Erin Burnett Gets Out in Front of the News

CNN’s newest anchor previews her upcoming show

Erin Burnett made headlines in April when she jumped from CNBC to CNN. Now, she plans to get out and in front on each day's news in her 7 p.m. show, OutFront, which premieres Oct. 3. The new CNN anchor spoke with Andrea Morabito, B&C staff writer, about how her program will be "passionate without being partisan," the format of the series and her opinion of the cable news landscape. An edited transcript follows.

What does the title of your show, OutFront, mean?

That we're going to be out in the field, out talking to people and out reporting every day. There's going to be a big focus on original reporting in our stories. In a modern nightly newscast, there are going to be certain stories that everyone is going to need to cover. We're going to cover them, but with a different angle that we think is going to be in front of the headlines that you might end up seeing a couple of days later, or an angle that you might see a couple of days later. That's the standard that we're setting for ourselves as a show.

What can you tell us about the format of the show at this time?

There's going to be tough issues that we really care about, that we're very passionate about, and I guess the best way to describe it is that we want to be passionate without being partisan. Women's issues is one of them, the economy is another one. There are certain global stories that we're very passionate about. And I think you'll see those constantly recurring. We'll be developing those and reporting on those even when there isn't necessarily a breaking headline that day in that area. We're really going to be going on during the election season on the economy. Other networks end up becoming partisan and political, and we are able to present in a way that is not that because of where we come from. Then there's also going to be a really interesting person that we're going to talk to every day, which could be someone we are fascinated by and inspired by, or it could be someone who happens to be a major newsmaker. That's going to be in there every day -somebody's story that we find really interesting, motivating, curious, funny, whatever it might be.

How do you feel about your 7 p.m. time slot?

I'm really excited because I think it's an hour where you can do modern news. Once you move past 7, you start to get more politics and analysis and that's what you tend to see. So I think it's a great opportunity for us; [for] what we want to do, 7 is the perfect spot. I also think that it's the dinnertime hour and families are together. Obviously, our country is changing, and I don't mean to say that in a 1950s kind of way. But still, it is when you see people home, trying to balance everything and do things as a family. That's the hour you see it in, and a lot of the issues we care a lot about are going to hit that sweet spot.

What's your opinion of the cable news landscape today?

You look at politics now and everyone says well, there's got to be a third way, because people are so tired of the shrill voices that they're hearing on the left and the right. And I think if you look at the media industry, there should be an opportunity for a third way as well. I think that the third way doesn't always mean just putting on someone from the left and right and letting them fight. I think we've all learned that that doesn't necessarily work that well either, and the audience is so used to the talking points they don't learn anything from that so you're not necessarily adding value by doing that. Which is why we're trying to do careful story selection and true analysis of what people are saying, give an answer, call it out, but not come out and say we're going to be giving you talking points from the left and talking points from the right. I think that finding that third way is a challenge, and I really think that this is CNN's time to do it.

You said in the first promo you want the show to be smart, authentic and have courage. How is that going to translate in the stories you cover?

We always have to have something that is a different angle or bringing to bear reporting or experiences that we've had that are going to make the show smart. I also think that contributes to being authentic. It is a voice that we have and developed that's based on the reporting that we've done, the places that we've been or areas of expertise that we have. And I think courageousness can be defined a lot of ways. I know there's the typical way of getting out in the field and getting the story in a scary place. By definition, we're going to do that. But I also think it's having the courage to do stories that other people may not do. Sometimes at CNN being courageous means having fun and being willing to laugh at yourself, and that's something we're also going to do. There is an irreverence that we're going to bring-at times, not the entire show.

 
It's been emphasized that yours will be a general news show, not a business news show. But what from your business news background will you draw on or use to your advantage in OutFront?

I think that the general American public, clearly from every poll, cares about the economy more than anything else this election season. They care about the economy, and to the extent they care about foreign affairs and the wars, those are the two areas where I spent the most time over the past few years. With the economy, we understand the issues and hopefully translating what the issues really are and what these people are truly saying, i.e. the candidates, in a way that is trustworthy because it's based on real analysis and real numbers and understanding of the economics of the business side of things. I think people really crave honesty there and obviously they are getting spun constantly by both sides when it comes to these jobs plans or whatever it might be. And I think we really can keep them honest in terms of what they're really saying and why they're saying it. That's important because the general public wants this information and in a way that they haven't in other elections, so it's sort of a really perfect time for us with our background to step onto the general news arena.

 
How much do you care about ratings in the first weeks, and your competition at that hour?

We all want to do well on ratings right? I think that we just want to do a show that people go, ‘OK, that's a great show, they're doing something different, they're really pushing the envelope here and they're doing smart content.' That's what you want people to hopefully come away with. And I believe that if you do that, the ratings will follow. You want people to find you and watch you and give you a chance and hopefully come back again. Yeah, you'd love it to be magic at the beginning, but I think magic takes time to build. I think both of the mission statements of the other shows that are on at this hour are different than ours which I think is a great opportunity for us because we're trying to do something different [for] a different audience.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito