On Monday, March 27, KO welcomed Maria Spinella ’93 back to campus for the annual Baird Journalism Dinner. Created in honor of former faculty advisor to the KO News, Warren Baird, this tradition has been a way to connect KO News staff to distinguished alumni who work in journalism.
The Baird Journalism Dinner is organized by the English Department Chair and current faculty advisor of the KO News Catherine Schieffelin. Ms. Schieffelin had spoken to Ms. Spinella about visiting KO in prior years, but her visit finally came to fruition this spring. Ms. Spinella was eager to come back to campus to share her experiences with current KO students and faculty.
Ms. Spinella graduated from KO in 1993, with both her siblings and father having attended KO as well. During her four years at KO, Ms. Spinella began working on the KO News during her sophomore year and eventually went on to serve as Co-Editor-In-Chief of the paper.
After graduating from KO, Ms. Spinella went on to attend Colorado College, where she studied political science. She then went on to begin her illustrious career, getting her first job with a video production company in New York City. Following the completion of her CNN internship, Ms. Spinella went on to work at CBS in August 2001. She also worked for HBO Sports and ABC, before returning to work at CNN.
Currently, Ms. Spinella is the executive producer of the Don Lemon Show on CNN every night. She mentioned how crucial it is to just start working and how that is the best way to make an impression in the world of journalism. Looking back on her early days in the journalism industry, Ms. Spinella emphasized the importance of allowing your knowledge to be the best tool you have. “Your ideas are your currency in this business,” she said.
As the executive producer on CNN, Ms. Spinella has the responsibility of making all the editorial decisions for the shows she produces. She chooses which stories run and which ones don’t, which can be a difficult task. Ms. Spinella is also responsible for deciding which guests appear, what reporters are featured, and which taped pieces appear during the show.
During her time at CNN, she has covered multiple major events, both in the United States and abroad. Most notably, she covered the 2020 election as a special producer. Ms. Spinella worked during the week of the election and also covered the Georgia Runoff Election. She worked on airing shows during the January 6th insurrection in 2021, working on the night-time coverage of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Ms. Spinella also covered both impeachments of former President Donald Trump. She also worked in London on CNN’s coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth.
Despite working and covering many surreal moments in world history, Ms. Spinella touched on the challenges of working in the journalism sector today. “When you think about a career in journalism, you need to know that you are going to have to sacrifice at some point,” she said. With all the sacrifice, Ms. Spinella also talked about the importance of finding ways to clear your head; she enjoys going for daily walks in nature to come up with new ideas.
Ms. Spinella also discussed the volatile climate of news today, and how in her job she has to be conscious of hyperfocus on ‘fake news’ in the United States. “A journalist’s job isn’t to change someone’s mind, but it is important to inform them well enough that they can make up their mind on their own,” she said. Ms. Spinella also talked about the need for the public to trust the media, and it is her job to make sure that trust is not broken.
During her visit to KO, Ms. Spinella got the opportunity to reconnect with some of her old teachers, namely Upper School history teacher and former faculty advisor to the KO News, Rob Kyff. Like many others, Ms. Spinella noted the impact that Mr. Kyff had on her during her time at KO. She explained that he played a role in her discovering her passion for journalism, and he was always willing to let her and her fellow students come to their own conclusions on whether a story was newsworthy or not.
After the dinner, Ms. Spinella mentioned how much she enjoyed being back at KO. “It was great to be back on campus with fellow journalists,” she said.
Senior Tess Chapman appreciated the timeliness of Ms. Spinella’s talk. “I am really grateful I was able to learn from Maria Spinella, and I was so inspired by her story,” she said. Senior Alyssa Temkin agreed with Tess. “I had a great time listening to Ms. Spinella and was so lucky to hear her amazing story and all her incredible experiences,” she said.
Tess and other members of the KO News staff were able to see the real world applications of the articles they are writing. “As someone who is interested in politics and current events, I was particularly fascinated by Ms. Spinella’s work, especially because so many of the events she covered in real-time were the subjects of articles I had written for the KO News,” Tess said.
This year’s Baird Journalism Dinner was a success, and we thank Ms. Spinella for sharing her fascinating story with the KO community!