Way back in the 1990s a high school kid came to WFSB for a day of job shadowing, working with me to witness what I did on a typical day at Channel 3. Today, that kid is now all grown up, doing some tremendous reporting from places few will ever see or want to see.
Will Ripley grew up in Manchester, and graduated from Manchester High School in 1999. He went to the University of Missouri, and like many of us in television news, worked his way up through small markets to a bigger one, eventually landing in Denver, before joining CNN.
Will is now stationed at the CNN bureau in Tokyo, and in the past several months has done some amazing reporting from all over the world, from inside the earthquake damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, to the isolated Communist dictatorship of North Korea.
He told me he would come on Face the State one of these days when he’s home so I can ask him about his fascinating career, in the meantime, I emailed him some questions about his job.
DH: When you were anchoring the news at Manchester High School what was your career goal?
WR: My ultimate goal was to be at the network. Before high school, CNN’s Persian Gulf coverage inspired me to become a journalist. But I also really wanted to work at Channel 3. I grew up watching Eyewitness News and idolized many of the anchors — including Denise, Gayle, Al, and you Dennis! One of my two main career goals came true.
DH: Are there lessons you learned growing up in Connecticut that guide you in your job today at CNN?
WR: While at MHS, I had the opportunity to cover the ’96 election for a program on WTIC known back then as “Fox 61 Kids News.” I reported from the first Clinton-Dole presidential debate at the Bushnell Theatre. I remember being in the spin room interviewing George Stephanopoulos, who left the White House shortly after that election. I think that’s when I developed a keen interest in politics. I’m even more interested now that I live outside of United States , as I experience the global impact of American politics.
DH: As a journalist, what kind of apprehension do you have when you enter North Korea?
WR: During my most recent trip to North Korea to cover the 7th Workers Party Congress, a BBC correspondent was detained for eight hours, made to sign an apology letter, and expelled for reporting that the regime deemed “disrespectful,” especially comments made about their leader Kim Jong Un. I’ve been to North Korea ten times and used to worry quite a bit about being detained, especially because I’ve been severely reprimanded by North Korean authorities for my reports. But I’m not afraid to report l critical things about North Korea, even when I’m in the country, as long as I have facts to back it up and I’m respectful and fair — as I would be covering any country.
DH: Have you requested to interview Kim Jong Un?
WR: Yes. He’s never granted an interview and I’m not sure he will anytime soon, but you never know.
DH: What was your most dangerous assignment?
WR: From to 2004-2011, I worked in Texas, primarily covering the drug cartels. For one investigative assignment, my news director and I interviewed a high-ranking cartel member about a deadly, ongoing turf war raging just south in Tamaulipas, Mexico. We met him at a rundown old motel. There were cartel security people making sure we didn’t have police following us. We walked, alone, with him to the Rio Grande where he showed us one of the smuggling routes his cartel used. In hindsight, it was incredibly dangerous go without alerting anyone. He could’ve killed us out there and nobody would’ve found us for a long time. Sometimes in journalism you’re asked to take risks. As I grow older, I’m more mindful of dangers that I probably didn’t think about as much, in the past.
DH: Which countries would you still like to report from?
WR: Iran, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Russia, Vietnam, Syria, South Africa, Nigeria, and Brazil are high on my list.
DH: Best part of your job?
WR: The travel. Getting paid to see the world, cover big stories, and witness history.
DH: Worst part of the job?
WR: The travel. Regularly living out of a suitcase and being forced to cancel plans often can take a toll.
You can follow Will’s journeys via Twitter https://twitter.com/willripleyCNN
By the way, Will anchored the news at Manchester High School with another familiar face, who later worked at WFSB, and now also works at CNN, our old friend Jessica Schneider. Check it out: