WHO SHE IS: Stephanie Elam, Correspondent, CNN
SUCCESS STORY: Turned a networking opportunity into a network correspondent job
WORK SCHEDULE: Thanks to the news cycle, pick any of the 24 hours in a day and I work them all. Often…
KIDS: 3-year-old daughter affectionately known as Babycakes
SANITY VICE: Laughing – I can do it no matter what time it is or how long I’ve been working
A career sacrifice for family…
I graduated from Howard University in 1995 with a degree in broadcast journalism and immediately moved to New York to take a job with Dow Jones Newswires as a financial news copy editor. I was promoted every year before leaving for a competitor, Bridge News. During that time, I would also appear on PBS’s Nightly Business Report and live-streaming financial website WebFN.com. Eventually, WebFN hired me full time to report from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and to anchor the nationally syndicated show, First Business.
Our offices were in 3 World Financial Center–right across the street from 1 World Trade Center in New York. On September 11, 2001, I was at the window on the 28th floor looking at the hole in one tower when another jet slammed into the other trade center tower, forcing big chunks of debris to fly toward our building. We ran for our lives. What I saw that day scarred me. I just couldn’t see the point of bringing a child into this world if it was so full of evil and sadness. I was single at the time and decided that I would be the cool aunt, but never a mother.
The company I worked for shut down in June of 2003. In August of that year, I began freelancing for CNNfn, the network’s financial news channel. The network folded in 2005 but I stayed on the roster. In January 2007, I met my husband. In April, I signed with CNN as a business correspondent. By 2009, my husband convinced me that fear wasn’t a good enough reason to not have a child. I’m so glad he changed my mind. I have no doubt I’m not only a better person, but also a better journalist because I joined the parent tribe. Soon I was pregnant and Babycakes arrived in 2010.
The following year, my husband’s job moved to Los Angeles. For seven months, he was flying to L.A. every week and it started when our daughter was six months old. I knew something had to give but I loved my job. I was anchoring often and had built up great relationships with the New York-based shows. Then one day my husband came home on the red-eye. This was before Babycakes could walk. She woke up and saw him there and cruised to the side of the crib closest to him before I picked her up and handed her to him. She buried her face in his neck and squealed. It was in that moment that I knew we had to move – even though CNN didn’t have a position open for me in Los Angeles.
But the day after we landed in LA, I was offered a job as an anchor and reporter for NBC Los Angeles. I began working there in August 2011.
In May 2013, I re-signed with CNN–this time as a correspondent for the western region based out of our Los Angeles bureau. I was welcomed back with lots of hugs and warm emails–it feels like I am back with the family.
5 Questions for Stephanie:
1. Tell us about your new CNN beat and what you hope to accomplish as a television journalist.
In my previous stint at CNN, I was a business correspondent. I was there at the end of 2007 when the sky began to fall on the housing market and throughout the “Great Recession.” I enjoyed helping drive the important conversation about our economy, but I also wanted to tell more human-interest stories. Now that I am back, I am doing just that. A lot of the stories are tragic, but it’s my goal to do justice by the people and families I’m profiling. One hard aspect is covering sad events involving children. Emotionally, those stories are more challenging for me now that I’m a mom.
2. You took some time off between television “gigs.” What did you learn about yourself during that time?
I was at NBCLA for just over a year before a five-month stint that I like to call my “temporary retirement.” During that period, I went to the gym about five days a week and spent a lot of time with Babycakes, working on her swimming abilities and her word recognition. My husband and I took her to museums and the zoo together and I also devoted time to doing things with just my husband–like going to the driving range. I also had plenty of time to reflect on my career and its trajectory. There was no doubt that I wanted to go back to work. It was during that period that I finally acknowledged what has always been true: I am a worker bee. I think even if I hit the lottery, I would still want to work.
3. The news business is really demanding on a schedule. How are you managing it?
There’s no way I could do my job without a supportive, flexible husband and a fantastic nanny. Luckily, I have both! My husband was meant to be a father. He’s so patient and loving yet doesn’t have any qualms about handling the dirty work that comes with being a parent. Our nanny is also a key part of our house management strategy with her main job being to keep our daughter safe and healthy.
In our house, Saturday’s are for family so it’s hard for me to add anything to the calendar that we all can’t do together. And since my job is not a standard 9 to 5 gig, I can sometimes find ways to give more attention to our daughter. For example, if I am doing live television overnight, then I’ll leave work early in the day. I try to take advantage of those days to spend more time with Babycakes. Then we both go to sleep at her bedtime that night!
4. What’s your favorite working mom time management tip?
I’m a morning person so I like to get up before our daughter to get some action items off my list. It’s amazing how productive I can be in a quiet house! Also, I can’t handle messiness. I say the easiest way to keep things tidy is to clean as you go. Babycakes can’t pull out another toy until the first one is put away. That little rule helps out a lot!
5. What’s the media missing about working moms, in your opinion?
Working moms are at all times both mothers and workers. In my field, there are many women who often have to pull 18 to 20 hour days at work. Never during any of that time, are they not moms, too. They are thinking about their children’s schedules just as much as they are figuring out what they are going to say in their next live shot. There’s no switch. I think the mom brain and the worker-bee brain work in harmony for most mothers.
5+! What’s your biggest challenge as a working mom and what do you do to address it?
I travel all the time and usually without a lot of notice and for the most part, I normally don’t have a clue about when I’ll get to head home. That’s hard on both my husband and our daughter. FaceTime helps a lot – I try to visit with them before she goes to bed. I also tell the truth and answer her questions about my travels. So I tell her I am at work and tell her where I am. I’ve traveled to Arizona so often lately that she thinks my office is there.
One recent conversation went like this:
Where are you going, Mommy?
I’m going to work, Babycakes.
No, baby, I’m going to be here today.
Near my house?
Yes, near our house.
Anything else you would like to answer?
Inspiration can come in many forms. At the airport, about to fly to Los Angeles on our one-way tickets – Babycakes balanced on my hip – I started chatting with the skycap. I told him we were moving. He asked if I was happy about it. I said I looked forward to living in California again but I was sad to leave a dream job. Without looking up, he said to me, “Well, you can have more than one dream job in a lifetime.” Turns out he’s right.
Follow Steph! @stephanieelam