CNN’s Robyn Curnow recently relocated from South Africa to Atlanta for her new show “International Desk with Robyn Curnow.” Today, only a few weeks since changing continents, she’s back in South Africa for the Oscar Pistorius sentencing. It’s been a wild ride for Curnow, who is getting used to a new country and a new role as an anchor.
TVNewser: What has been the bigger challenge, your new show or moving from South Africa to Atlanta?
Robyn Curnow: I’ve lived in Johannesburg, Sydney, London, Perth and Cambridge, so moving cities wasn’t as big a switch as shifting from the field to the studio. It’s been simultaneously terrifying and amazing to anchor my new show. I want to keep the fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants live reporting style I am used to, but at the same time I am acutely aware I also need to ‘front’ the show. I am still finding my feet but the I-Desk team is really fantastic and we pack the show with live interviews and guests so it’s pacey and intelligent.
TVNewser: You first interviewed Oscar Pistorius back in 2008. What was your initial reaction when you first heard that he was being charged with murder?
Robyn Curnow: It was all quite confusing at first – Oscar did what? Why? After the initial shock I’ve spent the last 18 months trying to wade through the all the rumor, misleading information and drama surrounding the case. All my access to him over the years gave our coverage so much depth, but it also made me sad on a personal level to see how far he’d fallen.
TVNewser: Is it fair to compare Pistorius in South Africa to O.J. Simpson in America? If so, who is more polarizing?
Robyn Curnow: On one level both were about beloved sports stars falling from grace, but I think comparing the details of the crimes and the verdicts is dangerous – each case is unique. On a broader level, both cases changed the way journalists report on a court case. In the same way the O.J. Simpson trial captivated a nation, the Oscar Pistorius trial offered a glimpse into the workings of a South African court for the first time. Never before has a criminal trial been broadcast live in South Africa – it was significant in offering ordinary people a chance to be more engaged in the legal system. Unlike O.J. Simpson, the Pistorius case was never really about race, despite taking place in South Africa, a nation still dealing with its apartheid past. In a strange way, I think the case managed to unite not polarize people; from the townships to the suburbs most South Africans became arm chair legal experts.
TVNewser: You’ve interviewed everyone from Nelson Mandela to Michelle Obama. Was there a time you were truly intimidated?
Robyn Curnow: I always figure that you can find some connection, point of reference, commonality with the people you interview no matter how famous, rich or powerful they are. Funnily enough, Michelle Obama and I found commonality over our interactions with Nelson Mandela. She admitted to me that she was tongue-tied around him and I agreed. He was not the kind of person with whom you could make idle chit-chat. He was an old-school gentleman with a hearing problem and an ability to detach himself emotionally after 27 years in jail. You just knew when you were around him that you were out of his league. So it was a huge honor just to have spent time with him, reported on him and then be privileged enough to be at his funeral.
TVNewser: What will you miss the most about South Africa?
Robyn Curnow: The simple things that matter most: my family. My 90-year-old grandmother is still alive, watching CNN faithfully! Friends, the sunsets and the bushveld. South Africa can be a complicated, tough and frustrating place at times, but there’s always humor, odd characters and a quirky take on life.