how i get it done

Erin Burnett’s Journalism Career Started With a Piece of Fan Mail

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of CNN

Longtime CNN anchor Erin Burnett celebrated ten years of her primetime news show, Erin Burnett OutFront, in October of 2021. Five nights a week at 7 p.m. ET Burnett can be found sitting in her chair at CNN’s Hudson Yards studio, covering everything from COVID-vaccine mandates to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But don’t let the time slot fool you, Burnett and her team are working on the show day and night, sometimes starting as early as six in the morning. “We’re always sending things to each other,” Burnett told The Cut. “It’s kind of nonstop.”

Burnett didn’t originally intend to be a journalist. After graduating college, she got a job as an investment-banking analyst at Goldman Sachs. She wasn’t happy there, so she reached out to CNN’s Willow Bay, sending her a “very nerdy” fan letter that ended up changing her life. Bay hired Burnett to be her assistant on Money Line. Eventually, she got her first on-air job at Bloomberg before moving over to CNBC in 2005. There, she excelled and became a network star before finally returning to CNN in 2011 and starting Erin Burnett OutFront. As her show has flourished in the past ten years, Burnett has welcomed three children with her husband, David Rubulotta. With a 24/7 commitment to covering the news and parenting three young children, the anchor says lists are what keeps her going. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a good way of managing stress, but I keep to-do lists so that I can feel that I’m making progress and accomplishing things.” Here’s how Erin Burnett gets it done.

On a typical morning: 
It depends on when you count “the morning.” I’m usually up at some point between two and five. And I do a lot of Twitter at that time. I don’t necessarily tweet, but I am scrolling, looking at things, and reading. Then I try to go back to sleep a little bit if I can. My husband usually leaves by 6:30 a.m., so I hear him get up, take a shower and all that stuff. I try to doze a little bit more, and then I’m up with the kids by seven. I do their breakfast and I have coffee and then I take them to school.

In those early morning hours, I will often send [my senior team at OutFront] stories that I think are really interesting, or something that happened. And then between six and 7:30 a.m., they’re emailing back about those. So we’re talking about ideas and guests and things like that: “Okay, why don’t we request something on this, or let’s do this specific angle, or let’s do a breakdown on this.” So that back-and-forth happens all morning. And then we have our first actual phone call about all that at 11 a.m.

On dealing with trolls:
Anybody who tells you that when people come after them on Twitter, especially en masse, that it doesn’t upset them, I find that hard to believe. It’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally.” It’s really hard not to. I don’t pretend that things don’t upset me. But engaging with frustration and anger, that’s just frustration and anger for its own point. Getting into it with somebody is generally not a good use of social media. It doesn’t give you any sort of feeling of vindication or exhilaration.

On deciding when to incorporate her own opinion into news coverage:
We’re in a macro conversation right now about what voices people listen to, and how to break through with facts, and how to interpret facts. You have such polarized perspectives out there. So, we just try to do the best we can and really hold to our brand of doing analysis and of presenting facts in such a way that they make sense to people.

The context is so important. I always think about providing context, but it doesn’t solve [the next problem], which is how to get people to listen. That is a bigger challenge that nobody really necessarily knows the answer to. Some of the people that you want to listen to things the most may not actually be listening.

On taking a stand against GOP vaccine hypocrisy:
There is no hard and fast rule to it, but any hypocrisy of any sort is on the table. Then you have to say, well, which hypocrisy am I going to choose to call out in my limited time, because God knows there’s enough to go around. Speaking truth to power about vaccines in particular is an issue that I care about, I think in part because I’m a mother and my children are vaccinated.

On how becoming a mother changed her approach to the job:
It doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t change you, but once you have a child and you experience the complete ability to love something in such a way that you’ve never loved anything before — something that is so just gigantic and big — it does change your perspective. And it also gives you a sense of the impermanence of life. You realize that at its best, you’re passing things off to another generation, and at its most fearful, sometimes, as a parent, you’re worried about them and you wanna keep them safe.

I think that that colors how I approach my work. There’s no way that you can see what’s happening in Ukraine, and you can see all those families being split up, and all those women and children, and not be deeply, deeply broken about that. Any human being would be. But certainly as a parent, as a mother, when I am talking to a weeping mother with two children, and I see how the children are not actually emotional — they were just children. They were like, “Ugh, come on, Mom. Let’s get going.” And that was almost more heartbreaking than if they had been more emotional. The trauma’s happening to them and they don’t actually process it in a visible way. And I see that and I feel that as a mother in a way that I did not before.

Burnett reporting in Ukraine. Photo: Courtesy of CNN

On being away from her kids for work:
I was gone for two weeks [in Ukraine]. I didn’t know how long I would be gone when I went … so it was just sort of like, “[I’ll see you] in a few days.” And then in a few days it was “in a few days” and they were okay with that. I was grateful to be able to see and share something that I felt the world wanted and needed to see, and to be a small part of that was very important. And I think that when children see their parents doing work that is meaningful, that’s a good thing.

And it’s a good thing for them, as they grow, to understand that doing meaningful things is sometimes hard. And every job has its own challenges, but they see that their parents do that and have this aspect of their lives. That’s really important.

On her nighttime routine and sleep:
I’m home by 8:30 p.m. and I can spend some time with my kids and put them to bed. The only time in the day that I have to myself is after they go to bed, so I’ll read a book, but I am usually in bed before midnight.

Sleep is the thing that I know I need to work at. My sleep issue is not a badge of honor. I need more sleep, and I think that’s the single biggest life improvement I could do. I’ll sometimes nap and fall asleep with one of my kids for an hour on a Saturday afternoon or something. That’s a really nice treat.

What’s on her nightstand:
I enjoy reading. A lot of what I read is adjacent to my job, but it’s not necessarily stuff about my job. I would say Bill Gates’s book about climate change was actually really excellent. It was so logical. And I like to read fiction. Bill Bryson’s The Body was really interesting. [Reading is] not necessarily about being hopeful, but it just reminds you about how many fascinating, interesting things there are going on.

On decompressing:
I follow this one amazing account, it’s called Massimo, @Rainmaker1973. He is from Italy and he finds the most fascinating things. It could be about how a machine works, to something about black holes, to this cool visual. He’s great.

And then also just being around my children … They’re very joyful. They’re children, so it’s impossible to not have that sort of joy and excitement about life rub off on you when you spend time with them.

How CNN Anchor Erin Burnett Gets It Done