Norah O’Donnell, CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor, offered an Upper School assembly on her work as an Emmy-award journalist. O’Donnell spoke as part of the Siciliano Lecture Series, a gift of John C. Siciliano ’72 and his family, aimed at teaching students about ethics in government and the value of public service.
“Being a journalist is an incredible career,” O’Donnell told the students after sharing a sizzle reel with highlights from her work. “I have pulled nine Gs with the Thunderbirds. I have floated in zero G with astronauts. I’ve climbed over 120 feet to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. And I have thrown a football with Tom Brady and hit a six iron with Rory McIlroy… And that’s the fun stuff,” said O’Donnell, who also shared her experiences interviewing all six living U.S. presidents, reporting from regions leveled by natural and manmade disasters, and sitting down twice with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom she asked outright: “Did you order the murder of [Washington Post reporter] Jamal Khashoggi?”
O’Donnell attributed her success as a reporter to being a good listener who has worked to build relationships over time. “I have been able to do these interviews and have been asked back to interview some of the most powerful people in the world because of the power of relationships—being someone who is trustworthy, being someone who has integrity, being someone who listens, who does their homework, who asks questions without judging, but can point out and challenge people in a respectful way.”
“Being a journalist is like having a front row seat to history,” said O’Donnell. “But we’re not just a witness to history as journalists. In many ways, we are a powerful and, I hope, positive force that can bring about understanding.”
Quoting Walter Cronkite, whose chair O’Donnell now holds at CBS, she told the students: “‘Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.’” Added O’Donnell: “We need an informed electorate in order to make smart decisions about who we vote for, who we put in power, and how we hold them accountable.”
“I truly believe that journalism is a noble profession,” said O’Donnell. “We are helping to inform, we are helping to educate. We are helping to illuminate and enlighten the public about the most important issues of our time.”