Throughout her career, Jessica Yellin has interviewed four living presidents and three first ladies, flown on Air Force One several times, written a novel, and founded her own news platform on Instagram, “News Not Noise,” which grew from 400 to 277,000 followers in 18 months. On Saturday, April 25, Yellin spoke to students about her experiences as the Chief White House Correspondent for CNN from 2011 to 2013, her recent novel, and the evolving landscape of news media.
Yellin addressed students via Zoom as part of the Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Author Series, organized and led by Saffron Agrawal ’21. Agrawal interviewed Yellin for the first half of the webinar and then accepted questions from attendees. During the talk, Yellin described the obstacles she has overcome in her career as a female-identifying journalist.
“I was 28 when I got my first job [in journalism] and I was told I was way too old. Along the way, I was told that I was ‘too female.’ That’s a quote. That my voice sounds too feminine to cover politics. I’m not a tall person, I’m short, but you can’t see that on TV, you can’t tell, and they’d say, ‘You lack the stature to cover politics.’ So, there were a lot of obstacles. It’s one of those professions where it’s challenging, but you have to be determined and persistence counts,” said Yellin.
After following Yellin on Instagram about two months ago at the suggestion of her mother, Agrawal has consistently looked to Yellin for information on current events related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of March, Agrawal reached out to Yellin and asked if she was willing to speak to Andover students about her career.
“I thought it was kind of an opening for the series, as sad and terrible as everything happening is. A lot of these people that would be really great to invite are just sitting at home and working from there. That’s why I thought of Jessica Yellin, because my parents and I have been following her Instagram to absorb some of the news that she was sharing through ‘News Not Noise.’ So, I thought that she would be a really intriguing choice to talk to the students about a variety of issues,” said Agrawal.
Kennedy Ndiaye ’22 attended the webinar because of her interest in politics, as well as the opportunity to get an inside look at how major news networks like CNN operate. Ndiaye was moved by Yellin’s personal experiences and decided to purchase her book, “Savage News,” after the talk.
“To hear stories from a successful woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry was special. When she opened, she told a story of how her book character, Natalie, who represents her, was treated in her type of work, and I was so [interested] in hearing more that it inspired me to get her book,” said Ndiaye.
Following her career in Washington, D.C., Yellin moved back to Los Angeles, Calif., to write her novel. She discussed her challenges, the writing process, and her eventual decision to hire an editor.
“[‘Savage News’ is] a satire. It’s a send-up. Hopefully it will make you laugh. People tell me it makes them laugh. I do have a point to [my] commentary about the state of our news business, and it’s much easier to do that and stay friends with people if you fictionalize it rather than do some burn-down-the-house tell all,” said Yellin
According to Yellin, her news platform on Instagram has the goal of “separating the news from the noise,” as she has discovered that many people are no longer engaged by cable news. In “Savage News,” Yellin highlights the same conflicts in the news media that she hopes to address on Instagram.
“I’m on the hunt to prove to the people who are in charge of all the networks and media companies that there’s another way to tell information that actually informs people and makes them feel confident and empowered,” said Yellin.
According to Agrawal, the Q&A portion of the webinar helped to remind students that their peers were on the call and engaging with the talk. This sense of community, albeit virtual, resonated with Venkat Sundaram ’23.
“I know some of the people who asked those questions, so I think that was really cool. It made me feel like other people from the Andover community were there and listening to the talk as well. I think that 80 attendees were there at the same time, so it was really cool to know that we’re still connected even if we are wherever we are at home. I think it really reinforced, for me, the Andover community and showed me how strong we are together,” said Sundaram.