Bringing You Today's Top Story
The lights shine brightly, the director gives the cue, the theme music swells to a climax, and Jonathan Mann tells the camera, "Good afternoon from the CNN Center; our top stories today...." It's a line he repeats every weekday as a news anchor at CNN International. Watching at home in Beijing or Barcelona, viewers glimpse people rushing around behind him. But Mann's calm delivery masks the organized chaos he takes part in to create a polished newscast.
Mann anchors from a desk literally in the back of the newsroom. All around him, producers negotiate with the assignment desk to book satellite live shots. Writers struggle to keep up-to-date with the constant flow of updated news from CNN's reporters and wire services. Copy editors pore over the writers' finished scripts and shout questions across the room. The intercom blares with details on incoming satellite news feeds. Young entry-level employees gather scripts from the laser printer and run to distribute them. Mann spends most of his day at a desk like all the others in the newsroom, studying up on the news and writing his scripts.
No Breaks When News Breaks
At a moment's notice, the world can change and CNN shifts into high gear: a war breaks out, a plane crashes, a scientific discovery is made. That's when an anchor proves his mettle: the scripts are thrown away, and he has only the producer's voice in his ear telling him what where to go next. With little time to prepare, Mann finds himself interviewing newsmakers and stitching together the news provided by reporters in the field.
Those are the days Mann said are "full of intellectual challenge and full of excitement." Those are the days when the whole newsroom knows that presidents, foreign ministers, and people the world over are tuned in.
Mann takes a calm and thoughtful attitude toward the news. This is most evident on "Insight," a daily 30-minute broadcast focusing on one topic, usually the big story of the day. He also anchors an hour-long newscast seen at 6 pm in Europe. Both shows are regularly seen on the CNN satellite feed around the world. He'll occasionally appear on the U.S. version to cover breaking international news. This quirk of CNN programming puts him in the unusual situation of being asked for autographs overseas, but anonymous when he goes to the grocery store at home.
Working with Extraordinary People
Mann has interviewed newsmakers from Ronald Reagan to Nelson Mandela to Jerry Lewis. Yet he said the most interesting part of his job has been meeting anonymous but extraordinary people. Politicians and celebrities are so used to being interviewed that the relationship is formal and impersonal. In contrast, the less-well-known "tend to be more sincere and communicate in a more truthful way."
One such interviewee he remembers well years later is Joseph Rotblat, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize. As Mann put it, Rotblat "was unknown before he won the prize and quickly unknown after he won the prize." A physicist who helped build the first atomic bomb, Rotblat was honored by the Nobel committee for 40 years of work to end the nuclear arms race. Mann likens Rotblat to Don Quixote on an antinuclear crusade, and said, "He's just an amazing man."
The anchor desk was not a lifelong dream for Mann. He graduated from college in Toronto with a degree in philosophy. Like many liberal arts majors, he had little idea what he wanted to do for a career. He considered law school or academia, but turned his sights to something totally different: journalism. He said he "just looked around for something to do to make a living." Mann has no regrets about the decision: "I'm dramatically happier than any attorney or professor I've ever met." He worked as a reporter in Canada and Asia, and as CNN's Paris correspondent, before moving to the anchor desk in Atlanta.
These Weekend Shifts Can Be Pretty Rewarding
All the adrenaline of live television can be tiring and stressful, and Mann has worked plenty of shifts on nights and weekends. He says his work, like any other, is sometimes routine. But he's not complaining. He thrives on the passion the CNN staff brings to reporting the news. The work atmosphere is unbeatable. "People are here because they love the work. And all they want a chance to do is to do the best work they can."
As Mann put it modestly, anchoring "is probably one of the lucrative jobs in the television industry." This statement is true for those at the top of their profession. CNN stars like Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer make millions each year. Others earn salaries considered to be comparable to successful local news anchors. A University of Missouri Journalism School study estimates anchors in the 25 biggest TV markets are making an average of $130,000 this year. But the overall average is $47,000, and most of the jobs are in small markets where the average is $26,000.
But What is He Wearing?
One drawback to the job: the constant attention to personal grooming. Mann is constantly aware that his tie must be straight, his hair sprayed into place, and his face powdered. He rues the fact that "whatever preparation you bring to your work, people make judgments about your work very quickly and very superficially."
Mann said he appreciates the chance to be "in touch with the most interesting things that happen around the world." An added bonus is he gets to report from the scene of those events. He has anchored on location in Israel and Russia, to name just two of many. "It's both a wonderfully engaging desk job, and a job that's great if you want to get off the desk and go to places where things are happening." He said, "the best jobs in journalism are among the best jobs in the world. I may not have one of the best jobs in journalism, but I do have a pretty darn good one."
So if you have a passion to tell the world what's going on, to witness dramatic news events, and to talk to interesting people, then anchors aweigh... and dream on!