John Vause has reported from over 30 different countries, won awards for his work, and is currently an anchor for CNN International. He has kept the world up to date with the latest breaking news, whether it be covering the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, earthquakes in Haiti, or the Trump Administration from his anchor desk in Los Angeles. Despite his busy schedule, John took the time to talk to me about his career in the field, media in the age of “fake news”, and more.
AR: What does a typical day look like for you?
JV: While there is no “typical day in news,” there is a typical routine to news. Basically, I start my day around seven or seven-thirty in the morning, looking at the biggest stories of the day, where they’re heading, what the best way to cover them is, and how to do that. Do we do that with a reporter in the region? Do we try to interview an analyst? Do we try to get someone who has been there? How do we cover what is likely to be the biggest story when our show goes to air? I’ll discuss this with three or four producers, my executive producer, and my co-anchor [Isha Sesay]. We’ll fire off about 20 or 30 emails over the course of 2 hours. Basically, it is all about getting in front of the wave. Where is this story likely to be in 14 hours from now and where is it likely to be going? What is the best way of covering that?
AR: Did you always want to be a journalist?
JV: For the most part, yes. I briefly had a flirtation with law. I did law degree for a couple of years. I think I would have made a really bad lawyer [laughs]. It worked out well that I was a very bad law student.
AR: Did you ever do anything that you never expected yourself to do when you were at the start of your career?
JV: Yes. I mean, I never thought I would be in Iraq during a war. I never thought I would be in Afghanistan in the weeks after the fall of the Taliban. I never thought I would be in New York in the days after 9/11. I never thought I would be hanging out in Gaza with the members of Hamas, having them tell me how they carry out suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. I grew up in Brisbane, Australia, which is about as far from all this stuff as you can possibly imagine.
AR: Was there a specific assignment where you were in danger?
JV: Lots. There have been plenty of them. I was at the Jerusalem Bureau for three years. I spent six months in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. There have been lots of times. The key is to try to minimize that and to try not to put yourself in more risk or danger than what you already have to deal with. It’s all about minimizing risk and danger to make sure that you get to come home the next day or at the end of the assignment. So there have been lots of times.
AR: Do you think that your traveling experience has helped you as an anchor?
JV: I think it helps me as an anchor. When I watch television and I see the people who I think are really, really good at anchoring and breaking news, 9 times out of 10, they are the ones who have been in the field. They’re usually the ones who have been on the ground, seen stuff, done stuff, know stuff, talk about stuff from a position of experience and knowledge. That’s not to say that other anchors aren’t good, but for me personally, I think that some of the best and most knowledgeable anchors are the ones that have traveled the world, been to these places, and have an understanding of what is going on.
AR: Do you have any goals that you want to reach?
JV: Goals. That is sort of a tricky one [laughs]. There are things that I would still like to do. I would still like to go out and do more reporting. I think as a reporter, journalist, or someone who works in news, you always want to be where the news is happening. I think that is kind of what drives you. There are some reporters out there working for networks who are very seasoned, older reporters that are still in the thick of things and they love it. They do an amazing job. I think that is what it is. I don’t think that it is “goals” but [maybe it is] a desire to continue to report the story from where it is actually happening.
AR: How do the journalists that you work with everyday impact your career?
JV: Journalism is incredibly competitive. Some of [the journalists] want to tear you down and others, really nice ones, really want to help build you up. I’ve been really fortunate. The vast majority of people I’ve come across have been wonderful, helpful, collegial, supportive people. The one thing about most journalists and reporters is that they love talking about their experiences and sharing their wealth of knowledge. That has been really really helpful and great.
AR: How has the Trump Administration’s somewhat “anti-media” attitude affected your job every day?
JV: I was always really careful about making sure that everything I did was 100% accurate and we would cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. We would make sure that it was balanced and fair. But I think it has forced us to raise our game, to make sure that we don’t have any stupid mistakes and errors because, in this environment, any little thing like that is going to be jumped on and used as an example of “fake media”! While it has raised the pressure, stress level, and has made life a little harder, maybe there has been positive to come out of it. Before, we would double check and now we triple check. Or if there is something that might think, “Well, hang on, is this going to be a problem? Is there going to be an issue here?”, we double check it again. We always did that, but now we just do that a little bit more. We do everything as best as possible. We don’t open ourselves up to any silly mistakes that would be a problem.
AR: Have you experienced anyone coming up to you and saying “Fake News?”
JV: Oh, all the time! [laughs] It is hilarious! The amazing thing about social media and twitter is just how mean and nasty people can be when everything is anonymous. When they don’t have to put their name to it or be responsible for it, there are no repercussions for it. All because they are anonymous. Some people are just so unbelievably awful. Not just to me, but to everybody. Twitter is just a mean and nasty place for that in many instances.
AR: Do you have any advice for young, aspiring journalists who want to break into the industry?
JV: It’s funny because there are more opportunities now than ever before, but it is harder now than ever before. My advice to anybody who wants to work as a journalist – while journalism class is very important, it is always important to be able to have an expertise. I use an example of Richard Quest, who is a fantastic journalist and our business guy. But he has this passion for aviation. He loves planes. He’s not a pilot, but he really loves planes. He knows everything about planes and flying. He’s become an aviation expert, so when planes crash, he knows all about this stuff. This is his expertise. So what has helped me is that I was a U.S. History major at university. I never did journalism. That was my major. Knowing history, knowing U.S. politics, and knowing about this place has been an immeasurable help to me. So don’t just focus on learning the journalism stuff. Focus on something else too. Focus on something you have a passion for, whether it is sports or finance. Go out in the real world and find out how stuff works. Bring your real world experiences into journalism. I think this is infinitely valuable.
AR: So do you think it is more valuable to have a degree in something else like history and political science than to have a degree in journalism?
JV: I don’t know what a political science degree involves because I never did that. Maybe that is very helpful to have, but for me, the most valuable thing that any journalist could have, especially one that is in politics, is a sense of history. History beyond the last two terms. History that goes way back to FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and Teddy Roosevelt. I just think that for anyone who wants to cover politics in this country, that is infinitely helpful.
Be sure to catch John Vause on CNN International at 12-3am ET/9-12am PT!
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.