“When someone reads a story the lead should make them say ‘What the hell,’ but by the end of it, they should say ‘Well I’ll be damned.'”
That was the advice given by ABC News’ White House correspondent Ann Compton who spoke at SHSU as a part of the President’s Speaker Series and Priority One’s Mingling with the Media.
Compton has covered every Presidential administration since Gerald Ford, winning several awards and being inducted into the Society of Professional Journalist’s Hall of Fame, as well as the respect from her peers.
SHSU President Dana Gibson and Priority One advisor Peter Roussel interviewed Compton on stage at the Performing Arts Center.
Gibson asked Compton to recall her emotional experience of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, which led her to the point of tears.
By “the luck of the draw” she was the only broadcast journalist allowed on Air Force One with President George W. Bush. She kept up with his hurried events all day, which led her to receive a Peabody Award for her coverage.
After landing in Washington, D.C., the events became tangible. She opened a message from her eldest son who said one of his fraternity brothers was on the 93rd floor of the north tower when the first plane hit.
“At that instant, a day of doom’s day scenarios, burning buildings and people fleeing in panic and terror had a human face,” Compton said. “It was of a handsome young man who had just gotten his first internship with a fancy Wall St. company, and he never knew what hit him.”
Compton said that sobering moment made her feel more vulnerable.
“I think about that every day as I walk up the White House steps,” she said.
When she walks into her White House press office that she’s had since 1973, she said she uses one tool in particular.
Compton was asked early on if the essence of skilled writing was still relevant among an ever-changing media atmosphere. The correspondent laughed at the notion that writing doesn’t matter.
“Clearly, in a compelling fashion with power, artistry and vocabulary, it is the single most important tool you’ll have in any career,” Compton said. “The ability to write and to write well is absolutely number one.”
Compton said that writing isn’t a skill solely allocated to writing-focused careers like journalism. Her son commissioned TIPE (Technology In Plain English) in Austin despite his lack of interest in writing during school.
“[He] was great in math and science, but he was bored silly by english and the civics like social studies,” Compton said.
According to Compton, practicing writing over time helped her son be able to write for his career. As for her, she said that the skill is dynamic and can always be improved.
“It’s a life-long career growth,” she said. “I’m a better writer today than I was ten years ago as a reporter, and I was a better writer ten years ago than I was when I graduated college. I urge every student and every adult to keep writing and that is still the single most important tool that you will have in a professional or a personal capacity.”
Along with being a sculpted journalist, Compton said that the demands of being a mother are just like a parent in any other field of work.
“I feel the same way every mom does who may not have an office to go to, but she’s got 90 things to do,” Compton said. “The family is still the center of my universe. The long hours are difficult, but I was smart and married outside my ‘faith’ and married a doctor.”
She said that as she covered campaigns and presidencies for sometimes three weeks at a time, her husband Dr. William Hughes was always at home in DC where his work was.
After 30 years in the same job, Compton said unlike others in her field, she hasn’t grown tired.
Compton said, “I’m one of the lucky few that still love going to work every day.”