When Ana Cabrera first set foot on Washington State University’s Pullman campus in 2000, she had no idea she’d become a CNN weekend news anchor 17 years later.
She didn’t know that she’d cover major national stories like riots in Ferguson, Missouri, marijuana legalization, and immigration. She was unaware of how relentlessly top journalists work to deliver thoughtful, round-the-clock news coverage. And she certainly couldn’t predict a contentious political climate that would pose unprecedented challenges to a free press.
What she did know was that WSU felt like home.
“Oh man, I can’t wipe this smile off my face,” Cabrera said, grinning as she settled into a chair in Studio B in Jackson Hall. “I feel like my heart is pumping outside my body coming back to WSU.”
In April the 2004 alumna returned to Pullman for the 42nd annual Murrow Symposium, an event that brings prominent media figures to campus to discuss current issues in the communication field.
“You’re learning all the technical skills, you’re practicing on-camera presentation, and you’re thinking creatively. Even beyond that, you’re learning how to problem-solve and work with different players who, as a team, depend on each other to succeed.”
Cabrera said her hands-on education at WSU was a springboard to her success as a journalist. She had access to professors with real-world experience. At Cable 8, WSU’s student-run TV station, she produced her own shows and honed her skills in front of and behind the camera.
“You’re learning all the technical skills, you’re practicing on-camera presentation, and you’re thinking creatively,” Cabrera said of her time at Cable 8. “Even beyond that, you’re learning how to problem-solve and work with different players who, as a team, depend on each other to succeed.”
It was teamwork that brought Cabrera to WSU in the first place. The women’s cross-country and track teams recruited her and offered her a scholarship. One of 5 children in a middle-class family, Cabrera knew the athletic scholarship was her ticket to higher education.
As luck would have it, WSU was home to the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, the Pacific Northwest’s premier training ground for broadcast journalists.
“It was right up my avenue in terms of my interests and skill set,” Cabrera said. To be able to go to a school that had so many resources and such a depth of knowledge— it was huge.”
The College’s namesake, alumnus Edward R. Murrow, became the standard bearer for journalistic integrity by reporting the horrors of World War II and unmasking the evils of McCarthyism. His example would become meaningful for Cabrera in the years ahead.
At the time, though, Cabrera didn’t know she wanted to become a broadcast journalist. Growing up, she’d always enjoyed performing, whether it was acting, singing in choir, or playing piano. She also loved to tell stories.
“Broadcast journalism, in particular, allowed me to tell stories and use some of those creative juices,” she explained.
Diligent and determined, Cabrera built industry connections and completed two internships before her senior year. After graduating from WSU with degrees in communication and foreign languages and cultures, she worked as an anchor and reporter for television stations KHQ and KAYU in Spokane.
“Learning about different sides of that issue and talking to people about their experiences has opened my eyes in so many ways.”
In 2009 she moved to Denver, where she anchored the top-ranked daily morning news program at ABC affiliate KMGH 7 News. In 2013 Cabrera joined CNN as a Denver-based correspondent. She covered major stories, including the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown.
For Cabrera, the most rewarding stories are those that give a voice to people who would otherwise go unheard, “whether it’s children or people of color or women.” As a woman of Mexican heritage, Cabrera is particularly interested in exploring U.S. immigration policy and its impact on immigrants and communities.
“Learning about different sides of that issue and talking to people about their experiences has opened my eyes in so many ways,” she said.
In March, CNN promoted Cabrera to weekend prime time anchor in New York. On Saturdays and Sundays she spends a total of 9 hours on the air. Cabrera packs her days preparing for the broadcasts: reading news stories, researching current issues, writing scripts, and brainstorming with her producers about prospective guests. It often makes for long hours.
“There have been some 80-hour weeks. There have been times where I’ve had just a couple hours of sleep over the course of a few days.”
“There have been some 80-hour weeks. There have been times where I’ve had just a couple hours of sleep over the course of a few days,” Cabrera says.
Under pressure, she summons the perseverance and endurance she learned as a cross-country athlete. Amazingly, she still finds the time and energy to run.
“When I go for a run in Central Park and somebody sees the WSU emblem on the back of my shirt, and then I hear from behind, ‘Go Cougs!’ all of a sudden we’re friends. We’re strangers, but we’re friends,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera’s career is hitting its stride in a time when 24-hour news outlets advance competing narratives to attract viewers. As the lines between real and “fake” news become blurred, Cabrera works harder to pursue the truth.
“I feel like my job has never been more relevant or more important to our communities and to our country.”
“I feel like my job has never been more relevant or more important to our communities and to our country,” Cabrera said.
She has assumed the mantle of legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, reporting to inform the public and protect the democratic system. The free press shoulders heavy responsibilities, and Cabrera knows them well: “to be a government watchdog, to inform, to educate, to shed light on disheartening realities sometimes, and to hold people accountable.”