In a piece written for FastCompany, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper details his life and all the steps it took him to get him where he is today.
He couldn’t even get an interview at ABC – even with a Yale education:
I applied for an entry-level job at ABC doing basic office tasks—photocopying and answering phones—but I couldn’t even get an interview. I think they were mildly interested but they were going through a hiring freeze at the time. I applied to a couple of other networks, but to no avail. I thought, Such is the value of a Yale education! It was depressing and it seemed like the end of the road.
He applied for a job as a fact-checker at Channel One:
I was desperate to get my foot in any door, so I applied for the job [at Channel One] and got it. I fact-checked for six months, but I saw no path to becoming a foreign correspondent anywhere in sight.
Coop even had a fake press pass:
I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunity if no one gives you one. (…) I would make the stories as interesting and dangerous as possible, and then offer them to Channel One for such a low price that the stories would be hard to refuse. I knew I could live so cheaply overseas that it wouldn’t matter how little I earned. A friend agreed to make me a fake press pass and loan me his home video camera. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I figured I’d learn along the way.
Coop was a one-man crew, and he saw Christiane Amanpour, with an interview crew:
I remember once seeing Christiane Amanpour in Somalia. She had a vehicle and was accompanied by a whole crew. That kind of career seemed so far away from anything I was doing. I was just this kid with a home video camera. It was very trying and lonely.
There was no Plan B:
I didn’t let risks get in the way and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I know this sounds irrational, but I literally felt as if I had no other options. It wasn’t as if I were dabbling in this. I felt as if I didn’t have a choice. It had to work out. There was no Plan B.
After proving himself at Channel One, he got the ABC gig:
When my contract with Channel One expired, ABC finally hired me—as a correspondent. As it turned out, not getting that entry-level job there was the best thing that ever happened to me. Had I gotten it, I would have spent about two years as a desk assistant and then maybe worked my way up to, I don’t know, production assistant? Movement at the networks at the time was glacial. You could be there for years before even being sent out to shoot a local story. There’s no way I would have ever been made a full-time news correspondent after three years. There was no established, internal path to doing that.
And then the CNN morning show gig:
I eventually moved on and got hired by CNN to anchor their morning show. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. I was really nervous and uncomfortable. My performance was just terrible and they very quickly started to think, Why have we hired this guy?
He even called his office to retrieve his voicemail, and another anchor answered his phone, having taken his office:
I didn’t know how badly I was doing at CNN until about three months into it when I got sent to Afghanistan without a camera crew. I arrived in Afghanistan with just my little home video camera, called back to the office to retrieve my voice mail, and some other anchor answered my phone—in my office. He had taken over my office! It was only by volunteering for jobs that nobody else wanted that I was able to fight my way back. I started filling in on any anchoring slot I could get my hands on. I would fly into Atlanta and anchor eight-hour days on Saturday and Sunday, when no one else wanted to work. I was so motivated because I still viewed it as “I don’t have another option. There is no Plan B.”
He was told he’d never make it, but…
By the way, I did mention my plan to one or two Channel One colleagues and they all said things like “You’ll never be on air” or “You’ll never be hired as a correspondent here.” Even once I got hired people said things like “Okay, so you are working for this little show that’s seen in high schools, but you’ll never get a job at a network” or “You’re going to have to start doing something at a small local station in the United States if you’re ever going to get a job at a major network.” All of which was incorrect. I’d much rather follow my gut, do something, and if it doesn’t work out, have it crapped on then.
Coop’s entire piece can be found on FastCompany.