When a co-worker on the set of “Good Morning America” asked ABC News national correspondent Adrienne Bankert why Americans care about the U.K.’s royal engagement, Bankert, who had flown to London to cover the story, said Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle’s fairy-tale romance has the universal appeal of a dream come true. Her co-worker responded, “Oh, I get it. You just love love!”
In conversation with 24Life, it’s clear that Bankert’s love makes the world go round—from her relationships with her peers in the broadcast industry to the individual on the other side of her microphone to her connection with millions on the other side of the camera.
Lifelong connections and blunt advice
As a child, Bankert had dreams of television: “I thought, ‘Wow, what a great idea to be somebody who can talk and present the news and tell stories and host shows,’ and all those dreams came true starting out with my first job in my hometown of Sacramento.”
She began as a traffic reporter—with no insights and no connections but with the advantages of “grit and faith and some really tightknit mentoring relationships.” In training and then working as a news anchor, Bankert began to build a professional network and sought mentors who were “honest, blunt people” and who would take the time to give her positive and constructive feedback. “It was up to me to choose whether I was going to listen to their advice or not,” Bankert adds.
A news director for a Dallas station saw Bankert’s work and hired her. Relocation also reconnected Bankert with an early acquaintance she’d met while training for her Sacramento position, who happened to be friends with the general manager of the ABC affiliate station in Los Angeles. That opened the door for Bankert to move to LA for a post that would allow her to do more street reporting. “My biggest lesson [has been that] you never want to forget people, you never want to take people for granted because they could end up giving you a big leg up one day,” she says.
It’s not personal
Back in Sacramento, Bankert got to work alongside industry veterans she’d watched as a child—and regarded as family. This family shaped her understanding of connections in the newsroom and compassion. When an audio engineer’s hallway greeting was uncharacteristically gruff, the young Bankert was surprised and put off, but she stopped short of responding. “I found out later that his mom had died,” she says. “And it was a moment of growing up. What if I had said, ‘What’s your problem’ on a day that he was grieving?”
Today, anytime there is a conflict at work, Bankert remembers the story. “You get some very spicy reactions in television,” she explains. “We’re pressured with deadlines. You might not get the sleep you need. You could be going through something no one knows.” Her early experience still serves her well in fostering crucial relationships. “I think that in caring enough to keep quiet, when I could have just reacted, I’ve been able to prioritize connection with the people I work with on camera, the audience at home, and with everybody I talk to,” she says. “You can say a lot without a word.”
“Compassion coming out of your eyeballs”
Bankert takes the kindness of silence even further to express genuine compassion. It’s a tip she prizes most from her longtime mentor and coach Bill Krause. “A lot of people have a method of connecting with their audience,” she says. “I would hear women say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to flirt with the camera,’ and one woman told me that she would imagine her grandmother sitting on her living room couch on the other side of the camera.”
Bankert says she has learned it doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the camera or microphone. “If you can have compassion come out of your eyeballs”—she says, laughing, “I can’t really describe how to do that” and continues—“it helps me to remember the person on the other side is a human … and it immediately creates a judgment-free zone. If you really believe in your heart and you decide in your mind that this person wants this to be a success, then you put the feelings aside and you just keep smiling. You don’t have to fake interest or intelligence or passion when your motivation is compassion.”
Being on camera, she says, has deepened her understanding of connection. Recalling one time that she didn’t like a particular line of questioning in an interview, she says she struggled with how to react and still be “herself.” Krause, the mentor with a different perspective, advised her to stop thinking about not liking the situation. He told her, “You only have one job. I want you to inspire and provoke your audience to new thought”—words that permanently shifted Bankert’s perspective on reporting.
Now, she says, “Every day I do the news, [I think about] what question can I ask that gets the audience to think differently … we’re speaking to so many more people today, from small towns to big cities … homogenous communities where there’s not a lot of ethnic diversity but maybe diversity of political beliefs. We’re speaking to those of various faiths … so we need people who are going to ask new and different questions.” Questions that might not be the obvious ones but the key to telling the story.
Offering some of her best advice, Bankert says the majority of what is done in news is about personal and interpersonal skills. She doesn’t want to call a source or expert just because she needs something. “I want to check in with you periodically because we’re all living this thing called life in and outside our careers.”
“Generosity is the thing that makes us feel alive”
On almost any given week, Bankert might have 40 minutes’ notice to pack, get on a plane or drive out of town for a story—whether it’s breaking news or a blizzard—so she has to extend some compassion to herself. “I walk a lot. …You want to spend some time breaking bread with the crew but I’ll take my downtime in my hotel room. You don’t always get a nap. Sometimes you do,” she says.
Bankert also advocates balance. She finds generosity is a powerful solution. “I think a lot of times we think of giving solely as charity, where we give and ‘they’ need,” she explains. “But being generous is the thing that makes us feel alive as much as it helps the person or the cause.”
And generosity, in Bankert’s mind, is a cure to getting unstuck. “When you’re frustrated, when you feel down in your career, facing debt and dead-ends—or you have a great income and a great job on paper and feel miserable—start giving,” she says. It even can mean giving something to somebody who doesn’t look like he or she needs anything. “It could be writing a thank-you card,” she continues. “Think of who is around you, who is in your community, who is your neighbor. …They are not just people on your block—they’re also sitting in the cubicle right next to you. We don’t have to go far to find our purpose.”
Bankert reflects: “This career has made me into a better human. I’m glad it’s made me a better journalist, but I like the person I’ve grown up to be, and it looks more and more like what I, as a kid, aspired to be.”
Watch Adrienne Bankert on ABC News and Good Morning America, follow her on Twitter @ABonTV and Instagram @abontv, and watch for her next initiative on Instagram: @5forsure. It’s a plan to commit to no less than five minutes a day working on a goal, declaring your gratitude or giving and getting a pep talk with a friend, mentor or coworker, with a call or FaceTime. The goal: increase real connection and make time for dreams with accountability. We can do more together!
Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudio.com
Hair and Make-up: Mia Delina Escobar