The CNN Philippines’ Boss Tells It Like It Is

Armie Jarin-Bennett, president of CNN Philippines, shatters expectations.

She admits to being shy and introverted, preferring the comfort of the home she shares with her husband, former CNN director/producer John Bennett, and their children, aged 12 and 14, over parties.

She’s not afraid to shed tears, induced by fatigue and stress, before her staff.

The door to her office is always open so her staff, or even visitors like me, can step in and ask questions.

“Just call me Armie,” she tells me.

You see someone accustomed to answering questions because she’s done this as an interviewer in search of news, and as an interviewee that writers have sought out for her success story.

The BA Mass Communication graduate from De La Salle University entered CNN as an intern in the international media company’s Atlanta headquarters in 1996. She was hired the year after and worked as news writer-producer. She then rose to supervising producer and executive producer. As such, Armie worked long, unpredictable hours supervising CNN’s news operations.

In 2012, Armie won an Emmy award for “outstanding live coverage of a current event” for her coverage of the Egypt Revolution. She got an Emmy nomination again in 2013 for her coverage of the devastation inflicted by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in the Visayas.

Armie’s stint with the editorial side of CNN ended in 2013 when she joined Content Sales in Hong Kong and headed CNN’s content business in Asia Pacific.

Making Adjustments

The Filipina thrust into an American work environment had to adjust to foreign ways.

“I was not used to hearing people say things like it is. I got offended easily.”

But Armie realized not to take things personally, because her bosses and colleagues never meant to hurt her feelings. They just wanted to make things right.

These are the same guidelines she follows as head of CNN Philippines. Apart from charting company directions, Armie believes it’s her job to set things right, help the staff improve their work, and guide those who need help.

She’s like a mother who shepherds her flock in the newsroom, pointing the way, leading them back to the right path when they go astray.

Armie stays with them all the way, even as early as 4 a.m., for an election coverage.  She can stay way up late in the evening if the House debates aren’t over yet.

But you won’t see her partying because Armie is a homebody who prefers to spend her free time with her family. They go out, play board games, exchange stories during meals.

Armie monitors the news 24/7 on her cell phone while she’s at home, making sure her children enjoy their program of choice in the television in the family room.

“I don’t want to get in the way of my children’s fun.”

Her husband understands the pressures of her job. Semi-retired after spending 29 years at CNN, John feels comfortable looking after the children, thereby allowing Armie to focus on her job.

That job has taught Armie a lot—including the importance of shattering stereotypes about women.

“Why is it that when a man blows his top, they say it’s just how things are? But when a woman does it, they say it’s because she’s emotional? I complained about it,” Armie goes on.

Since she hates double standards, Armie doesn’t expect people to open doors for her, or treat her differently because she’s a woman.

But she expects commitment; fair, balanced, accurate reporting; and humility.

“It’s not about the glitz and glamor of being in front of the camera. It’s about public service. You need to understand your contribution to society and different people’s points of view. You need to do your homework,” Armie advises anyone who wants to join giant broadcasting networks like CNN.

She continues to do her homework, studying ways to grow CNN Philippines’ viewership, and continuing to make their news coverage relevant to the audience and the times.

Armie’s staff, knowing that she is as fair as the news CNN delivers day by day, is happy to grow with her.

 

Moving Up 

How do you get promoted and make it to the top of a big media corporation?

Here are some tips from Armie Jarin-Bennett, who is president of CNN Philippines:

  • Develop a nose for news. Be curious about what’s happening around you.
  • Do your homework. Research on the subject assigned to you. Check and double-check facts. Ask questions.
  • Breathe news 24/7.
  • Have an amazing family that supports you and understands the demands of your job. When CNN asked her to go back to the Philippines and team up with Anderson Cooper for the Typhoon Yolanda coverage, Armie’s husband John assured her she would know what to do, and advised her not to worry.
  • Establish reliable contacts or a network of news sources you can bank on.
  • Be prepared to take calls, pack your bags and cover news assigned to you anytime, anywhere. Armie answered a call from Atlanta in the middle of the night. Could she go to Tacloban and do the Typhoon Yolanda coverage? She was then on business in Bangkok.
  • Be a cowboy. Armie listened to the stories of the simple folk who were victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, and came up with a documentary which earned her an Emmy nomination.
  • Seize opportunities to grow. Armie applied for her job in Hong Kong and her bosses supported her.
  • Be fair, accurate, and balanced. Armie trains her staff to interview people representing two, three, and even four sides of a story, and give equal air time to all of them. She also makes sure her staff separate fact from opinion and keep the latter to themselves. For her, opinions are best left in one’s home, not aired in the newsroom.
  • Be patient. Work hard and learn from experience. There are no shortcuts. Go chase that story and show everyone what you’re worth.

– Maridol Ranoa-Bismark