Eric Hall’s internship with minor league baseball team the Kannapolis Intimidators made one thing clear to him: he didn’t want to go into sports.
Instead, because he was a self-proclaimed news junkie, he followed that passion through college, eventually ending up as a producer at CNN for the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. time slot.
Hall, a former Elon University student, spoke to a reporting class Feb. 14 about television news, journalism and the importance of internships in the job search, focusing on his path from student to producer at CNN. If you ask him, it was his internships that got him to where he is now.
When he left Elon, he headed first to a hiring firm in Charlotte, N.C. This, like the baseball team, was another job that taught him what he didn’t want to do.
“It’s was just kind of one of those first post-graduate experiences that you have,” Hall said. “I hated every minute of it. I would look online at news and I’d kind of miss it and wish I was in it.
He ended up freelancing for The View as a production assistant. The job — a three-month gig– came out of an internship he’d done at the show his senior year. And because it was so short, with no guarantees, he wasn’t going to take the job.
“I woke up one morning, and Peter Jennings had died,” he said. “And it was such a big story, I felt like i was missing it all.”
So he went, and did the Barbara Walters special. Then he came back for the Oscars, working two months of freelance for them. From there, networking connected him to CNN, where he went to do a similar short-term gig. But he was also offered a full-time job at The View.
He stayed up all night, wrestling with whether to take the job at The View.
“I finally just said, I gotta take another risk,” Hall said. “So I went to CNN.”
He was there for about ten months, then went back to Barbara Walters, then to HLN’s Glenn Beck show. Soon afterward, someone he knew from CNN who recommended him to Shepard Smith’s staff at FOX News. He started pitching idea after idea there; one was a news comedy package. The FOX staff liked it, so he wrote it, edited it and produced it. His first piece aired within four weeks of him working at FOX.
He started writing full time eventually, and went on the road with Shep. He was on the campaign trail during this, and covered Hurricane Katrina, as well. He began to produce Shep’s website, too.
But soon, he realized he couldn’t live in New York anymore, because the lifestyle’s expensive, and he’d just gotten married. A job opened at CNN, so applied and got it, moving to Atlanta.
“It was good — change is always good, and it builds up opportunities,” he said.
He said while he’s glad he’s not graduating now, in the midst of a recession any graduate wants to get that perfect, perfect job.
“It’s hard to plan ahead. I had no idea ABC was going to call me,” he said. “And when those opportunities come along, you’ve gotta take the risk … In retrospect, I’m shocked I did it. I like the stableness.”
His advice? “Know how to write,” Hall said. “You’ve got to be prepared to write for anything at the last second … I’m very lucky to have gotten my start in newspaper.”
Another thing he suggests to college students is to avoid a sense of entitlement.
“A lot of people expect to be up there right away,” he said. “It’s almost a little suicidal.”
Part of the reason he said he learned to write news was because started as the opinions editor at The Pendulum, Elon’s student newspaper.
“I remember trying a few new things right off the bat,” he said. “At least in this industry, you’ve got to think outside the box to survive. The game changes every day.”
He also suggests students do something above their pay grade.
“Even if you’re not going to show it to anybody,” he said. “Prove to yourself that you can do it.”
But for him, that doesn’t mean moving up to be an anchor. He likes being behind the scenes, writing for the shows.
“I’ve been losing too much hair for that,” he said, responding to a question from a student about being in front of the camera.
But he did have a suggestion for students who want to be anchors: You have to be able to adlib.
“Shepard Smith is one of the best adlibbers in the country,” he said. “You can really tell the best ones out in the field.”
He said CNN’s Anderson Cooper is one of the top guys.
“He just gets out there, tells you the facts, tells you what he knows.” “You don’t have to babysit an anchor like that — or not babysit, but produce for them in a tight amount of time.”
But this on-the-run style of work isn’t limited to reporters. He said his normal day is still chaotic, talking about how he’s seen producers who have suitcases under their desks — what he called a “fly bag” — that at any time could be taken anywhere for days or weeks.
“I compare working in TV news to working in an emergency room,” Hall said. “It’s why CNN exists, for up-to-the-minute, up-to-the-second news.”
And though he diversifies his television news habits, when it’s a big story, he sticks to his own company.
“I’ve gotta say, Egypt, though, it was just all CNN all the time,” Hall said.
For the live tweets from the event, check out #erichallelon.