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In­ter­na­tional TV ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ar­mie Jarin-Ben­nett walked a unique path to­wards be­com­ing a re­spected force in her field, as Eana Maniebo finds out

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Ar­mie Jarin-Ben­nett aims to el­e­vate the qual­ity of lo­cal jour­nal­ism as the pres­i­dent of CNN Philippines

It was quite a jump. Ar­mie Jar­inBen­nett, now the pres­i­dent of CNN Philippines, wanted to go be­yond writ­ing short spiels and de­liv­er­ing top-of-the-hour news at lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions, which she had been do­ing for al­most eight years back in the ’90s. “I was work­ing with dif­fer­ent ra­dio sta­tions and fell in love with the news. I wanted my next step to be tele­vi­sion news, but writ­ing for TV and for ra­dio are two dif­fer­ent things. When I was look­ing for a job on TV, I was too ju­nior for some of the net­works, so no one would hire me,” she says. At 28, she de­cided to start over and pur­sue her jour­nal­ism ca­reer over­seas. She reached out to CNN, one of the most trusted news or­gan­i­sa­tions in the world. “I wrote CNN ex­press­ing my de­sire to train there, and they in­vited me to come in as an in­tern.”

Ar­mie was ready. She left her job as a news di­rec­tor at a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion, packed her bags, and moved over­seas to At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, where the CNN Cen­tre was lo­cated. “Af­ter a cou­ple of months, I ap­plied for a writ­ing po­si­tion but failed. In­stead I was of­fered a more ju­nior po­si­tion as pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant,” she re­lates. But she wel­comed the idea of start­ing from scratch. “I was fill­ing print­ers with pa­per, get­ting wa­ter for the an­chors, scrolling the teleprompter—me­nial tasks,” she re­calls. “But I didn’t give up. I was ready to un­learn my writ­ing style to learn ap­pro­pri­ate ones. It’s a dif­fer­ent skillset and I was a to­tal new­bie.” Al­though she was by her­self in a for­eign land, Ar­mie did not feel alone. She found a lot of sup­port from her par­ents, who are both doc­tors, and whom she con­sid­ers her great­est men­tors.

From the get-go, Ar­mie was open about her de­sire to be a pro­ducer and, some­day, run a news­room. She was per­sis­tent and fo­cused on hon­ing her skills. She took again the writ­ing test she pre­vi­ously failed and passed it this time. She ad­vanced to be an as­so­ciate writer. She was back to writ­ing short scripts and was train­ing her­self non­stop. Ar­mie would stay at the CNN Cen­tre un­til one in the morn­ing to prac­tice her writ­ing, then wake up at 4 am and prac­tice again. She be­gan to write news leads con­sis­tently. In 2000, she be­came a news pro­ducer for CNN In­ter­na­tional and a su­per­vis­ing pro­ducer four years later. By 2008, she was al­ready an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer manag­ing the 24/ 7 daily news op­er­a­tion of the net­work. Five years later, she moved to CNN In­ter­na­tional Asia Pa­cific in Hong Kong as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of con­tent sales and part­ner­ship.

As a pro­ducer, Ar­mie has cov­ered nu­mer­ous tragedies and dan­gers: the civil war in the Mid­dle East; the 9/11 at­tack; armed con­flicts in Iraq; the Egyp­tian Rev­o­lu­tion (which earned her and her team an Emmy Award for Out­stand­ing Live Cov­er­age of a Cur­rent News Story - Long For­mat in 2012) and Typhoon Haiyan in Ta­cloban, Philippines (which earned

her an Emmy nom­i­na­tion). Ar­mie’s role at CNN has been su­per­vis­ing the news­room from in­side most of the time, but on rare oc­ca­sions that she gets to go out, she tries her best to keep her emo­tions in check.

“I can usu­ally dis­tance my­self from the sto­ries, but when I see chil­dren who are abused, hurt, or killed, it re­ally breaks me,” she ad­mits. She was based in Hong Kong when Haiyan struck cen­tral Philippines. Col­leagues from CNN In­ter­na­tional phoned to en­list her help, from book­ing guests to lo­cat­ing CNN crew al­ready on the ground, to pro­duc­ing An­der­son Cooper’s cov­er­age of the su­per typhoon. There she met a woman who lost her hus­band along with all six chil­dren. “I worked with some of the best jour­nal­ists of CNN dur­ing Haiyan. I was de­sen­si­tised when I was on the ground be­cause I knew I had to help peo­ple. You need to have the strength to do your job, and I had sup­port from the peo­ple there who were also very com­posed,” she says gra­ciously. It was when she was back at home with her hus­band, John Ben­nett, who was also then a jour­nal­ist at CNN, and their two chil­dren, that re­al­ity struck: she could not stop her tears when she watched the cov­er­age on TV. CNN pro­vided them with ther­apy for the phys­i­cal, men­tal, and emo­tional trauma the ex­pe­ri­ence may have caused.

HOME AT LAST

Af­ter 19 years of work­ing for CNN In­ter­na­tional, Ar­mie moved back home in 2015 to be CNN Philippines’ ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for news and cur­rent af­fairs. In Oc­to­ber last year, she was pro­moted to pres­i­dent. “This is my chance to give back to so­ci­ety. I re­ally want to earn the trust of our au­di­ences here. We can make a dif­fer­ence when our sto­ry­telling is ac­cu­rate, fair, and bal­anced,” she says with con­vic­tion.

Ar­mie and John are blessed with two chil­dren—Henry, 14, and Chloe, 12—whom she says are very re­silient de­spite be­ing up­rooted from At­lanta to Hong Kong, and then to the Philippines. While liv­ing in Hong Kong, the chil­dren trav­elled to the Philippines four times a year to be with their grand­par­ents, so the move to their mother’s home­land was an easy tran­si­tion. “They wel­come the change and are very re­spect­ful,” Ar­mie re­marks. Hav­ing a hus­band who un­der­stands what her job en­tails is also a big help, es­pe­cially with her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as the pres­i­dent of CNN Philippines. “We’re try­ing to prove that our jour­nal­ism is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the CNN brand. I’m for­tu­nate that I have good col­leagues who I want to con­tinue in­spir­ing so they can keep up their good work,” she says.

She over­sees a lean and mean team of 350 peo­ple and brings her years of ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, and skills to men­tor her em­ploy­ees. She de­scribes her­self as a hand­son man­ager. She writes, pro­duces, and also su­per­vises go­ings-on in the con­trol room. “I can only teach by ex­am­ple. I can’t just tell them what to do when news breaks; I have to be there with them in the news­room to guide them. I want to teach them what it takes to up­hold the high stan­dards of jour­nal­ism CNN is known for,” she says.

“I want to teach them what it takes to up­hold the high stan­dards of jour­nal­ism CNN is known for”

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