Advice From the Pros

So What Do You Do, Tamron Hall, Anchor of MSNBC’s NewsNation?

The cable news anchor on staying true to her local TV roots

Whether interviewing a world leader or hurling water balloons at her co-hosts, that’s Tamron Hall’s signature move: journalistic dexterity. As a co-host on Today, the face of her weekday MSNBC program, NewsNation with Tamron Hall, and host of Deadline Crime on DiscoveryID, the Texas native has been juggling gigs since joining the NBC news team five years ago.

And, like anyone with a national platform, she hasn’t been without her critics and controversies. (One of her election season interviews was quickly labeled a “throw down” by the good fans of YouTube. More on that later…) But, true to her local TV roots, Hall’s commitment is to the folks on the other side of the camera. “I’m about being honest and knowing that people are watching, and they want to know that I’m asking questions that they want the answers to,” she told Mediabistro.

Here are more of her thoughts on objective reporting, balancing perspectives and getting to the bottom of a story.

Name: Tamron Hall
Position: Anchor of NewsNation with Tamron Hall on MSNBC, co-host on NBC’s Today and Weekend Today, host of DiscoveryID series, Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall. 
Resume: Started as general assignment reporter in Bryan, TX, then moved to Dallas. Spent 10 years at WFLD in Chicago, where she was a general assignment reporter, consumer reporter and morning show host on the local Fox affiliate. Joined MSNBC in 2007. Served as correspondent for Emmy Award-winning NBC News special, The Inauguration of Barack Obama, in 2010.
Birthday: September 16
Hometown: Luling, TX
Education: B.A. in broadcast journalism from Temple University
Marital status: Single
Favorite TV show: The Walking Dead
Guilty pleasure: Anything chocolate
Media idol: Iola Johnson. “She was a local news anchor in Dallas when I was growing up. She was this brilliant, strong, African-American woman who was on TV before Oprah, before anybody. She was the inspiration for me to get into this business, at least part of the equation.”
Last book read: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Twitter handle: @tamronhall

What important lessons did you glean from starting off in a smaller market before moving into the big time and how did it prepare you? 

I think it was just a growth process. By the time I left Bryan, I’d had a chance to cover small town, local stories, so I had an opportunity to see how these stories impact someone’s life. On a national scale, obviously we’re playing to a broader audience, even though they say all stories are local.

But there was something special about local news, especially in a smaller market where you got to know the individuals of that town. It’s a small town, so I could go to the gas station and everyone would have a story idea. Not that I go unrecognized now — people call all the time with story ideas — but if I look back at it in a nostalgic way, there was something special about covering news in a smaller community.

You’ve recently been contributing more to Today. Is being on that show where you see yourself down the line? How would you describe your role there?

My role there is filling in for Natalie [Morales] and on the weekends. I consider myself a part of the Today show family but, more than that, I consider myself just a part of the synergy. I really enjoy my days for example, like today, where I co-hosted with Willie [Geist] at 9 on Today and now I’m getting ready for my MSNBC NewsNation show. So, I don’t see my role with one or the other.

I love the back and forth of politics and hashing out things that are of great importance in our lives, but I also love, for example, the conversation I had in a segment on Today at 9 with a group of moms where we posed situations to them like, when would you allow your daughter to date and should you cry in front of your child?

It was stimulating; it was real. I enjoy that aspect of the Today show. I know some people would see that as fluff, but the reality is that’s something that parents face every day, those kinds of topics. Here I am talking with these moms about parental issues, normal life, if you will, and then I will be awaiting a news conference with President Hamid Karzai on NewsNation.

They’re vastly different worlds but both stimulate a part of my natural instinct as an individual and born journalist.

There’s a lot of talk about CNN’s “objective” positioning in prime time being partly responsible for its losing ratings. Do you think that’s a fair assessment or are the other networks, like MSNBC, just better?

When I came to MSNBC, its identity as the place for politics was growing. It’s been widely accepted by our audience. I don’t think that our primetime coverage is the same coverage offered all day. We have a fantastic lineup of people — I don’t know if you would describe them as pundits or voices in the community.

Rachel [Maddow], to me, is more than a “pundit.” She’s phenomenal, and I think she offers a reasonable perspective based on who she is and her political views. I think she does a fantastic job at it. I feel the same way about Chris [Matthews] and Lawrence [O’Donnell] and Ed [Schultz] and, of course, Rev. Al [Sharpton]. So, they offer something different that has resonated for reasons that I think are obvious. People want to hear those perspectives.

That’s not what we do on NewsNation. I don’t have the same role on MSNBC as Rachel. I discuss obvious questions. Right now, we have gun control debate. Why does someone need a gun clip with 20 rounds? That’s not right or left. That’s an obvious question.

Now, upon me asking that question, you will have some people who will say, “Oh, she’s a lefty” or “That’s MSNBC’s left-leaning perspective.” No, it’s not. It’s a logical question. So, for me, our show is not an opinion show, but it’s not a show that’s afraid of opinions.

How do you balance delivering news without interjecting your own personal opinions, even on issues you feel strongly about?

I balance it like the journalists before me. I’m 42, so I’ve been on TV in some capacity since I was 18. It’s not a struggle for me to hold out my opinion. I’m here to explore and ask questions of our guests. I’m not a puppet. I don’t just sit there.

Everything I ask is a question from Tamron, like it or not. My team does not write my questions. We put together a segment. We talk about the elements that I want, but we have a conversation for that hour with our guests.

I think that I don’t struggle with “Oh gosh, will it look like I’m giving my opinion?” “Will someone be upset if I say this?” I don’t go through my day like that. I go through my day trying to provide the most accurate and relevant information. We try to book the most compelling guests. We don’t say, “Oh, we can’t have this person on, because he or she subscribes to this point of view.”

We invite a range of people on our show, and I always tell myself my opinion doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you over coffee or dinner at my house, but during that hour, my opinion doesn’t matter. My ability to not be afraid to ask tough questions or to confront, that matters.

Tim Carney of Washington Examiner came on your show and alleged that you and other reporters were focusing too much on Mitt Romney’s past, after which you promptly served him for dodging the question he was invited on to address. Considering you started trending on Twitter almost immediately, how do you feel you handled the situation in retrospect? Was there any fallout from the producers?

I received no fallout from it. I handled it, I believe, the best way at that time. I don’t think that I — to use your word — “served” him. I just handled a situation that wasn’t best for my audience and my viewers.

We were having a conversation and I was asking a legitimate question, and I felt at the time that we were cheating the viewer with what was just political gamesmanship. I’m not here to judge anyone’s opinions, but I would like to have a question answered.

So, for me, it was not about admonishing him or creating a moment or trying to be controversial. My job is to ask questions and get to the bottom of the story or the issue at hand, and I felt that we were being unfair to the viewer in having a conversation that was not about the issue at hand.

“Gut Check” and “We Just Thought You Should Know” are popular segments of your show that are built on viewer reaction from Facebook and Twitter. How do you keep the dialogue constructive and positive when the online world breeds trolls?

You don’t. You have no control, which is the genius of it and, I guess, the peril of it as well… It doesn’t always feel good, I don’t always agree, but it’s interesting insight. I’m from a very passionate family — I’m Southern — and we wear our feelings on our sleeves.

You do a lot of apologizing when you grow up in the South, because somebody’s going to blurt something out and then come back and say, “Well, I didn’t mean to say it that way.” But I grew up in a home where we speak our minds and I was always encouraged to say what I felt, even when my parents disagreed.

So, I appreciate it but I don’t like the anonymity. I do wish we knew who we were talking to. I like the rawness; I love the real reaction; I don’t like the anonymity. But, on the counter to that, if people had to identify themselves, would we have that raw reaction?

What’s your ultimate goal? What do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

I think that’s an impossible question to answer. I’m too young for a bucket list. I’m kind of a hippie — I’m not regimented in the sense of my life. I don’t look at life like a list of goals, and I say that because each and every time in my life I’ve said “I want this” or “this is where I should be,” something else has happened and it’s always been a beautiful experience.

So, I’m not one of these regimented people. I don’t have a resume of what I expect from life. I stop and smell the roses, and if I get pricked by a thorn I just move on to the next flower.

I don’t have an outline of what Tamron should be doing. I just said my name in third person. That’s awful. But, no, I don’t outline life. That’s boring.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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