After delivering her remarks at Career Week Saturday, Alison Stewart '88 spoke with The Herald about her career in broadcast journalism.
The Herald: When you were an undergrad, what did you see yourself doing after graduation?
Stewart: I originally wanted to write for Rolling Stone magazine. I wanted to be in music journalism, and I couldn't crack Rolling Stone. You hear of certain places where people talk about, "How can I get into there? How can I get in there?" I hadn't done an internship there. I didn't know anyone there. I just couldn't get my foot in the door. So that was my original thought. And then I realized that MTV - I think it was our senior year - had started a news division, which was doing all pop culture news, music news, and Kurt Loder, the editor of Rolling Stone, was their anchor, and I thought, "Okay, this is what I want to do. This is perfect. I've found the TV thing. I've done the radio thing. It's broadcast, it's news. This is made for me." So that was the job I wanted. It took me a couple of years to get to that department. I was at that very entry-level job that I mentioned for a long time.
How did you get your first break into broadcasting?
There was a show that was on MTV that was being canceled. Nobody wanted to work it anymore since it was being canceled. And I volunteered to work on it, because I thought, well, I can't kill it, and it gives them an opportunity to see what I can do. ... The second one was a significant one, which really launched my more mainstream career, which was being asked to be the political producer for MTV News. I just knew I liked politics, and they had asked me to do a couple test pieces where I had to explain something very complicated to an MTV audience. And with that assignment, that was really the breakthrough for me. That just put me on the map, professionally, as a producer.
Given that you've worked with many different programs, has changing jobs so often been challenging?
I was also doing pieces for "20/20" and also for "Good Morning America" (while working for ABC News), so that's more a stack thing. I have changed places that I work almost every two or three years. I think in the current environment, that is the one way to advance. It's not sort of a straight slope up at one place - it's kind of a staircase, you know, go some places, take a step up at the next place. ... I could have stayed at MTV. I had the sweetest deal - I had an assistant, I had stylists. I could have stayed there. I didn't want to stay at CBS. When I got to ABC, I was anchoring the overnight news show; I was a network news anchor. But, then, I wanted to do something else. Every time I've moved on, it's been something that's been a little more challenging.
You mentioned in your speech that you were a workaholic for at least 10 years. Do you now regret or value the sacrifices that you made then?
I embrace it in one way because I was able to accomplish a lot professionally. I had a really fast track, but I was also working 50 percent more than a lot of people. I was working weekends. I was sleeping at the office. I was doing the whole bad-for-you nine yards.
What are the specific challenges of being a woman in your career field?
Finding mentorship, because none of the major news networks have a female president. None of the cable companies have a female president. Where I work there is a female vice president, which is pretty amazing, and she's only 42. So finding people who are higher up who you can talk to about issues of being a woman without feeling like you're crying about it or whining about it. ... I think that's a challenge, trying to figure out what you can say to a female candidly.
I was up for a couple of morning show jobs, and I didn't have a child. And one of them - it wasn't a news job - was open about it, like "We're looking for a mom." And the other was a news show, and I said, "I spent all this time going around the world - and I don't have a kid? Is that going to keep me from having this?" And I was like, "That is the craziest thing," but that's what they wanted. You can get into a cocoon like Brown, but there are still certain stereotypes about nuclear families.
What has been the most interesting topic for you to cover?
I went to Jordan for a piece about young women in the Peace Corps in Arab countries. Most of the young women that would do this are real barn-burners, but when they get to these countries, they have to dress head-to-toe and they can't go out without a male chaperone - just what that's like to make that exciting trip, that exciting life choice for two years, and you end up in a culture that is so different from everything you've been born and bred and everything you've decided to be.