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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

News anchor Norah O’Donnell details ‘career of a lifetime’ to students

Norah O’Donnell has been working since she was 10. After holding positions at a television program in South Korea, a law firm and a Chinese restaurant, she decided to become a journalist after an internship in college.

O’Donnell, now the CBS Evening News anchor, visited Wichita State on Thursday as part of the “Craig W. Barton Speaker Series,” answering students’ questions and sharing about her Emmy Award-winning career.

Her chosen profession aligns with her family’s values. Growing up as a military kid, she said her father’s deployment in the Gulf War meant the news mattered in her home.

“What happened in the world immediately affected my family, and my parents revered the news. They revered journalists,” O’Donnell said. “As a little girl watching Barbara Walters, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a woman around the world, interviewing the most powerful people in the world.’”

After graduating from Georgetown University, O’Donnell covered Congress as a reporter at Roll Call and then worked at NBC News for 12 years. At CBS News, she was the chief White House correspondent and co-anchor of the morning show before becoming the evening news anchor.

“I just happen to pair, I think, what was my natural curiosity and interest with people with a profession, which is reporting about the world,” she said. “And it’s been the career of a lifetime.”

Her curiosity has taken her to six continents, where she has gone to the Red Sea, war zones, and has spoken with princes, presidents and military members.

“Never in my wildest dreams did this girl from public school in San Antonio, Texas, think that she would have interviewed all six living presidents,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said her work is rewarding, but interviewing presidents can pose a challenge due to the limited timeframe. These interviews usually last about 10 minutes and can force a “confrontational style” to fit in questions.

But O’Donnell and the CBS production team prepare in advance, researching and narrowing down questions before interviews. She said overpreparing is key.

“For me, I think, the lesson is preparation builds confidence, and confidence equals success,” O’Donnell said. “I know I’m going to walk in there with confidence that I can answer any question. I can rebut any argument. I will know the facts.”

She said lawyers and a standards team examine the reporting, from her regular broadcasts to 60 Minutes reports, where almost every line has a footnote.

That advance preparation also extended to when O’Donnell and the CBS News Investigative Unit looked into sexual assault within the United States military and its failures to address the issue. O’Donnell said the producers took time to find people comfortable enough to speak on camera.

“That took months and months of trust and understanding, and we’re still in touch with many of those people,” she said.

When approaching sensitive topics, O’Donnell emphasized the importance of listening, treating people with empathy and not making assumptions.

Although these stories can be emotionally challenging — O’Donnell recalled her producers “sobbing uncontrollably” during the sexual assault survivors’ interviews — the news anchor said it is rewarding to report stories that “can change someone’s life.”

In July 2023, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that changed how the military handles sexual assault cases, transferring the power from commanders to “independent military prosecutors,” according to ABC News.

“Hopefully through our reporting, we’ve shone a light on something (sexual assault) that keeps good people out of the military, and hopefully, that means that there’s a big change ahead,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell acknowledged that her job can be mentally taxing.

In October 2023, she and the CBS Evening News team were reporting in Tel Aviv, Israel, when sirens went off, forcing them to take cover. Even with bulletproof vests and a security team, O’Donnell said being in Israel was the first time she felt “it was out of control.”

“When I don’t have control of the situation, it makes me like — my chest is tightening, even talking about it.”

O’Donnell emphasized how dangerous it is for journalists to report in warzones like Gaza and Ukraine and their importance in illuminating the situation.

“I would give those people grace when you see them on TV … they risked their lives to bring a camera and a spotlight and to see what’s happening there,” she said. “And look how that galvanizes world opinion.”

O’Donnell said that “there’s a reason that the Israeli government does not want to allow independent journalists into Gaza.”

O’Donnell also started the “Profiles in Service” series, which highlights veterans and military members. She said traveling the world and meeting military families has helped her appreciate military members’ service and sacrifice, like what her father did.

Throughout her talk, O’Donnell gave advice. She encouraged students who are trying to figure out their paths to follow their curiosity, take internships and dream big.

“I wish that somebody had told me more often … ‘What in your wildest, wildest dreams do you want to do? Who do you want to be?’” she said. “Give it a shot.”

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Kristy Mace
Kristy Mace, Photo Editor
Kristy Mace is the photo editor for The Sunflower. She's majoring in psychology. Currently a junior, Mace hopes to go on to get her Ph.D. and become a neuropsychologist. She also plays for Wichita State's bowling team and does professional photography aside from The Sunflower.

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  • AnonymousMar 25, 2024 at 4:25 pm

    It’s interesting that O’Donnell was able to search out and find women who had been sexually assaulted in the military yet, she was not able to discover those being harassed by her co-worker, Charlie Rose. I hope that there was a journalist on the Sunflower who was able to raise this issue. Powerful women can be complicit, too in the oppression of women.