Things Didn’t Go As Planned for CNN’s Poppy Harlow, But She Couldn’t Be Happier

By Brian Flood 

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CNN’s Poppy Harlow wasn’t supposed to be a broadcast journalist. The Minneapolis native, who lost her father at age 15, wanted to follow in his footsteps and practice law. Things didn’t turn out that way.

Harlow attended Columbia University, her father’s Alma mater where she studied political science and graduated Magna Cum Laude. The self-proclaimed “Type-A personality” was actually disappointed on graduation day that she wasn’t Summa Cum Laude.

Focused on law school, Harlow had no desire to go into journalism, but a chance meeting with Larry Kramer resulted in an internship at “MarketWatch” learning a craft she didn’t plan to use.

“Even after working at ‘MarketWatch’ and loving journalism and loving business news, I still wanted to be a lawyer because it was my plan,” Harlow told TVNewser moments after interviewing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Harlow’s plan to attend law school was dashed when she didn’t get into one of the country’s elite programs. Being wait-listed wasn’t good enough for the consummate perfectionist, so the “devastated” undergrad briefly worked as a paralegal before landing at “CBS Newspath.” She decided to stick with journalism and created a reel to send to local TV stations across the country.

“I thought – let’s try this, let me just try. If it fails, I’m 24… it’s OK,” Harlow said. “I’ll figure it out.”

She didn’t have to go far. She was hired as an on-air reporter for NY1 News’ Local Edition, where she learned the world of journalism from the ground up. As local cable news goes, Harlow did it all: appearing on camera, running the prompter, shooting and editing her own footage. “I learned everything there,” she said. Harlow eventually parlayed her gig at NY1 into a role at where she was spotted by a CNN producer. Harlow had never been live on TV. Her previous on-air spots were always taped in advance. CNN hired her anyway. Her first live shot was on the network.

“It’s a great thing that I didn’t get in [to law school], because I get to do what I love to do. I completely fell into it,” Harlow said. “I think things happen for a reason.”

Poppy Harlow

Poppy Harlow

Less than a decade after giving journalism a chance, Harlow was named anchor of  “CNN Newsroom Weekend.” She continues reporting from the field during the week. Harlow has also been CNN’s ultimate utility player, filling in for everyone from Richard Quest to Don Lemon.

“What I love about this [weekend anchor position] is that I get to still report. I mean, I am a reporter. I didn’t want to lose that and I wanted to still be able to be in the field,” Harlow said.

Harlow’s field reporting has brought her to Haiti, inspired President Obama and she even took on GM. She’s interviewed everyone from Warren Buffett and Richard Branson to Jay Z and Matthew McConaughey. Harlow quickly went from wanna-be lawyer to seasoned journalist, but refuses to be referred to as “talent.”

“I hate that word. The writers on my team, and the producers and executive producer should be called talent. We anchor four hours on Saturday and three on Sunday. How they do that astonishes me,” Harlow said. “I always find that word really funny.”

Harlow has been given the rare opportunity to “grow up” at CNN, which she calls both a blessing and a challenge.

“I’ve made my mistakes at CNN,” Harlow said. “As I learn and I grow, one thing that has always stuck with me is you can never be over-prepared and nobody can fight the facts.”

Harlow is popular within CNN’s New York newsroom and considers Brooke Baldwin and Lemon among her best friends, as well as mentors. Lemon even traveled to Slovenia to attend Harlow’s wedding back in 2012. Harlow looks up to “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, because of her bold-yet-fair interview style. “She is just someone I’ve always loved to watch,” Harlow said.

Born Katharine Julia Harlow, her mother called her “Poppy” as a baby. It stuck. She briefly thought about going by Katharine on air, but realized since she doesn’t even respond to her legal name, why pluck Poppy now.