Wednesday, 08 August 2012 11:36
With a career that revolves around the pulse of American politics, Shannon Bream has been putting her law degree and news sense to good use since 2007, when she joined the Fox News Channel as its Supreme Court correspondent and political news anchor.
By Caitlyn Finnegan
As she follows the campaign trail to the Sunshine State for the Republican National Convention this month, the former Miss Florida USA and seventh-generation Floridian took a break from reporting to share advice on taking chances and what it's like working with political power players.
How did you develop an interest in politics and law?
I grew up in a family that was very politically active, and we regularly had conversations that probably weren't normal in the everyday household. We would talk about everything from what drives different policies to what it takes to make drastic changes in government. There were never strict party lines and we always examined what both sides had to offer, both the good and the bad, and the ways you can make changes by working in the legal system.
Was broadcast always something you wanted to do?
I have always been a news junkie. Even with my interest in laws and policies, I never got over my thirst for the inside scoop. My career had many interesting twists and turns, and it all started when I was asked to help out with a story for the ABC affiliate in Tampa. I saw what a well-oiled machine the newsroom was and how it was always buzzing with police scanner updates, news on the wire and live updates on the air; from that point, I was completely hooked.
I had a big learning curve while I transitioned from practicing law to doing broadcast; I like to say I became the world's oldest intern because I was 28 or 29 at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted a career change so I went to work writing stories for the anchors, working the teleprompter and editing. Even though the hours could go from 2am to late at night, I was always really excited to go to work every day.
What experiences helped the most?
The route I took was not a traditional one. Going to law school and practicing as an attorney helped me immensely. When you're working on a case, there are always several versions of the story, and the first story you get is often not the whole story or even the true story.
Without my legal background, I wouldn't be able to cover the courts the way I can now. I think the most important thing to understand is that there are many different ways to enter any career path, and [students] shouldn't underestimate the unorthodox ways to get where you want to be.
What's a typical day like?
They're all so different! Right now we're waiting to hear back on some huge decisions coming from the Supreme Court. For big stories like this, we'll get out early and take some shots, wait until they release the decision, compile our story and then go straight to air on-location. To be the first one on-air is always the goal, but you also want to be accurate.
Reporting on decisions like this often goes through the day and into the night, and if I'm fortunate, I go on-air with Greta Van Susteren at 10pm to talk about the story's development. If you're doing something you love, it never feels like a chore or wears you out. We'll have a lot of long days once the convention gets started, so it never hurts to have lots of caffeine handy.
What should students pay attention to before the presidential election?
The great thing about today is that there are so many resources at your fingertips. Most students are aware that they can fact-check things themselves. They just have to be aware that there is a lot of information flooding in from outside interest groups and the opposing campaigns. Check which candidates align with your values and ideals. It's an exciting time, and it's a big responsibility.
What is it like covering a convention?
There are going to be a lot of very long days, but there's also so much excitement. It's been an especially long campaign season for the Republicans, and now all the supporters can come together and unify behind one particular candidate. The speeches are always fiery and inspirational.
It's a massive undertaking for everyone involved; there are months of planning that go into it, and it's a massive effort to coordinate all the logistics of getting everyone there, plan the shows that will be airing live on-site and communicate with all the reporters running around. The whole country will be watching as we head into the general election.
You work out of D.C. What do you miss the most about your home state?
Everything. I grew up in South Florida before moving to Tallahassee for high school and then returning for law school there. It will be a great opportunity to see family and friends and all the folks I don't get to see enough. Florida is such a diverse place—there's nowhere else quite like it. You can sit down and have a Cuban meal, visit a horse farm, go to the beaches or attend any kind of sports game you could imagine. There's so much good packed into one geographic place, and that's what I miss the most when I'm not there.
Any issues being a female reporter in the political arena?
Maybe that was an issue in the past, but now there have been so many strong women journalists who have helped shaped the field in the last few years, that it's really not a stigma anymore. You can't let anyone intimidate you; you are always responsible for proving yourself when you walk into the room, and you have to know your stuff to be taken seriously.
Any advice for students?
The No. 1 thing is to refuse to take "no" for an answer. So many people told me along the way that I didn't have the background to do this, but I learned as I went and was so passionate that I kept going. I think it's all about getting in there and being willing to do the grunt work like I did at my first job in Tampa. Learning on the job will open up all sorts of opportunities. You have to weed through what people say and use it to fight and develop what you need to succeed. Everyone will have a broken heart at some point with their career, but you can't let it define you.
What do you do when you're not working?
I love to run—it's a complete stress reliever. If I have some time off, I like to get away to somewhere where my cellphone doesn't work and just relax. I'd like to fly out to the mountains where I can fly-fish and hike and just get away from it all.
Any assignments that stand out?
Being on the campaign trail is always fun. It gives you the opportunity to travel along with the candidates and see them in their real environment. It's hard for candidates and their families to be "on" all the time, so it's interesting to catch glimpses of what they are really like with each other. When you get to see people away from the cameras and getting some downtime, you can see everyone is exhausted but at the same time you're getting a sneak peak into history.
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