Brooke Baldwin joins Susan King for talk on COVID-19, journalism and Carolina

Brooke Baldwin '01 has addressed the UNC-Chapel Hill community in the 2017 University commencement address at Kenan stadium, in the 2014 UNC Hussman graduation ceremony in Carmichael Arena and in the 2019 Late Night with Roy from the Smith Center marking the start of the men’s basketball season.

But this week was different — and perhaps more personal. The CNN anchor and host of America’s Newsroom joined UNC Hussman Dean Susan King for a virtual webinar for #TarHeelsTogether, the University’s new virtual engagement initiative. Baldwin, who recently went through her own battle with the COVID-19, spoke about the coronavirus, as well as her time in journalism and her advice for UNC Hussman students.

Baldwin was diagnosed with coronavirus this spring and recently recovered after grueling weeks of illness. She emphasized that she had been lucky to be spared the worst of the disease’s symptoms, but described a difficult period of pain, fever and isolation (she wrote about it for here). She frankly outlined the virus’ physical and psychological outcomes and her own moments of loneliness and worry. But, she said, it also gave her insight into the most important relationships in her life and time to reflect on her own path.

Baldwin and King also discussed how strange it felt for her to be directly involved in the biggest story of the day. “I never really thought I would be talking about myself so much,” Baldwin said. “It’s an uncomfortable position as a journalist.” But Baldwin told the 200-person webinar audience that the experience made her better at her job because it gave her interviews with those affected “richness and depth.”

Many of the journalism professionals in the audience asked Baldwin about the challenges of that coverage. Baldwin and King — whom Baldwin called “such a pro” — reflected on the current political climate and the difficulty of fighting misinformation as broadcasters. Baldwin said she had hope for the young journalists watching because, especially now, “you always need people covering the news, and you always need storytellers.”

“We are always proud to host Brooke at the school that helped give her that training and that spark to become the fantastic journalist she is today,” King said. “Brooke’s insights and experience are so valuable to our students. Her message of connection with the Tar Heel community is especially uplifting today.”

The two journalists couldn’t resist talking shop a little, as Baldwin shared the best advice she has for those entering the industry: “Always carry the tripod.” She used that television truism to emphasize the value of staying humble and respectful of professionals throughout the news and media industry. “There is so much you can learn from people around you,” she said.

But Baldwin didn’t just learn about the importance of community in her career — that lesson, she says, came from Carolina. King asked why it’s so important for Baldwin to return to UNC and why she so often shares her Tar Heel pride on her show.

Baldwin said that when she got into UNC-Chapel Hill, “I was just so proud to get to go there. I was proud to slap that bumper sticker on my car.” But it was at the journalism school that her pride was solidified.

“It’s where I found my calling. It’s where I had my ‘aha moment’ of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do," she said.

Baldwin outlined the combination of community and professional advancement that makes UNC-Chapel Hill and Hussman so special.

“It’s the first place where I had people believe in me,” she said. “That’s where I had my chief original believers and for that I will always be grateful.”

“Brooke is a talented journalist and communicator who is incredibly generous with her time and insights,” said David Routh, the University’s vice chancellor for development. “She exemplifies how Tar Heels are coming together to support communities, near and far, by sharing their talents and insights in service to others. Brooke embodies the Tar Heels Together spirit, and her conversation with UNC Hussman Dean King gave us a thoughtful look at her personal COVID-19 recovery experience and journalism in this era.”

Baldwin said that she recognized the value of the Tar Heel community even more while she was going through the coronavirus, reflecting on the support that her UNC-Chapel Hill friends had offered throughout her career. She told this year’s graduates that even though they face an uncertain world, the most important qualities they’ll carry with them are “connection, being a good listener and cherishing Carolina friends.”

Fielding many questions from alumni and students in the audience, Baldwin summed up her overarching message of connection. “There are people around you that want you to succeed,” she said. “Find those people, question them, and listen.”

King echoed the UNC Hussman community watching when she thanked Baldwin: “We’re very proud that you’re doing this at a time when news is a public service,” she said. “It’s the very heart of everything we believe as a public university — and a service to democracy.”

And by the way, in case you, like Stembler Distinguished Professor Charlie Tuggle, are wondering if a star graduate like Baldwin ever forgets a low grade at the school? She remembers the grade Tuggle gave her — and forgives him — but says it gave her even more determination to succeed.