INSIDE EDITION’s Deborah Norville On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A News Anchor
…Number five is simple: be yourself. One thing I’ve always recognized, having anchored for a long time, is that I’m invited into people’s homes. It’s a privilege and a gift they grant me. When I’m there, I’m a guest. I have to act with respect, be polite, and treat their space with care. My mother, who passed away when I was 20, always told me, “Whatever you do, Debbie, always be a lady.” So, when I’m on the screen and you’ve welcomed me into your living room, I strive to be that lady. I aim to be genuine and respectful. I can’t pretend to be someone else. That’s my fifth piece of advice: always be your wonderful, authentic self…
I had the pleasure to talk to Deborah Norville. Two-time Emmy® Award winner Deborah Norville is anchor of INSIDE EDITION, the nation’s number one daily newsmagazine. Ratings jumped 15% the week Norville joined the program and have remained high ever since. INSIDE EDITION is among the top five television shows in first-run syndication and reaches a weekly audience of approximately 10 million viewers.
Norville, the longest serving anchor on American television, is a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. She joined INSIDE EDITION in 1995 from CBS News where she was anchor and correspondent. Deborah is the former co-host of NBC’s “Today” and anchor of NBC “News at Sunrise.” During her career she has hosted the primetime “Deborah Norville Tonight” on MSNBC, the national “Deborah Norville Show” on the ABC Talk Radio Network and been an anchor and reporter for WMAQ-TV in Chicago. She began her reporting career at WAGA-TV in Atlanta, while still a student at the University of Georgia, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude, First Honor Graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Norville is a best-selling author and lecturer. Among her books is “Thank You Power: Making the SCIENCE of Gratitude Work for YOU” (Thomas Nelson) which detailed the connection between gratitude and enhanced cognitive function and energy. “Thank You Power” was a New York Times best seller and a best seller in South Korea. It has been published in more than a dozen languages. Deborah is also a contributor to the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, and the author of several other self-help books as well as two best-selling children’s books and a number of books featuring knit and crochet patterns.
Norville is on the board of the Broadcasters Foundation of America. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Women Corporate Directors, and the New York Women’s Forum and is a past board member of the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Rita Hayworth (Alzheimer’s) Steering Committee. She is married and the mother of three.
Yitzi: Deborah, it’s a delight and honor to meet you. Before we dive in, we’d love to learn about your personal origin story. Can you share the story of your childhood and how you grew up?
Deborah: Sure! I come from a little town in northwest Georgia called Dalton. It’s known as the “Carpet Capital of the World.” Dalton is the birthplace of the global carpeting industry, primarily due to a woman named Catherine Whitener. She perfected a technique known as the tufting stitch that forms a plush, raised texture. When you see wall-to-wall carpeting, it essentially consists of rows upon rows of these tufted loops. The invention of the multi-needle tufting machine revolutionized carpet-making, and Dalton became the epicenter of this craft. Nearly everyone I knew in town had some connection to the carpet industry. They either manufactured the carpet, worked at the carpet mill, or were the doctors or postmen for people in the industry. My father was a supplier to the carpeting industry and founded his company a few years before I was born. So, my upbringing was deeply intertwined with the world of carpets. I attended a small high school with a graduating class of just 169. In Dalton, even if someone didn’t recognize you directly, they’d know you belonged to a certain family. This tight-knit community ensured that we youngsters behaved well, as any mischief would inevitably reach our parents’ ears. All in all, it was a wonderful place to grow up in.
Yitzi: Amazing. So what led you to become a successful TV anchor?
Deborah: Well, there was no TV station in my hometown. We only had one radio station, so becoming a TV anchor wasn’t something I had envisioned growing up. However, during my senior year in high school, an announcement over the public address system mentioned an opportunity related to “Junior Miss” and the Jaycees in the small auditorium. Not knowing what those were but eager to skip the fifth period, I decided to check it out.
It turned out “Junior Miss” was a contest offering scholarship money for college. The timing was perfect, as it was scheduled during the quiet weekend between high school football playoffs and the SAT test. Some of my friends and I thought it’d be fun, so we signed up. The contest involved learning some routines and showcasing a talent. That posed a challenge for me. I wasn’t confident singing in public, and playing the flute solo wasn’t appealing. I considered showcasing my skills as a flag twirler from the marching band, but I wasn’t sure it would captivate the audience.
The one skill I had was sewing. I’d been making my own clothes since I was nine. So, I chose sewing as my talent. Others had real talents: Debbie Lee performed a dance, and Sissi Carroll played the piano. And me? I demonstrated my sewing prowess. A significant portion of the score was based on an interview, much like our conversation now, and academic transcripts, so I did pretty well. I ended up winning the local contest and was awarded a $450 scholarship. At the time, that was a significant amount, especially since I attended an in-state college.
Then I ended up winning the State competition in Atlanta and the lady in charge was not pleased. She was desperate to jazz up my sewing talent! Didn’t I sing? Couldn’t I tap dance? She even insisted I add magic to my sewing routine!
So, at the National Competition, after a contestant from Utah sang an aria from an opera, I showcased my sewing, along with some silly magic tricks. It was quite the contrast, and the audience found it amusing. Needless to say, I didn’t win the national title; that went to a girl from Washington State. But I won the prize that truly mattered: I discovered television as a career. Originally, I wanted to be a lawyer, specifically a litigator. I was drawn to the law because of its power. If you were a lawyer who was diligent, smart, and tenacious, you had the ability to change the world. But, every day at rehearsals, I noticed the crew — stagehands, camera operators, audio engineers, and others — working tirelessly. They had been there since the early hours and continued to work late into the night. Yet, they all had smiles on their faces. I couldn’t help but wonder, what was it about production that was so rewarding? They worked so hard — yet they seemed to genuinely enjoy it. I realized then that I wanted to be a part of that world. I decided if you took the production part of TV that just looked fun and combined it with the research part of law that appealed to me, you’d be a TV reporter.
That’s when I shifted gears, changed my major and university, and decided to attend the University of Georgia. I majored in journalism and got an internship at Georgia Public Television in my second year. We were one of the few states that allowed cameras inside the legislative body, and we aired a nightly program on the state public television network. On the last day of the legislative session, the wife of the man who ran the CBS station in Atlanta, WAGA, happened to come across our broadcast. She pointed me out to Shelley, the general manager, who saw potential in me. He had his news director find out who I was and invite me over. They believed I had what it took. And well, that brings us to where we are now.
Yitzi: It’s an amazing story. You truly are a consummate storyteller.
Deborah: Well, thank you. But my father was the real consummate storyteller. He was from the South and was the best storyteller I’ve ever known. Once, I told him, “Daddy, you’re the best storyteller ever. No one can top you.” But then I added, “I think I might be a smarter storyteller.” He looked puzzled and asked, “How do you figure that, Deborah?” I replied, “They pay me to tell my stories.” He chuckled and said, “Well, Deborah, you might be right about that.”
Yitzi: From your long career as a news anchor, or just simply being in front of the camera, do you have any favorite memories or stories you’d like to share with us about your life as a news anchor?
Deborah: That’s a tough question because I’ve been doing this for so long. There are so many memories. Some stand out as funny, while others are poignant and make you reflect. But I’ll share a story from when I was not yet the anchor on The Today Show. I was filling in for Bryant Gumbel during Christmas, and we were selecting gifts for the chef. During that time, I remember some advice someone gave me. My first week filling in, I approached Steve Friedman, the executive producer, probably by Wednesday, and told him, “I’m sorry, Steve, I can’t continue. You’ll have to find someone else for the rest of the week.” He was taken aback because no one had ever declined The Today Show. He asked, “What’s wrong?” I replied, “I’m just exhausted.” I was already waking up in the wee hours for NBC News and Sunrise. This was just added work. He said, “Why are you so tired? You’re already used to these hours.” I explained that I would receive one information packet around seven in the evening and another, much thicker one, delivered to my apartment around nine-thirty. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of material I had to go through. He seemed surprised that I was reading everything. I said, “Well you’re sending it to me in a chauffeur-driven limousine, it must be crucial!”. But he then gave me the best advice: “Focus on the one thing that’s challenging for you. If you don’t know about cooking and you’re interviewing someone from that industry, study that. If you’re interviewing Yuli Vorontsov, the Soviet arms negotiator from the SALT II talks, and need to understand ‘nuclear throw weight,’ then concentrate on that. For everything else, trust yourself. You’re intelligent and well-informed. Follow the news, and you’ll do great.”
The segment I was most concerned about was the gifts for the chef. I was also tasked with showcasing a microwave coffee maker. It was a bit intricate, especially with where to place the coffee grounds and water. I arrived at 4 a.m. to familiarize myself with it, practicing until I felt confident. When it came time to present, I couldn’t figure out how to open the microwave! Time was running out, and Jane even tried to help, but to no avail. We were directed to wrap up the segment and head to a commercial break.
During the break, someone managed to brew the coffee. As we returned on air, I cheerfully mentioned how we had our fresh microwave coffee ready. However, as I poured, it looked more like weak tea than coffee. To make matters worse, the lid fell off the pot, spilling coffee all over the NBC Today desk, which had a special material to prevent papers from sliding.
The next day, when I arrived at work, there were little signs over Jane’s and my doors. Jane’s read “Lucy” and mine read “Ethel”. It was a memorable moment from many years ago. What made it even more special was that, at the time, there were rumors about Jane and me not getting along. But this incident showed our camaraderie. It was authentic and hilarious. We’re not unintelligent, but that day, it felt like the universe played a prank on us. That’s one story that truly stands out.
Yitzi: That’s an amazing story. What’s really fascinating is that you can laugh at it now. I imagine it was quite humiliating because, back in those days, the Today Show probably had a much larger viewership.
Deborah: Oh, definitely. I don’t know their current ratings, but I’m certain we had double-digit millions watching back then.
Yitzi: I can’t even fathom how embarrassing that must have been, yet you can chuckle about it now.
Deborah: Well, what are you going to do? I mean, I just made a fool of myself on national television. With me, what you see is what you get.
Yitzi: Okay, so you mentioned your father. Aside from your father, is there a person who made a profound impact on your professional career? Could you share a story about that person?
Deborah: Definitely. The first person I’d mention probably doesn’t even remember. But I do! Remember that old saying: “To give and never remember, to receive and never forget.” I will never forget the lesson I was given shortly after I started my reporting career while still in college. I was at WAGA-TV, where our newsroom entrance was beside the CBS News Southeast Bureau. This bureau had giants of the industry like Martha Teichner, John Sheehan, Zeke Siegel, and Don Brown. Martha, for instance, is still part of CBS Sunday Morning. One day, I found an envelope on my typewriter. It was from John Sheehan, who had noticed some grammatical errors in my reports. He pointed out some nuances in the use of the English language. For example, I had misused the word “presently.” The correct usage is “Currently it’s 52 degrees,” not “Presently it’s 52 degrees.” The fact that this amazing journalist was paying attention … and that John, such a respected journalist, took the time to guide me was incredible! He even recommended Edwin Newman’s book, “A Civil Tongue,” which focuses on proper English usage. I have never forgotten that lesson or him for sharing it.
That was back in 1978, and it’s a memory that stays with me. Early in my career, people like my bosses, Shelley Schwab and Paul Beavers, took chances by hiring me. I felt it was my duty to do my best and ensure they never regretted their decision. I believe that I fell short, they’d never take a chance on someone again. So, these men, and a few others, are people I’m deeply indebted to. They provided the opportunities that led me to where I am now, having this conversation with you.
Yitzi: So, can you share with our readers any exciting projects you’re currently working on? Anything coming up that has you excited?
Deborah: “Inside Edition” is in its 36th season, which is truly remarkable. It’s the number one day and date show in first-run syndication. As we approach our 37th year on television, it’s quite an achievement, especially in today’s industry where shows often have short lifespans. In the past, a season might have been 26 weeks long, but nowadays, many shows are thrilled with just a six-episode pickup. What excites me most is the unpredictability. As we began our conversation, I mentioned how our show is largely influenced by current events. I can’t predict what will happen in the next six weeks or even on the day this article gets published. However, I can guarantee it’ll be intriguing. Our storytelling approach at “Inside Edition” is unique, offering a fresh perspective compared to local news or other networks. This distinctive “Inside Edition twist” is hard to pinpoint, but it’s what sets us apart. Most of our team, from producers and correspondents to story coordinators and production assistants, have been with us for a long time. Over the years, we’ve developed a kind of shared language. It’s hard to teach, but once you’re immersed in it, you just get it. That’s been our secret sauce all these years.
Yitzi: Okay, this is our signature question. Looking back, what five things would you share with an aspiring journalist or news anchor to create a successful career as a news anchor?
- Curiosity. If you don’t question the reasons behind events or wonder about the circumstances that led to a particular situation, then you’re going to struggle in this industry. So, curiosity is definitely number one for me.
- Tenacity is number two. In journalism, “no” doesn’t always mean a no. If you interpret “no” as a definitive rejection, then journalism might not be the right career for you. Instead, “no” often means “not right now,” but that could change in a heartbeat. There’s an interesting statistic in sales: if you’re at a department store, the average salesperson gets turned down twice by a customer. Yet, the typical customer needs to be approached five times before making a purchase. I believe aspiring journalists should keep this in mind. Tenacity is incredibly vital in our field.
- Accuracy. If you believe that “close enough” is acceptable, then journalism isn’t for you. Choose another profession because, in journalism, we need accuracy. Especially nowadays, when journalists are sometimes compared, unfortunately, to used car salespeople, we can’t afford anything less than the truth.
- Remember, it’s not about you. If you’re lucky enough to become an anchor, don’t let it go to your head. It’s not about you. As an anchor, you’re simply a vessel delivering crucial, entertaining, and potentially life-changing information to your audience. Think of yourself as a phone cord connecting two people in conversation. You’re just a means of delivery. Keep your ego in check.
- Number five is simple: be yourself. One thing I’ve always recognized, having anchored for a long time, is that I’m invited into people’s homes. It’s a privilege and a gift they grant me. When I’m there, I’m a guest. I have to act with respect, be polite, and treat their space with care. My mother, who passed away when I was 20, always told me, “Whatever you do, Debbie, always be a lady.” So, when I’m on the screen and you’ve welcomed me into your living room, I strive to be that lady. I aim to be genuine and respectful. I can’t pretend to be someone else. That’s my fifth piece of advice: always be your wonderful, authentic self.
Yitzi: You’ve already touched on this, but our industry, journalism, is facing two significant challenges. First, there’s a growing lack of trust in mass media, and second, the business model has collapsed. Advertising isn’t as prevalent in news anymore; it’s shifted to platforms like Facebook and Google. So, to keep our profession alive: 1. What can we do to rebuild trust in the media? 2. How can we reinvent the business model?
Deborah: Regarding the first question about trust, it’s pivotal, and I’ve been addressing it for some time now. I believe we need to be transparent about our sources. Remember in college when you had to cite your sources in a term paper? It’s a similar principle. I’ve started doing this on Inside Edition. For instance, I once reported on a seemingly minor story about a police officer called to a home. The owner’s Chihuahua, a tiny and excitable breed, ran out barking at the officer. Instead of handling the situation calmly, the officer drew his weapon. Although we didn’t air the actual incident on Inside Edition, you could hear the shots and the owner’s distress. I then shared a statistic that approximately 14,000 pets are killed by law enforcement annually. But instead of leaving it at that, I specified that the source of my information was the Justice Department. By doing so, viewers can verify the facts for themselves if they’re skeptical. I believe that if more journalists adopted this practice, it would foster a greater sense of trust.
Yitzi: Yeah, it’s brilliant. This is our final question, an aspirational one. Deborah, given the platform you’ve created and your impactful work, many view you as a person of significant influence. If you could spread an idea or inspire a movement that would benefit the greatest number of people, what would it be?
Deborah: I appreciate that question. I’d encourage everyone to approach every action with kindness. Imagine if, when someone from a differing political view shouts at you, as we often see on channels like C-SPAN, instead of reacting defensively, you respond with kindness. Perhaps there’s something troubling going on in their life. Adopting this approach means thinking, “I’ll take a moment. I won’t engage aggressively. I’ll respond with kindness.” It’s challenging for someone to stay antagonistic when faced with a calm, kind demeanor, reminiscent of figures like Mahatma Gandhi. It’s about not being a doormat, but choosing not to escalate the situation.
In daily life, even simple acts matter. For example, when ordering at McDonald’s, why not ask the server how their day has been? And genuinely listen to their response. Just the other day, I was at a place near CBS buying a salad for lunch. A lady in front of me Told me to go ahead. I insisted she go first, and after some back and forth, she let me. When I paid for my salad, I decided to pay for her soup as well, just to reward her kindness. She was surprised and grateful. It was a small gesture, but it made my day.
If we all tried to see the world through a lens of kindness, not only would the world be a better place, but our personal experiences would be enriched. That’s my belief.
Yitzi: That’s a brilliant answer. How can our readers best continue to follow your work?
Deborah: They can watch Inside Edition; just check your local listings. And for social media, they can find me at @DeborahNorville.
Yitzi: It’s been truly an honor and a privilege to meet you, Deborah.
Deborah: Thank you so much.
INSIDE EDITION’s Deborah Norville On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.