Next up our #HerStory series is April Ryan, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent, and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. In this interview she shares her experiences as a journalist of color, and how a family love of Walter Cronkite shaped her interest in news.
You’ve been a White House correspondent for 22 years spanning four presidencies — tell us about the genesis of your career.
I started out locally in Baltimore, attending Morgan State University, and believe it or not I started out as a DJ, never anticipating being in news. I knew I wanted to be in media and I loved radio — I grew up on radio — but I also grew up watching the news with my parents.
My parents were political junkies. Every night like clockwork, when Walter Cronkite was saying “that's the way it was,” my father was watching the news, and my mother was in the kitchen cooking, listening to the loudness of the TV to find out what was happening around the world. Fast forward to my time at Morgan State as a DJ, and I felt something was missing. I had an opportunity to produce a news program for the radio station on campus, and I fell in love. That’s how I started out in news, moving from production to being the news girl, then the reporter to news announcer, then to White House correspondent.
What was it about journalism that you found so appealing?
I love information. I love to find out. I'm naturally very inquisitive, and it kind of falls back on my upbringing in my home, be it Walter Cronkite, or listening to the news on the radio in the car or when my parents woke up in the morning. So news is in my blood. There's no one else in my family that's in media, but news is in my blood. There’s no gray area here, you either love it or hate it, and I love it.
As a woman of color and a journalist of color, how have your experiences reporting the news been through that lens?
Being a woman, being a woman of color, has been a blessing for me. I wouldn't want to be anything else. But it is to walk a unique path and sit in that unique perch and travel this special journey. There are people who have a problem [with me] but it’s their problem — it’s not mine. You know, when I walk in the door, the first thing you see is April Ryan, she's black, and she's a woman. That's the first thing you see: my color and my gender. I don't know which one is first. And it's sad that we live in a day that in 2019, 2020, 2021 — I'm gonna say for a while — it's gonna take a while for us to change the mindset. Dr. King said, “It's not about the color of my skin, but the content of my character.” I think the content of my character is pretty good. I think I'm pretty good on the inside.
What is an average day like for you?
It all depends if I'm in town or if I'm out of town, but typically, the average day any day consists of me with my children — if I'm out of town with FaceTime — and they always feel like they can reach me at any moment.
If I'm in town, I get up about 4 o'clock in the morning. I start my day looking at Twitter first, because I want to see what people are saying, and then my text messages and then my emails. I'm working — calling people, talking to sources, texting sources — before I even go into work. And then I get the kids ready for school. I never want them feeling that because mommy works two hours away in a whole other town, that mommy is not there for them.
I'm a regular woman when I go home. And between coming to work and going home, I might have a TV hit, but then I'll go home and have dinner with my children, or if it’s late I'll just relax watching the news. I might have a friend or two over to have some crabs on my sunporch. That’s my luxury; that's my time for me when I'm on that sunporch, relaxing and eating crabs and being with good friends and good company.
How do you use Twitter to report the news?
It's easy to report the news through Twitter. My company, whenever we put a story out, will Tweet it. It is the greatest vehicle to get your story out to the masses. If I'm at the White House and something happens I [can tell my audience] “this is what's happening.”
You know, it’s crazy — it's not only the fact that the masses are watching my Twitter feed. So I make it a point to be very strategic about my Twitter feed; those who I respond to, and what I put out there. If I Retweet something, it does not mean that I'm in agreement with it. But I put it out there for you to ponder, for you to make a decision on that.
I use [Twitter] to put out what I say on CNN, I use it to put out my stories on American Urban Radio Networks, and what I see at the White House because again, I am in a unique perch. Not many people are in the position to get to the White House and to be able to say, this is what's happening, with pictures. My thing is to bring you into my world, so you feel like you're a part of it, and Twitter does just that.
Now for my favorite question: Who are your top five female journalists to follow on Twitter?
Well, before she passed away, Gwen Ifill. Let’s see... Gayle King, CBS News. Oprah, but she's a journalist slash media mogul. Joan Walsh, Joy Reid, Alisyn Camerota, Brianna Keilar — I follow everyone… oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. Robin Roberts — I cannot forget Robin Roberts — and Katie Couric.
Do you have advice for other female journalists?
Be the best, know as many people as you can, know everything about every subject — you can never overstudy for something. Understand that this is a male-dominated world, and this is a male-dominated industry. A lot of times men will look over us to talk to other men, because men talk to men. But it's important that we keep plugging away and we keep being the best at what we do, because it is not about us. It's about the generations to come, and it's about the stories that we impart to the people who read and listen or watch.