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Bobbie Battista: Memories of 20 years at CNN

Bobbie Battista was the host of CNN's "TalkBack Live," where for the last three years she has blended a live studio audience, news maker guests and an audience from around the world, participating via phone, fax, and the Internet. Battista was one of the original CNN Headline News anchors when the network launched in 1981. Since joining CNN in 1988, Battista has anchored "Today," "World News," and "Prime News," as well as several other shows and specials. Before her final appearance as host of "TalkBack Live" on Friday, Battista joined the chat room from CNN Center, Atlanta GA.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Bobbie Battista, and welcome.

BOBBIE BATTISTA: Hi everybody!

CNN: What do you remember of your start in 1981 with CNN Headline News?

BATTISTA: [laughing] Oh gosh! I remember that the network was so young that it was chaotic, and it was crazy, and it was also very familial. It was a fun time to work at CNN, and I am grateful that I was here in the beginning years, and the growth years. The best of times.

TalkBack Live 

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie, you are going to be so missed.

BATTISTA: I appreciate that so much! I know you'll hear me say it today, that the audience has always been very kind and generous to me. I'll miss you all a lot, and I don't even really know who you are! As an entity, I'll miss the audience very much.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Hi Bobbie. What are your plans?

BATTISTA: I hope to still do some television, not in cable news, I won't do that. I'd only do that for CNN. I may do commercials, project work for Lifetime, HGTV, fun things like that. I'll also be starting a consulting business, where I'll coach politicians, corporate executives, and young newscasters. Very excited about that!

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie, what was your most interesting show you have done in your 20 years.

BATTISTA: That's like picking your favorite child! Very hard to do! Oh man... well, memorable newscasts would have to be all those great moments in history over the last 20 years, whether the Challenger explosion, the assassination attack on Reagan, the Gulf War, certainly this terrorist attack. Those were memorable from the anchor desk. As far as TalkBack, we've had some serious shows, and some fun shows. If I had to pick, I'd say I liked Free for All Fridays the best!

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie, where were you on September 11? Where you in the newsroom when the first plane hit? What were your feelings at that time?

BATTISTA: I was at home, getting ready to get in the shower. My husband had just gotten out of the shower, and was supposed to be on an 11:00 flight that morning. We stood in front of the television, watching it all unfold. I knew I had to get in to work as soon as possible. I looked at him and said, "You're not going anywhere today." So I came to work quickly. I remember being stunned, horrified, and frightened, all at once.

CNN: You once worked in radio under the name Bobbie Ann, right?

BATTISTA: My real name is Barbara Ann, and I worked in radio many years ago as Bobbie Ann. A country music station! Could you guess?

CNN: Was moving to 'TalkBack Live' a natural progression for you?

BATTISTA: I would think so. They tried a lot of people on that show, and I have to think a part of the reason they picked me was because I was comfortable with it. I'd been comfortable on the anchor desk, and was glad to have a way to show some personality. It's completely different from the anchor desk, and was a complete career change, also. Probably the hardest thing I've ever done, to be honest with you.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: When you host , you make the show more fun and interesting. What tips do you have for future 'TalkBack Live' hosts?

BATTISTA: I'm gonna get paid for that advice now! [laughing] My advice to them is that you have to learn to relax with that show, and go with the flow. Whatever plan you have in mind as for how the show will go? Forget it. You have to be very laid back, and not easily excitable, for sure. You have to know how to connect with the guests, and make them feel comfortable, and you have to be comfortable with the live audience. It's like being a ringmaster and an air traffic controller, all at once.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie any embarrassing moments during your career?

BATTISTA: Probably today, at the end of the show! I probably won't be able to keep myself from crying, and that's embarrassing on national television. Not really. I tried never to feel embarrassed. If I made a mistake, I admitted it. I didn't try to cover things up, so I'd feel the need to be embarrassed.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie, you have to have a Ted Turner story. Can you share with us?

BATTISTA: The one or two I have may not be printable! Ted is such a character. I don't necessarily have one, but he's a great guy, and someone that I've always admired. He's the reason I came to work here 20 years ago. He's gone now, and that's maybe why so many of us old timers are finding other things to do. It's sort of the end of an era.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What advice can you give to aspiring television reporters?

BATTISTA: Again, I'm gonna get paid for that! No, I'm kidding. You must go to college. You must major in either political science or broadcast journalism. You'll have to be willing to go to a small town somewhere, and do your time in the trenches. There's a lot of competition, and you have to work your way up. Or, you can start at an entry level position at a [network like] CNN, but if you want to be an anchor, you'll have to do your time in the trenches. You have to love what you do. It's probably one of the most rewarding fields you could ever choose to work in.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What small town was Bobbie in?

BATTISTA: Raleigh, North Carolina back in 1975 was pretty small! Actually, I started in radio in Fuquay-Varina,NC! That's where I was Bobbie Ann, doing news updates on a country station, and occasionally disk jockeying. I got very lucky, because CNN called me six years later. That's unusual.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie , there are any difference between the CNN of 20 years ago and the CNN of today in your opinion?

BATTISTA: At its heart and soul, there's no difference. I believe it's the greatest news network in the world, and the one you can trust the most. In that sense, there's no difference. The differences are cosmetic, the management, different ways of doing things. The integrity of CNN is still intact. We'll never have those again, those wonderful times in the beginning, where we were all in this together, trying to fill 24 hours a day with news, working with second rate equipment, not knowing if we'll get paychecks. That can't be duplicated. Now it's a big corporation.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobbie, who discovered you and brought you to CNN?

BATTISTA: Sam Zelman. He [had been] a producer with "Sixty Minutes" for years, and was retired from CBS when they pulled him over to help start up CNN. CNN was started by mostly retired network executives. He had worked at my station in Raleigh as a consultant, and called me a year or so later to ask if I wanted to come work for CNN.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Bobby, who is taking your place, and would you ever come back to "Talk Back Live."

BATTISTA: You never say never. I don't know who will take my place. In the interim it will be various news anchors who have done the show before, and they'll start a search for someone. I may be back to fill in occasionally. In terms of coming back permanently, I doubt it, but you never say never.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you expect of CNN in the 21st century?

BATTISTA: Wow, in 25 words or less? [laughing] I expect them to carry on with all the integrity and the highest journalistic standards. That's what we started with, and I expect them to be carried into the 21st century and beyond. It's not so important to be number one as it is to be accurate and fair.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments to share with us?

BATTISTA: That would be hard, because I'll start crying, and won't be able to stop, and I have to do the show! Thank you all for your wonderful questions, and your support over the years.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today

BATTISTA: I appreciate it and will miss you all. Thank you!!

Bobbie Battista joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Friday, November 2, 2001.


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