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