A Human Rights Activist at Heart
CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti, 59, recalls a distinct childhood memory of watching human rights history unfold on the television screen.
“When I was a kid in grade school, it was in the midst of the civil rights era,” Candiotti said. “I remember being so impressed with watching television journalists reporting from the scenes about civil rights demonstrations, the violence that was going on and how people felt empowered to fight for human rights. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fascinating if I could do something like that?’”
After graduating from Loyola University Chicago in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts mass media, Candiotti started down a similar path as those television journalists she admired, and joined CNN in 1994.
As a specialist in terror cases and law enforcement reporting, she has reported on a host of the nation’s most impacting stories such as Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Oklahoma City bombing investigation.
“In the Oklahoma City bombing, scores of people were killed,” Candiotti said. “Then the World Trade Center and what happened on Sept. 11. It all comes down to: how does this affect the security of our country? How does it affect safety? Often there is a common denominator among all of these tragedies.”
Candiotti said that while reporting stories of tragedy may be challenging, conveying the facts of each story to the audience is of the utmost pertinence.
“It really can be difficult when you approach these stories,” Candiotti said. “But you have to remember that you’re the storyteller. You are presenting the facts of what happened here. You simply try to make sure that you get it right. You try to find out what occurred, and try to explain the impact of all of this.”
Although reporting the facts of a story might be a journalist’s main concern, Candiotti said reporters must approach traumatic stories in a thorough, yet sensitive, manner.
“I think that you try to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Candiotti said. “Try to focus on not only gathering the facts of what happened, but humanizing the story. All of us can relate in some way or another to a personal loss.”
Candiotti said she now confidently approaches each broadcast story with ethics, sensitivity and fact checking in mind, a reporting talent that resulted from years of experience.
“It’s one thing to learn in school,” Candiotti said. “But you really have to get that day-to-day experience of figuring out how to put a story together. At each job, I was learning something different and honing my skills in different areas of the craft. I started to learn how to speak with people from every walk of life—from the man on the street to the politician to the president.”
Candiotti gained her first hands-on newsroom experience the summer after her junior year of college at WBNG-TV in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she learned how to shoot, develop and edit news film.
“They hired me as a photographer/writer,” Candiotti said. “I walked in that summer and said, ‘Are you hiring any part-time reporters?’ He said, ‘No, we’re not hiring reporters, but do you know how to shoot film?’ I said, ‘No’ and he said, ‘Are you willing to learn?’ And I said, ‘Sure, yes I am.’”
Towards the end of college, Candiotti arranged for an interview with the owner of the TV station group that owned the Altoona station. The owner offered her a job as a reporter/photographer at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.
“I thought to myself, ‘Where’s Binghamton, N.Y.?” Candiotti said. “But I said, ‘Send me.’ So off I went. The transition was swallow hard and there you go. You walk into the station the first day and just dive right in. Sink or swim. Go do it. You watch, you learn and you see how it works in real life. You start to build that tough skin.”
Candiotti has also worked at WGR in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1980-1982, and in Miami as an investigative reporter at WPLG from 1982-1989 and WCIX from 1989-1993, where her assignments included the Iran-Contra affair.
Throughout her career, Candiotti has received nine regional Emmy awards and an Associated Press award for investigative reporting. She was also part of the CNN investigative team that received a National Headliner Award for coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks, and contributed to CNN’s Peabody award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Presidential election.
To thoroughly inform CNN’s audiences to best of her ability, Candiotti said she often travels to report from various U.S. and international cities.
Assignments have taken her to an array of countries such as Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru. In 1998, she traveled with U.S. troops to Kuwait, an experience Candiotti said illustrates her passion for reporting.
“In traveling to Kuwait with our troops, I saw a totally different culture,” Candiotti said. “To me, it is exciting, each time you get to step on a plane and travel to someplace you haven’t been before. You see that we’re all the same in so many ways because you get to connect with people. So while governments may have conflicts, when you get down to the people on the street, it’s just so much different.”
Traveling to new locations is one element of the reporting that continues to keep journalists interested and engaged in assignments, according to Candiotti.
“That’s the exciting part about the job,” Candiotti said. “You never know what could be around the next corner, or when the phone rings, where you could go.”
While traveling plays a large role in Candiotti’s correspondence position, she said her main motivation for reporting is having the ability to share someone’s personal story.
“It’s a love for having the opportunity to inform people about all of the important things that are happening in their world,” Candiotti said. “Then they understand that sometimes it’s necessary to get involved in the community in which they live. Small town, big town, everyone plays a role in trying to make the world around them a better place.”