Journalism Alumni Profile: Allison Collins Brennan

 
 

Meet Allison Collins Brennan (G'13, Journalism)

Journalism Alumna Terry Mulcahy (G'14)Allison Collins Brennan (G’13)
@Alli_Brennan

“There’s a great tool out there called Google. It will give you all sorts of information. Never ask a question of someone in a newsroom if you can find the information out on Google first. All sarcasm aside, be resourceful and persistent. I can’t tell you how many people ask me for things they can find out on their own”

We are proud to present Allison Brennan as our September Alumna of the Month. Allison works at CNN as an Associate Editorial Producer where her main function is to get the best people on TV to talk about news of the day. This can vary anywhere from working with a campaign to have a presidential candidate on one of CNN’s shows, to reaching out to families who have lost loved ones, to talking to eye witnesses of crimes and asking them all to share their stories and perspectives with CNN’s viewers. She focuses heavily on political interviews, but also works on breaking news coverage and can travel to places like Baltimore, Maryland or Charleston, South Carolina and beyond at a moment’s notice to work on finding the best interviews. Read more about Allison and her advice to future journalists.

MPS Journalism: Why did you choose to attend Georgetown’s Journalism program

Allison Brennan: I knew when I started my career in Washington early on, I didn’t really want to be working in politics even though I was at the time. It felt very much like I was in square peg in a round hole. As I worked in different jobs, I found myself gravitating toward journalism and communications, but I didn’t really know how to break into the DC journalism scene. I also wasn’t entirely comfortable with my writing and with the editing skills it would take to be a writer or producer. And then learning the ethics of journalism really mattered to me because I knew I never wanted to be in a position where I wasn’t able to confidently make a judgment call. Georgetown allowed me to learn all of those things while still working and transition into a career in journalism.

MPS JO: How has your degree from the Journalism program helped you in your current job?

AB: Well, I wouldn’t have my job without the professors I met at Georgetown – the networking opportunities are invaluable – so there’s that. But, as I previously mentioned it taught me the skills I would need to function and fit seamlessly into a newsroom. I deal with a ton of ethical considerations constantly, especially while working closely with presidential campaigns, the Hill and in breaking news situations. My ethics professor, Paul Singer, really instilled in me and I believe all of his students a strong “north” when it came to how to handle difficult ethical situations. That has kept me out of trouble more times than I can count; has helped me immensely in working with people who are in difficult personal situations (who I am asking for interviews); and has been the biggest difference between keeping my job, really, and losing it.

MPS JO: What is your best memory in the MPS Journalism program?

AB: I made some of my best friends in the MPS Journalism program – including the person who nominated me for this honor. Making those friends who have been both supportive personally and professional is indispensable. But I also was given a number of opportunities to explore stories I was really passionate about from the Somali famine to deep sea mining in Papua New Guinea to laws and dangers that impact journalists abroad. One of my favorite memories was interviewing Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian blogger on the top if the Newseum during World Press Freedom Day. I was doing my final Video Journalism project on him exploring how he could be sued in the United States for libel by a Nigerian official from his prison cell in Nigeria. Omyele was in Washington, DC for World Press Freedom Day. MPSJ had worked out a plan for us to cover the event as its student press corps for the United Nations that week, which my fellow classmate, Deirdre Bannon and I co-produced. It was one of those moments where I was telling a story I was passionate about, and I realized I was completely capable of doing this job and doing it well.

MPS JO: What one piece of advice would you give current students hoping to be journalists?

AB: There’s a great tool out there called Google. It will give you all sorts of information. Never ask a question of someone in a newsroom if you can find the information out on Google first. All sarcasm aside, be resourceful and persistent. I can’t tell you how many people ask me for things they can find out on their own. I face this constantly with younger journalists and it shows a lack of discipline and ingenuity to me. Both of those things are absolutely necessary to being a good, enterprising journalist. There is always a way of finding our the information you’re looking for. If you discipline yourself to finding a way to get information other people give up on or discipline yourself finding it first, you will break news. That, and you will be priceless to whatever news organization you work for.

MPS JO: What is one digital tool or skill you would advise students to master before working in the journalism field?

AB: Certainly, if you want to be an editor, you need to be able to edit in whatever software provided by the company. You also need to know how to shoot if you want to be a one-man-band. But with that said, if you’re a good journalist, any news organization that’s worth its salt will teach you how to use it’s editing software, how to shoot and how to do whatever else technology-based thing you need to learn. I would learn these things, but I would also just make sure I focused on the basics. Otherwise you’re just someone with a camera who can’t get the story.

MPS JO: What do you think is the biggest challenge young journalists face, and how can they overcome that obstacle?

AB: I guess I don’t really think other than not taking enough initiative or not being resourceful, young journalists face too many problems. Some of the top political reporters in the country are under the age of thirty. I can think of five or six of them off the top of my head right now. Journalism is a wonderful profession for people who are go-getters. If you’re not a go-getter, whether you’re 22 or 72, everything in the industry will be a challenge. From my experience, the industry respects solid information and storytelling over age every single time.

MPS JO: What’s the most memorable piece you’ve published and why?
AB: Booking is a bit different in that I’m just a piece of what ultimately ends up on television, so it wouldn’t be a piece per se that I’m proud of. But recently, I traveled to the horrific shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. It still knocks the wind out of me to think about all those poor families had to go through and the incredible misplaced anger that young man had. It was such a clear cut case of good versus evil. Much of my trip consisted of traveling between Charleston and Columbia working on the two stories that came out of the shooting. First, it was my job to work on what had actually happened and to offer interviews to the families if they wanted to talk about those they lost. Secondly, I covered the debate over the Confederate Battle Flag on the South Carolina State House grounds. Governor Haley agreed to sit down with Don Lemon as the first interview after the flag was removed. I was so proud of how that interview was conducted and what a historic moment that CNN was able to be a part of because of my colleague, Faith Holland and my work in the field. I got into this profession to cover history as it unfolds, and I knew that we had the best possible person in Governor Haley that day to talk about making history. It’s a moment I will certainly tell my grandchildren about.

MPS JO: In recent months have you worked on any projects you are particularly proud of or have you had any unique opportunities in
 your career?

AB: I’ve had the incredible honor of working on pretty much every major news story for the past two years. I think that CNN does a phenomenal job of covering the news so I am proud everyday to show up for work. I mentioned that I was incredibly honored to work in South Carolina for a news organization that I think covered the horrible events so well.
Another story that sticks out in my mind is working with James Foley’s family. I remember the day that James Foley was killed like it was yesterday – and it really was only one short year ago. The day it happened, I picked up the phone, as every other news organization
in the country did, and called Jim’s family I didn’t want to disturb the Foleys, but I knew that Jim’s story was one that was important to tell because of the person he was in contrast to the horrific people who murdered him. That and ISIS, as we’ve found, wasn’t going away. I’m not even the slightest bit ashamed to say that after I called them, that night I went home and cried. Maybe a month later, we went to do an interview in New Hampshire with Mrs. Foley and Anderson Cooper. It was in that interview that Mrs. Foley discussed her family’s experience with the U.S. Government and how she felt that they mishandled Jim’s hostage situation. From Mrs. Foley’s urging and the urging of the families of the other ISIS hostages, the White House instituted the hostage review board to examine how the government deals both with the families and their loved ones’ captors. I’ve never been so honored or humbled to be invited into someone’s home as I was when we went to do that interview with Mrs. Foley. Mrs. Foley’s strength to push forward and make a difference for other people in the wake of such personal loss is truly a model of grace. From knowing Dr. and Mrs. Foley, I think you can understand why Jim was so drawn to do the work he did in Syria. It’s hard to find the words to describe how I feel about being able to tell their
story.

MPS JO: Where do you see yourself in five years?

AB: Married? Kids?  Barely keeping my head above water through another presidential election? Who knows…I hope I’m just still able to keep doing what I get to do everyday. My worst days in journalism are better than my best days in any other job.

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