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Acting As A Mentor And Advocate, Poppy Harlow Sees Journalism As More Than A Career

Poppy Harlow
 

Poppy Harlow, an American journalist and anchor at CNN, believes that not only should journalists report the news and facts, but they should also be a voice for the voiceless. Serving as a board member and mentor at New York City’s Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, she’s able to champion the organization’s initiative which is committed to changing lives. Nationally, 97% of Club teens expect to graduate from high school, and 76% of low-income Club members ages 12 to 18 who attend the Club regularly reported receiving mostly A’s and B’s, compared to 67% of their peers nationally.

“It has impacted my life by doing something bigger for me and not for me or my family,” Harlow smiles, “that is for society. I started volunteering there before I joined the board. Five or six years ago, I remember vividly, when I was walking through the park in Brooklyn heading to the subway to get to work. I looked at my husband and I was like ‘there’s got to be more…how can I give back?’ So, I just went down there and started volunteering. I helped a girl with a speech impediment on her public speaking, and then I helped her apply to college. I still mentor her. So, it’s changed my life because it’s like there’s much more to this life than us.”

Her career experiences have prepared her for her role at the Club. It was during college where she had the opportunity to intern at CBS MarketWatch. “I really got this interest in news,” she states, “but I was set to go to law school. I wanted to be a lawyer like my dad.” Harlow’s father passed when she was 15-years old. Since then she had a vision of following in his footsteps.

“I applied to the top five law schools and didn’t get into any of them even though I had straight A’s at Columbia. I thought I planned it all perfectly. Clearly, I didn’t, which is the best thing that ever happened to me. I remember being so upset. I didn’t get into Harvard or Columbia or Yale law, and I thought my life was over. It was really just this enormous door opening for me and I needed to step through. But, you don’t know that in the moment when you’re just faced with rejection letters. So, I was like ‘well, I’m not going to law school; I’m going to try this journalism thing.’”

Although journalism was her second choice, she considers it her side door into a career where she is able to make an impact in the world. “I think it was the curiosity,” Harlow states, “the chasing the story, the demanding answers, the pressing people for answers, which I do every day on our show, and what I do in my interviews. And, being able to tell really important stories…For example, reporting in Flint, Michigan on the lead water crisis. There were all these mothers and fathers whose children were permanently disabled because of the lead in the water. But, they would never get to sit down with the governor of Michigan and interview him, but I did. I had an exclusive interview with him. I remember talking to these parents before asking ‘what would you ask him? What would you say to him? What do you want to know?’ We have to be their voice and ask the questions they want to ask.”

Before having children, Harlow was strictly focused on her career. It wasn’t until she had her first child that she learned the true meaning of work-life balance which has made her more intentional with her decisions. “Having [her first child],” Harlow comments, “I think actually has helped me. I was terrified about what having a child would do to my career because I thought I wouldn’t have enough time. I still never have enough time, but I don’t think any of us do. It made me much more focused; intensely focused and purposeful in every single thing I do. The meetings that I take, the lunches I have, how am I going to spend this 15 minutes of time is so intentional now…I had just filled my calendar even after I had her for the first six months with coffees and this and that. If I saw an open slot, should I fill that with something? I was driving myself crazy and running ragged…I’m not perfect at it now, but I’ve become much more intentional with the decisions that I make, which I think has made me a better journalist.”

As a journalist, Harlow continues to pivot her story angles and focuses on these steps to assist her in her strategy:

  • Be honest with yourself. What do you really want? Not what do you think society should tell you to do.
  • Take risks, but know when you’re not well equipped for it; don’t just jump off the cliff.
  • Figure out how this pivot will fulfill you. If it’s just for the money, most likely that’s not going to make you happy in the long run.

“I’m proud of the stories that I do,” Harlow concludes. “And, certainly being the voice for people who don’t have an audience. I still want to be better at being strong and fighting for my worth and knowing my value. It’s a journey.”

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