CNN’s senior correspondent Joe Johns has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
After reporting on some of the nation’s top stories for years– including the 2012 election of Barack Obama and the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton– Joe Johns confirms the 2016 presidential election is the craziest story he’s seen to date.
We sat down with Joe Johns for his take on working in media, the lessons he’s learned, and what he does when he’s not on TV.
On Working at CNN
How did you land your gig at CNN?
My previous contract was up and my son had just been born. CNN had an opening for its congressional correspondent position. With my experience covering Congress, it was a good fit and good timing.
What was your first day like there?
My first day at CNN was a whirlwind. I left NBC on a Friday and was on the air with Wolf Blitzer on a Monday afternoon. Everything and nothing changed in 72 hours, or so it felt.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on the job?
Tracking down a veteran named Vernon Baker in Idaho and telling him that I thought he would eventually win the Congressional Medal of Honor, which he did. He was the first black soldier from WWII to receive it.
Do you have any pre-interview rituals?
The only ritual I can think of is preparation. The more prep, the better. For live segments, I write it, read it, revise it, and reread it. Even if it’s supposed to be ad lib, I try to write the background beforehand and add the top line information at the last moment.
What has been the most difficult moment in your career?
My mom and my youngest brother died within weeks of each other in 2014. It was overwhelming and work actually became my refuge after the funerals.
What’s on your desk?
Pictures of my kids are all around my office because they remind me of why I do this.
A Few Words of Wisdom
What should a correspondent always have with him/her?
A correspondent should always have a smartphone and an extra phone charger.
What advice would you give to young media professionals beginning or changing careers?
If you are considering a media career understand where the business is going. The “gig” economy is coming. Position yourself to be your own personal corporation.
What lessons have you learned over the years that you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Be skeptical of hype. People who tell big lies don’t back down, even when confronted with the truth.
The first version of the truth you hear is seldom accurate, but information has a way of correcting itself over time. Also, trust is earned and accurate information will make people angry at you. Finally, block out the trolls and naysayers in your life, they are a waste of time.
Which personality trait is the greatest asset for professionals in media?
The ability to see nuance and describe it in uncomplicated terms. And curiosity about everything.
On Getting to Know the Real Joe Johns
After work, what do you find yourself doing?
I have two kids, so you’ll usually find me spending time with them. I also enjoy sports, cooking, exercise, and hanging out with friends when I can. I’m a big fan of binge-watching. Most recently, it was “Billions” on HBO.
Is there anyone you would want to trade places with?
I was the captain of my college track team so the sport is special to me. I would have loved to have been Usain Bolt in the last Olympics.
Also, I sometimes fantasize about the job of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I would love to be present to see how majority/minority opinions get formed.
If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?
An Old English Sheepdog or a yellow lab. Why? Because they’re friendly and good with kids.
If you were stranded on an island, what three items would you want to have with you?
My smartphone plus solar charger, MiFi, and a machete.