KIMBERLY BROOKS ON WORKING FOR OPRAH, HER SWITCH OVER FROM MED SCHOOL TO JOURNALISM, AND FOLLOWING YOUR HEART
Interview: Kimberly Brooks (Nightline on Fusion)
You went to Columbia for undergrad?
I went to Northwestern in Chicago for undergrad and I went to Columbia for grad school in New York
How did you first become interested in Journalism?
When I actually went to undergrad for pre-med I did these internships at Columbia medical school, but it was like the middle of my junior year when I realized I didn’t want to go to medical school anymore. I wanted to do more creative stuff so I looked for other options. At school I learned about the journalism program because I didn’t even know at the time you could do anything on television and actually have a job. My sister wanted to be an attorney; my cousins wanted to be teachers.
Once you decided that you did want to do journalism, what was your first step?
My first job out of undergrad was actually working at this start up marketing Fashion Company in Chicago and after a year I’m like if I’m going to do journalism, I need to get on the right track. The only place I wanted to work was for the Oprah show. I basically harassed this internship coordinator. I found his name in the directory and I kept leaving him messages, but I finally worked my way in there and starting working. I was taking care of all the guests on the show and then I worked in her school at South Africa.
How long were you working for the Oprah show?
It was about a year and a half. I had no experience in TV so for me being around it was when I was able to get my mind thinking the way that producers do. I didn’t even know how anything was done. My contract ended and from there I was able to get my next job. I worked at NBC for four years and then I moved to New York for grad school, ABC, and then here.
What was your first on-air experience?
The first time I was on air was filling in for a host that was gone and I did a piece on a restaurant. I did this little piece for lollapalooza and it was little but every time you do something that you really want to be doing, it feels right.
In all of that, what do you feel has been the hardest obstacle to overcome?
Just like you, I knew that I wanted to do stuff on-air. I loved talking to people and I wanted to tell stories, but ultimately I wanted to be on-air. I think the hardest part of it is saying that with conviction and without back tracking. People would say “what do you want to do on television?” and it almost seemed like if you said you wanted to be on television or be the face of something, it was taboo. I remember talking to this guy in ABC. He was one of the executive producers for one of the shows and he was probably the first person I said that to. I always felt like inside these networks I had to say I want to produce or at some point I want to be a correspondent so that it never seemed like I was over stepping the boundaries. One day, I said no, I actually want to be on-air and other people are doing it so it’s obviously possible. I will say though, I am very happy I did all the producing stuff first—that helps a lot when it comes to being on-air.
Knowing everything you know now, what is the best piece of advice you can give someone that is straight out of journalism school or still has a few years to go?
If you know that there is something you really want to do and there’s a little fire inside your belly just thinking about it and it’s something you really want, I don’t care what anyone tells you, you don’t let that go. You don’t let anyone else dictate your life. Whatever you see for your life, it can change. For a very long time I thought I’d be a doctor in a white coat and I worked very hard for that and was inches away from going to medical school, but one thing I am so proud of myself for is I changed my mind. I didn’t keep going because that’s what I thought my parents wanted. I have never thought in limitations. My dad always said anything was possible.
What did your parents say when you made the change from medical school to journalism?
A: My dad raised me so it was mainly he. He put blood, sweat and tears to make sure we got through school. I could see that there was some disappointment in seeing that I was not going to do what I always said I was going to do, but it wasn’t until recently that we were talking to someone else and he expressed it. He always just told me to do what made me happy and I’m just so grateful for that. Even if it doesn’t make sense and you fail, it doesn’t matter. I don’t like negative talk, being realistic is fine but being negative doesn’t get you anywhere. I just don’t think things are impossible.
Photos courtesy of: @nightlineonfusion