Question everything. Don’t trust anyone. Learn to fail.
After working to keep an international cable news network on air and operating during a pandemic when all of his presenters were at home, a Columbia alumnus found the time to offer students information and advice during a recent visit to campus.
John Davies, CNN’s international vice president of technical operations and alumnus of Columbia College Chicago, met with Columbia students on Thursday, October 14 in a conference room in Building 33 E. Ida B. Wells.
In his presentation, which took place in a hybrid format, as he spoke with students with him in the room as well as with students on Zoom, Davies gave advice to the next generation of journalists and discussed of his career in the industry.
“Question everything, trust no one, listen and learn from everyone. It’s a big deal. … I also say do all the work… never deny any type of experience, ”Davies said. “Take risks and learn to fail. … If you’re right, you’re not doing anything.
Davies, who graduated from Columbia in 1988, began working for CNN as a video reporter two weeks after graduating in broadcast journalism. Since then, Davies has risen through the ranks at CNN, moving from video journalism to working as an audio operator and training to become one of CNN’s technical directors, before becoming vice president of technical operations.
In addition to sharing his experience at Columbia and giving tips on how to navigate the journalism industry, Davies also gave students a taste of what it was like to continue to broadcast CNN live during COVID-19. .
“[I wanted to] give students a glimpse of what live TV production looks like during COVID, ”Davies said. “It’s not just a CNN thing, all broadcasters had to do it,… but it’s the behind-the-scenes challenges that it took. … March 2020, when that was happening – what did we need to do to adapt?
Davies said CNN sent their anchors home at the start of the pandemic and spent around $ 250,000 per home installation for the anchors to broadcast
on air from their homes. Davies also said that in general, only one production manager or technical producer was allowed in each presenter’s house due to social distancing measures, which resulted in almost the entire production team broadcasting remotely.
Erin McCarthy, acting chair of the communications department and associate professor of history in the humanities, history and social sciences, said Columbia, as an institution, is grateful to alumni like Davies who return and talk to students.
“I think we’ve seen the bond between alumni and the institution grow and grow and grow over the past few years,” McCarthy said. “For someone [like Davies] for coming during this time and wanting to give back… we are so grateful. We all have things to learn.
Dirk Matthews, senior director of alumni relations at Columbia, has been working to bring Davies back to campus to share his story with students for over a year.
“I heard [Davies’] history and was particularly intrigued by his process – not only his career – but [I] also thought the way he approached his job during the pandemic was unique, ”Matthews said. “We’ve probably been talking about getting him to come and talk to the students for probably almost a year, and it was a great time for him to be in Chicago and have him talk to the students. “
Davies was able to inspire students firsthand with his career story. Francia Garcia Hernadez, a graduate student of the civic media program, said she walked away from the presentation with a new vision of networking in journalism.
“I think Columbia is doing a very good job in bringing [to campus] the alumni and the people we can meet and work with to inspire us, ”said Garcia Hernandez. “It makes it seem like it’s really possible for you to have these big names [in media] and join them, rather than being on your computer trying to apply for a job. As students, we get a lot of benefits from it.
In addition to his work at CNN, Davies spoke about how Columbia helped anchor a strong work ethic in him and how the school still influences him to this day.
“I never had a teacher [at Columbia] who just didn’t like what they were doing, ”Davies said. “Teachers and professors are the backbone of Columbia because they are in the industry. It’s hard to put your finger on something like that because it’s just ingrained in everything I felt about Columbia. I’m just super impressed with the school. “Columbia proud” is something I think every student could say because they were proud to have gone to school. “