Campbell Brown left her role as a CNN anchor in 2010, saying she wasn’t willing to shed her “journalistic skin” to “inhabit the kind of persona” that might better compete against high-octane hosts like Keith Olbermann, Nancy Grace and Bill O’Reilly.
Five years later, Brown’s not longing for a return to cable news. “That feels like the past to me,” Brown said in an interview Tuesday with TVNewser. “There is a massive transformation happening in all of media right now. I, frankly, think it is the most exciting time in the world to be a journalist.”
Earlier in the day, Brown unveiled plans for her latest project, The Seventy Four, a website that will report on education reform–and not shy away from taking sides. “The special interests have dominated this conversation for too long,” Brown said. “People say ‘are you going to be beating up one side or the other side?’ It’s everybody. It’s the entire education establishment that is in power.” Her goal with The Seventy Four? “Holding them accountable, which I believe we have failed to do for way too long.”
Brown has evolved into an advocate for education reform, founding the Partnership for Educational Justice, and The Parents’ Transparency Project, which targeted teacher tenure and earned Brown a host of critics. New York magazine called Brown “the most controversial woman in school reform.” Some went so far as to accuse Brown of secretly working to bust the teachers’ unions.
“They have a problem with what I’m doing and calling attention to what I’m pointing out,” Brown says of her critics, who she believes have targeted her to distract from the kind of hard reporting she promises to do with her site, set to launch in July. “Any time you challenge a big powerful person or special interest, there’s going to be blowback.”
Brown says recruiting journalists for the project has been easy, offering them the lure of working on real stories for a well-funded nonprofit–free of the constant focus on clicks or overnights. Brown says she promises them a chance to “go back to being a journalist again.”
At CNN, Brown says she occasionally felt “demoralized” by the ratings pressure–and the fact that “an education segment with an amazing panel of genius people” would invariably perform poorly compared to a run-of-the-mill celebrity meltdown.
“I don’t have to worry about that any more, I can actually say to the reporters, ‘go do that story. It’s important and it matters and can have a huge impact if we get it right, so let’s do it.’ And that is really powerful.”
Before she was lured away to CNN, Brown was a rising star at NBC News, and was, for a time, co-anchor of Weekend Today with Lester Holt. “There’s just nobody better,” Brown said of Holt, who Monday anchored NBC Nightly News for the first time as the permanent replacement for Brian Williams.
“Lester is the Rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can rattle him. I am not. I was always flying off the handle about things. And the one person who could calm me down, and make me realize that none of this silliness mattered was Lester Holt. He’s so focused, and so composed, and so confident. He will be better positioned to handle this than anybody else in television, bar none.”