TVNewser continues a multi-week series, catching up with some tvnewsers of yesterday to learn about their lives now, and their perspectives on the industry. Today we hear from former CNN anchor Bobbie Battista. In two weeks: former Fox News Channel anchor Linda Vester.
As Bobbie Battista will tell you, sometimes it all boils down to “being in the right place, at the right time, having made a lucky decision.”
And heeding some wise counsel from a parent.
It was 1981, and Battista had risen from a secretarial position to shatter a glass ceiling as the first woman anchor at Raleigh powerhouse WRAL-TV. Alongside colleague Charlie Gaddy, the duo’s evening newscasts pulled in stratospheric ratings.
In short order, Battista started fielding a slew of offers from larger local markets. Another intriguing invitation came from a fledgling, 24-hour cable news operation called CNN.
“My father thought [CNN] was a good move,” Battista tells TVNewser. After weighing her options, she decided to take her dad’s advice.
Little did Battista know that the move to Atlanta would put her on track to make broadcast news history once again.
In the eighties, as CNN started to be seen in a growing number of American homes, so too did it become available in previously-unreachable corners of the earth.
“I was hugely known in Poland!” Battista remembers with a laugh. CNN founder Ted Turner had struck an unheard-of deal, to have several minutes of network programming featured each evening on state-run television in the Communist country. The time slot coincided with Battista’s anchor shift.
A hit with Iron Curtain viewers, Battista was sent to Poland for a ten-day goodwill tour. “It wasn’t really even something you could grasp,” she reflects. “What you were struck by was the influence that CNN was beginning to have in the world.”
The network’s ascendancy intensified during the Gulf War.
“Everyone involved in that conflict – politically, militarily – they were watching CNN,” says Battista. “It was an amazingly important responsibility.”
Over the next many years, she’d go on to cover the Challenger tragedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling of the Soviet Empire, and every presidential election along the way.
By 2002, feeling “a little burned out” – and after a slew of what she viewed as disappointing changes at CNN in the wake of the AOL-Time Warner merger – Battista decided to leave the network after 22 years.
More than a decade later, she still watches CNN every day, but is wary of what she sees as “brand erosion.” She says viewers have come up to her over the years to ask, “What happened to CNN?”
“At its core,” she reflects, “CNN is still very capable of doing trustworthy, and accurate, and honorable journalism, and there are still people there who represent that… But I think they’ve had so many leadership changes, a lot of talent changes, that they lose their way sometimes.
“They get caught up in things that are really not that important, like they’re very infatuated with gimmickry gadgetry… Poor Martin Savidge, having to sit in a flight simulator for weeks on end. It has left a lot of viewers cold.”
Battista says she misses the “excitement” of cable news, but not the pressure. She looks back at her time with CNN with appreciation for “having those glory days, because that’s exactly what they were – it was great.”
A New Jersey native, Battista has remained an Atlanta-area resident. She’s been married to husband John Brimelow for more than two decades, and her step-daughter is a senior at the United States Air Force Academy.
For several years after leaving news, Battista ran her own public relations firm, later returning to the airwaves with a show on Retirement Living Television (RLTV).
She’s now at Georgia Public Broadcasting, where she hosts a nightly news program, On the Story. “It’s like The Godfather,” she says with a laugh about her return to the airwaves. “Just when I think I’m out, I’m pulled back in!”
All in all, Battista says, she’s “very happy. I’m grateful, I’ve had an unbelievable career – and fortunately it’s still going – and life is good!”
Watch Bobbie Battista anchor live CNN coverage of the Gulf War.