election-day Florida recount story.

SN: Who's the most interesting person that you've interviewed on NBC News?
Brown: Most recently I would have to say [Palestinian leader] Yasir Arafat. I don't get to go overseas very often because I cover politics at home, but when I do it's really exciting to actually meet the people that you see on TV that are so at the center of the most important events in the world—like what's happening in the Middle East—and to be with them in the same room and to get a sense of what they're really like in that way that you can only do if you're with someone one on one as opposed to watching them on TV or something. So I think that was the most interesting one that I've done recently.


SN: What's the most interesting place you've been?
Brown: Well, there are a couple. Do I have to say one? I loved the Middle East because it's so different from here. It's really fascinating. Russia is really interesting but it's really kind of a hard place to go and visit. Another place that's so different—I'd have to say probably topping the list—is China. Especially Beijing and Shanghai, because there are so many people and when you're there you're just walking down the street and you're overwhelmed by the people and the smells and the sights and the sound and the noise, and it's so exciting. And in Beijing, with my camera crew, I got to go to the Great Wall, which is an incredible thing, and to be able to spend the day walking around . . . you get to do some fun stuff, too.

SN: Who have you interviewed throughout the primaries?
Brown: I've interviewed Howard Dean, John Edwards . . . I think all of them except for John Kerry. I haven't interviewed John Kerry yet. I think it's really important if you're going to cover the race to get a little bit of one-on-one time with all of them for the same reason. You know if you have a pen pal or a phone relationship with someone, or you see them on TV, you don't really know that person until you've had a chance to meet that person. You know how you just get a vibe? That's the best way to assess and just use your intuition a little more to get a sense of what they're about.

SN: How do you think on your feet, like when you're doing something live?
Brown: The hardest thing to do, and it took me a long time to get better at it over the years, is when you're doing live shots. When you're standing out there and Tom Brokaw comes to you and says, "Okay, let's go to the White House now for more on the story." Even to this day when he does that, my heart starts pounding. I mean, really, and my palms get sweaty. I get really nervous, but I think that's good in a way.

SN: It motivates you?
Brown: Yeah. You know if you're speaking in public or if you have to go in front of your class and you kind of get that nervous adrenaline? I think in a way it's good because it helps you focus and motivates you.

SN: Do you have any reporting tips for us?
Brown: Well, if you want to go into broadcasting, I think you're on the right path, because the most important things I did were internships. I didn't major in journalism. I majored in political science and I took a lot of history classes because I think it's really important that you know a lot of stuff and so you're able to put things in perspective. I'm a kid—I know you guys have talked to Russert and everybody else. I'm 35 years old and Tim [Russert] started covering the campaigns 32 years ago. So he has this wealth of knowledge and experience that he can draw on so that when he's here now he can say, "Oh, I remember 20 years ago . . . ." I can't wait to be able to say that. I can't say it right now. It's kind of nice if you're in college to focus on history, politics, whatever it is you're interested in. Whatever excites you, literature or whatever. The TV part of the job you learn on the job. I learned more on the job than anywhere else.

SN: What are good questions to ask the candidates?
Brown: You know what I started doing? I found out that we were all asking them the same kind of questions, you know, "Where do you stand on the issues?" The last few interviews I've done with them, I tried to ask sort of weird questions in a way to try to get a different answer. So I sat down with General Clark. You know everybody's asked him all kind of the same questions on all the issues, but [each candidate] is a different person and you want to know who the potential President is as a person. So we just came up with a list of sort of random questions like, "What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What are you afraid of?" You get answers like "heights" or "snakes," and in a way the first few times I was asking him these questions, he was looking at me like, "Are you serious?" But in a way it made him loosen up and it kind of took him off guard a little bit. So you learn something about them that you wouldn't if you were just like, "Okay, let's talk about tax cuts," which everybody does. So I think you sometimes have to think outside of the box and be a little creative to sometimes move the story forward and find out something new.

SN: What makes you laugh?
Brown: Don't put me on the spot! You know, it's funny, I have the best time out here and I laugh more on the road in this job because I love it. I love politics, all the people here are my really good friends—the other reporters—and it's kind of like we have this reunion every four years, and we get to see each other. What I've been doing here is seeing old friends that I haven't seen since the last campaign when everybody went their separate ways at the end and I went to the White House with Bush. Now here it's been a big reunion and it's so fun and it really makes you happy to see old friends. It's not just work work work, even though the big boys might have told you that.

SN: What are you afraid of?
Brown: Bugs of all kinds. Spiders. I don't like bugs. If I see them in my house I have to call my neighbor. And I'm afraid of the subway in New York. I just moved to New York and I grew up in a pretty small town. When I moved to New York it just kind of felt overwhelming to me and you've seen so many movies where something bad happens on the subway. It's always the subway, and the subway in New York is fine—it's nice. But every time I get on it I'm kind of holding my purse. It totally scares me.