Welcome to Office Hours, where members of the Argent community share personal career stories and, in the process, dispense invaluable advice, rare insight, and inspiration through lived experiences.
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Journalist & Founder, News Not Noise
Jessica Yellin realized she couldn’t create change from inside the system so, with little more than a phone in hand, she created something entirely new. Yellin, a journalist who most notably served as CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent, founded News Not Noise in 2018 with a goal to connect more directly with an audience she saw mainstream media failing to reach: women.
Hosting intimate conversations from her home, Yellin built a passionate community that looks to her for no-nonsense, credible translations of the most important news headlines of the day. Elections. Insurrections. Global pandemics. For her audience, Yellin is a stalwart source of information and works to equip them with a better understanding of the news that affects their lives, values, and participation in democracy, without the distraction of inflammatory, rage-inducing headlines that lack context or substance.
While Yellin’s approach sets her apart from the most traditional news outlets and the barrage of commentary from cable news networks, she’s also setting an example for the kind of responsibility that comes with being a journalist. For instance, she’s integrated a series called News That Doesn’t Suck into her reporting that reminds us all that breaking news can be good—it’s her most opened newsletter, too—and brings mental health and wellness into the conversation. “This approach has turned News Not Noise into a community and people show up, not just because I’m explaining the news, but also because they know that other people come here with similar care, concern, and values,” Yellin says in our Office Hours discussion. “At a time when people feel extremely isolated and ready to be outraged, you can find a peaceful space to learn and connect.” Read on for how she built her political journalism career, and then completely reimagined it.
TO START, HOW DID YOU BECOME CNN’S CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT?
“Right out of college, I interned in the White House and I decided I wanted to be a White House correspondent. I went back to my hometown, Los Angeles, got a job at Los Angeles Magazine, and then decided to go the TV route. I got my first news job in Orlando, Florida, and paid my dues, working my way up to Tampa. I got my big break when I got to MSNBC working the overnights and then went to ABC News. From there I went on to CNN. And at every single juncture, when a boss talked to me about what I hoped to do, I would say, ‘My goal is to be White House Correspondent.’ It was always my view that if I showed up, did the work, and said what I wanted, I'd have a better chance of getting there. People might think of me when an opportunity came up. And that is always my advice for people who are very focused on a goal: If you know what you want, let people around you know. That does not mean you don’t do what you’re asked. Do the work you’re assigned—as long as it aligns with your integrity—to the best of your possible ability and also let them know where you hope to go from there.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH NEWS NOT NOISE? WHAT GAP WERE YOU HOPING TO FILL IN THE MARKET?
“I spent a lot of my career as a campaign reporter and interviewed undecided voters. Overwhelmingly they were female. There was this thinking, in Washington especially, that women hadn’t made up their minds because they didn’t care and couldn’t focus. They were too busy being moms, worrying about other things, to focus on the election. And I was out there interviewing these women all the time and they cared enormously. They would take out their phones and show me lists of questions or articles they saved, but they felt they weren’t getting substantive information that answered the questions they cared about. They felt like what they were watching made them feel dumb. Sometimes you turn on the TV and, unless you’re really embedded in politics, it feels like you entered a conversation 10 minutes after it started. I thought, ‘What if we could just change the way we talk?’ There was a large, unaddressed audience that wanted information told differently.
“I launched News Not Noise on Instagram sort of as an experiment and it just took off. I think of it as a like-valued community: people who share values—not always the same views—who care about the world and their impact on it, and want information that helps them execute on big decisions. We help them with clear information.”
WHAT DO YOU CREDIT FOR NEWS NOT NOISE’S SUCCESS AMONG ALL THE MAJOR, AND MORE TRADITIONAL, MEDIA OUTLETS? HOW DID YOU CUT THROUGH?
“In business, they talk about ‘the lighthouse effect’: If you put out something you believe in consistently and with integrity, it will attract the audience it’s meant to get. Well, I started News Not Noise before the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Here I was, on my couch, talking into my phone about what I knew and cared about. I thought about my friends who’d call me and say ‘I don’t understand, why is this thing happening?’ and I explained it to them. I just kept doing that.
“Because we were covering Kavanaugh—and I spent my junior high years volunteering at a rape treatment center—I was aware that there would be a lot of people for whom this material was triggering.And at the time, people in the news were not acknowledging that, and so I would pause and say ‘I know for a lot of you this is triggering, and if that’s you, here’s a service called RAINN. They’re here to talk, it doesn’t matter how long ago it happened.’ I think it was that combination of empathy and breaking it down without BS that just connected.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MOST NEEDED WHEN IT COMES TO NEWS AUDIENCES TODAY?
“I think it’s vital that we start integrating mental health and wellness information in our coverage because so much of what we cover is hard. And one of the things I’ve realized is that the only way you can keep people engaged is to give them breaks. This approach has turned News Not Noise into a community and people show up, not just because I’m explaining the news, but also because they know that other people come here with similar care, concern, and values. At a time when people feel extremely isolated and ready to be outraged, you can find a peaceful space to learn and connect.”
“At a time when people feel extremely isolated and ready to be angry and outraged, you can find a peaceful space to learn and connect.”