Christie Johnson (ABJ 07), director of White House bookings for CNN, has been named one of six Grady alumni in the UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class this year. She has worked for CNN since 2014, where she has broken countless stories and arranged exclusive interviews. Prior to that, Johnson worked as an on-air talent, reporter and producer for TMZ, Anderson Cooper Live and Bethany Cooper Live. Johnson won an Emmy award in 2020 for an interview she coordinated with the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. We are pleased to highlight Johnson in her own words.
What skill or advice should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers?
I would encourage anyone who gets a job right out of college to go shake hands and meet with as many people in the company as possible. Get to know everyone from the janitor to the CEO. It is shocking to me how many people don’t do this. In the news world, it is all about who you know. Down the line, the relationships you form are going to be extremely important in helping you stay connected in the industry and move up the food chain. Every so often, shoot an email to check in with someone to suggest a creative idea you think could help the company, take someone out to coffee to connect, etc. Early on in your career ask people if you can help them by taking on extra assignments (even if you’re not getting paid for it). Connect, connect, connect!
Is there a piece of advice from one of your Grady College professors that still guides you today?
I learned to never take “no” for an answer from Professor Hazinski. Every reporter is after the same story you are. If you make a call and someone tells you they don’t have any information or that they don’t want to talk, try another route. Who else can you call? Whose door can you leave a note on to call you back? Just keep going. Keep digging deeper. Think of unconventional angles that other reporters aren’t thinking of because there is somebody out there that knows the answer to what you’re trying find out – it just may not be the first official or person that you speak with.
Are you currently working in your “dream job”? If not, what is your dream role?
I am so happy to say that yes, I am working in my dream job. I actually don’t know of a lot of people who can say that. I absolutely love what I do. I’m able to work with the most powerful leaders in the world and manage interviews that provide critical information to the public at large…which is why I’m in this industry in the first place. If you’re not passionate about the media industry, and you’re working in it, you’re not going to survive. Also, the company I work for is amazing. After working hard and moving up the ranks within CNN, my boss agreed to let me work remotely out of South Carolina where I can raise my children close to family. I love that I can work out of my home office but I’m also able to fly to DC and NY monthly for in-person meetings or interviews that I don’t want to miss. I probably work even harder now that I’m down in South Carolina to prove that I cando my job successfully from anywhere. I love the people I work with and the work I do. It’s a win-win.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
“He’s not the one, pray more and don’t care so much about what other people think!” Kidding…kind of. In all seriousness, I would have told myself “Buckle up. Life is a lot bigger and more fantastic than you know. You’re going to be thrown a lot of curve balls and a lot of blessings. Jump into opportunities with both feet, stay true to yourself and the worries that are all encompassing right now won’t mean a thing in a couple years.”
Looking back at your time at Grady, is there anything you wish you had done (classes you had taken, skills you would have liked to have learned, clubs to be involved with) that would help you with what you are doing today?
I wish I would have taken more classes on politics. I left UGA pursuing a career as an entertainment reporter in Los Angeles. Years later, I ended up managing political interviews for CNN Worldwide. Talk about a 180! Thankfully, I worked hard and learned the ins-and-outs of the political world very quickly, but I still wish I would have studied politics more in college. Learning about how politics have shaped, and continue to shape, our country is fascinating. It is also extremely important to be an informed citizen politically so you can vote and make a difference in what is happening in our nation.
CNN’s 5 Things
One job-related tool you can’t live without?
Favorite restaurant in Athens?
Last Resort Grill
Favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Hotel Monteverei in Tuscany, Italy. It’s a slice of heaven on Earth.
Item on your bucket list?
Traveling to Greece with my husband
Six Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Grady College alumni honored in 2022 include:
- Emily Curl (ABJ ’14)
- Lauren Culbertson Greico (ABJ ’09)
- Christie Johnson (ABJ ’07)
- Chad Mumm (ABJ ’08)
- Kevin Schatell (ABJ ’16)
- Michael Waldron (ABJ ’10)
We will welcome five of the honorees back to Grady College on Friday, Sept. 9 for a “Message to My Younger Self” panel. Please join us in the Peyton Anderson Forum (room 238) at 10 a.m. A light breakfast will be offered.