CNN’s Kaitlan Collins revealed with veracious transparency the importance of truth in journalism during her lecture at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Sunday, Nov. 12.
The anchor of “The Source with Kaitlan Collins,” airing on CNN every weeknight at 9 p.m., Collins holds extensive experience with political news coverage and stands as one of the news outlet’s youngest White House correspondents.
During her preliminary address to the Fairfield community, she taught the key facets of ensuring effective modern journalism. Following her talk, she engaged questions and concerns of listening ears.
“It’s not about you, it’s about the answers and the reporting you are getting,” Collins declared. In regards to any story, she said, “It’s the audience that matters.”
The speaker immediately expressed that media is a deeply personal topic for her. She continued that, in a highly technological and connected world, it matters to everyone and everything. Throughout her nearly thirty-minute speech, she explained what she believed to be three necessities in navigating this increasingly media-focused field.
Telling the truth is a journalist’s number one job. Aside from this foundation, however, Collins disclosed that showing how one arrives at a claim along with exhibiting specific evidence is just as vital, if not more.
Walking readers and viewers through researching and reporting processes will increase trust in the media as well as a journalist’s own credibility. Collins relates this topic to a high school student showing their work during a math test and further attests that she typically allows her interviewees the chance to explain a pre-spoken quote in pursuit of complete accuracy.
Her second point veered towards an emphasis on accountability. “Hold people to account,” she exclaimed as she told rising journalists to make sure every question is asked—even the tricky ones.
“The most important part of an interview is the follow-up,” she began. “If you don’t get an answer, ask the question again.”
Most public officials do not look forward to the “tricky questions” that Collins speaks of. However, a good journalist asks them despite complicated circumstances. Or, she added, if inconceivable, highlight that said official did not wish to answer the question: a tactic she jokes all politicians “love”.
She reminded her audience that they, as reporters, must also keep their composure as well as their focus in the midst of lies.
In the eyes of Collins, the role of a reporter is not to argue with politicians but to ask required questions. Under situations of deceitful, agitated or defensive interviewees, she noted that the key is to “keep your cool and not respond.” Certainly frustrating, Collins’ tactic often leads to calling frustrating behavior out and reminding everyone of the truth—channeling her inner “nasty woman,” in the words of former president Donald Trump.
Collins’ final point regarded the significance of empathy. She urged her audience to remember that “we are all people,” and that people are at the center of every story we tell.
With regard to the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza, Collins shared a deep need for empathy and emotional control. She recalled a mother who, after losing her son, wished for a news story that would share the materiality and realness of his life.
The heartbreaking emotion behind stories like these brings into presence the true weight of her career. Nonetheless, they mean the world to her.
Collins’ relayed another interview with a 21-year-old college student who discussed her personal experiences with rape and restricted abortions as part of her show’s coverage of the 2023 elections. After years of silence, the woman finally felt empowered to tell her story.
“Everything we cover, it always comes back to the people,” Collins said. “I think as a reporter, what your responsibility there is to treat those stories with dignity and respect and to tell them in a way that, it’s a personal story, but it has applied to everyone, has resonance with everyone.”
At the conclusion of her lecture, the stage transformed into a panel of Fairfield professors and students. Of these guests were Art History Professor and Open Visions Forum Director Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D. Communication Professor Karla Barguiarena and Digital Journalism majors Annie Tomosivitch ‘24 and Peyton Perry ‘24.
The panel began by warmly welcoming Collins to her first-ever Connecticut visit. While Collins gushed about the beauty of the state’s fall leaves, Barguiarena emphasized its particularly good pizza.
Each panel member took turns asking Collins personally written questions concerning the topics of media and modern journalism as a whole. Although each question differed, a vast theme among her answers remained the vitality of truth, transparency and people.
Barguiarena started off the discussion with a question on mediating controversial news topics. By revisiting the topic of current tragedies in Israel, Collins explained that she balances emotional and factual aspects by including a wide array of voices, such as affected families and doctors on the field.
“We just want the truth,” she stated: no spin. She added that a mere voice note can establish a story that is much more real to the public than a story focused solely on politics.
When questioned by Tomosivitch about Collins’ apolitical background and later about the skills of a journalist, Collins confessed that her upbringing ultimately assisted her in creating an unbiased and trustworthy public image. People know that she addresses every politician the same way. Moreover, she noted that CNN always works toward “[challenging] controversial wisdom and norms,” shying away from shared knowledge and seeking the unknown.
Challenging norms is just what Collins achieved, according to junior Angelo Corsini, a Communication and Theater double major. Typically avoiding “biased” news sources such as CNN and Fox News, Collins stood out to Corsini as a candid journalist dedicated to integrity.
“She pulled back the curtain on broadcast news and her time as a White House Correspondent,” he stated. “It was fascinating to hear her stories about Presidents Trump and Biden, flights on Air Force One, her reactions to the Israel/Palestine war and the upcoming presidential election.”
He further admitted his interest in watching the anchor’s 9 p.m. slot as well as a “renewed faith in the mainstream media.”
Regarding the strength of journalism skills, Collins conveyed that a journalist can arise from any background. Put simply, to be a journalist is to be curious. Additionally, she reminded aspiring journalists that their greatest skill, and most revealing strategy, is listening.
“Something that you can just benefit from, in any job, is to truly listen,” she said, “and to approach your interview, approach your subject, without those preconceived notions.” To her, going into an interview with a desire to learn is the most meaningful way to conduct one.
With the upcoming presidential election in 2024, Barguiarena asked Collins her thoughts on the course of this next year.
“I think it’s going to be one of the most fascinating elections of our lifetime,” she stated. According to the journalist, the feelings of the voters seem relatively unknown, and she is interested in discovering what they truly want in a post-pandemic world, after the Jan. 6 attack and after the revoking of Roe versus Wade.
Collins described polls not as predictions but as snapshots; she has learned that we must always wait for the polls to close to unveil people’s true feelings. And, as a reporter who has previously covered both Trump and President Biden, she is “grateful to have a front-row seat” for the potential rematch.
Radio and TV Legal Analyst Michael Zeldin, credited with bringing Collins to the Quick Center, initially welcomed Collins to the stage. He attributed her with an “unwavering commitment to journalistic integrity” and a “willingness to speak truth to power.”
Before her inaugural entrance, snippets of the reporter’s televised work on CNN demonstrated her apparent perseverance towards truth as well as her battle with uncomfortability. Throughout her speech and those following questions, Collins stressed that successful journalists must accept the feeling of discomfort in order to push through tough yet critical questions.
“It’s your job,” she repeatedly stated.
As a final segment of Collins’ presentation, Eliasoph voiced additional questions submitted by the audience. While some sought political insight and thoughts around modern media, many questioned Collins’ devotion to Alabama collegiate sports, particularly the chance of the Crimson Tide taking the championship game, as well as the source of her stunning gold medallion necklace. Collins responded that the necklace means “good luck”.
At the end of the question-and-answer exchange, Collins was treated with a hearty round of applause. She further expressed her gratitude for each audience member’s attendance- especially on a Sunday afternoon- and left her crowd with a new understanding of mediating primetime news.
“I appreciate her commitment to telling the truth while showing the work,” commented Barguiarena. A former TV news worker herself, the professor commends Collins’ for her work in the midst of modern media and misinformation.
“Unfortunately, there is so much distrust in news right now, that it’s important for journalists to be as transparent as possible,” she said. “[Collins] is a great example of that.”