Interviewed by Stephanie Hungerford
Andrea Canning is a correspondent for NBC’s Dateline and contributes to all NBC News platforms. She has reported on major crime stories, high profile trials and breaking news, including the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Sandy, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Since arriving at Dateline, she has also reported hour-long documentaries on campus sexual assault and adoption fraud.
Prior to joining NBC News in 2012, Canning served as an ABC News correspondent for eight years where she covered the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Iraq War, reporting on everything from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Casey Anthony case, to her 2011 headline-making interview with actor Charlie Sheen. Long before that, Canning was a reporter and evening news anchor for CKVR Television in Barrie, Ontario. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, she also studied radio and television arts at Ryerson in Toronto. Canning is married to Lt. Col. Tony Bancroft, a former F-18 fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps. They have five young daughters. She is on Twitter @CanningAndrea.
I reached out to her because she is an inspiration to me, not only as a writer, but also as a working mother in the highly competitive television industry. Canning’s dedication to her work and family is more than just admirable. When I met with her in New York a few years back, she walked me through her daily schedule. I’ll never forget it. The hours were grueling. She was up at the crack of dawn, sometimes earlier, and back at the studio late into the evening. Every minute was accounted for, including making sure she had dinner with her daughters, regardless of whether or not she had to go back to the studio to burn the midnight oil. Hard working and determined, Canning’s real gift is her way with words. Her investigations are thorough yet empathetic; kind yet inquisitive. The way she unravels a story is so intuitive that she’s able to guide the viewer on an effortless journey. If that isn’t the mark of a great storyteller, I don’t know what is.
You’ve had a very successful career as a correspondent working for major American networks. How did you land your first job?
There was no internet, so I paid for this service called Medialine that cost about 10 dollars a month. It listed local news job openings across the country on its telephone hotline. I sent out my VHS resume reels to 60 stations. I got two calls. One from Nebraska and one from Mississippi. Nebraska passed. Mississippi gave me a pop quiz on the phone. I passed and was hired as their morning anchor. I had made a very amateur reel that thankfully made enough of an impression. Times have changed!
What was it like that first year of being a correspondent? Can you tell us about some hurdles you had to overcome?
Being a network news correspondent is hard. You’re suddenly a very small fish in a very big pond fighting for stories, fighting to get on the air. I was very determined to climb the ladder so I just kept pitching story idea after idea. Eventually, they just started green lighting everything. I think the hardest part is overcoming people’s perceptions and proving you can do the job and do it better than they expected.
I, too, am a working mother and I really admire how you juggle a demanding career while still being an excellent role model to your five girls. What kind of advice can you give working mothers and how do you keep a healthy work-life balance?
I work really hard, but every chance I get I am with my five daughters. Everything I do is for them. There is guilt, but my girls are so curious about my job and I know they’re proud of me. How can that not shape them in some way for the better? My eldest daughter already says she wants to be a news reporter. I love what I do and I love being a mom. It’s a juggling act we make work.
What part of your education was the most valuable in terms of preparing you for a career in broadcast journalism and what advice would you give to emerging writers who are looking to get into your line of work?
Understanding the technical side of things was very important and learning how to write for news. Feeling somewhat comfortable in the genre, or having an understanding of it before being thrown into the fire. If you’re a good writer, that’s half the battle. The other half is feeling comfortable on camera. Practice in front of the camera, get a voice coach if you can, make a resumé reel and make sure you’re writing is concise and conversational for TV news. Most packages with your reel are only about one and a half minutes in length.
Can you walk us through how you prepared for your upcoming episode on Steven Avery? How did you know this was going to be a great story?
I have been preparing for this story since my Dateline episode on the case last year. I covered it at my previous job, as well, so I’ve known about it for a while – and Dateline covered the very first Steven Avery trial 11 years ago. I follow everything I can with the developments and find this case very intriguing. This story has such a strong following because of the Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer that chronicles the trials of Steven Avery, so I knew it would be great, because everyone seems to have a different opinion and people love playing armchair detective.
Interviews are a huge part of your episodes. Is there an art to preparing your questions?
Knowing the material really well helps. I love reading over the questions right before I sit down and I love finding any little detail I can in the trial notes and the local newspaper articles. But mostly, I just like the conversation to guide both of us. The questions are a great way to guide and make sure you don’t forget key elements, but it’s the spontaneity that makes a great interview. Letting an answer guide you to the next question. Learning things you didn’t know before you sat down and finding those moments that are so memorable. The moments that get people yelling at their TV, tearing up or even occasionally laughing during dark subject matter.
When dealing with such heavy subject matters within the true crime genre, is there a common message that resonates with your viewers?
I think our viewers like it when people are genuine and open. Our viewers are smart and I think they pick up on so much and can see through a lot. They like to see the bad guys put away and when the justice system works, the families get the ending they deserve.
Andrea Canning’s next Dateline NBC episode, “Return to Manitowoc County: The State of Wisconsin vs. Steven A. Avery” airs Friday, February 17 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, 9 p.m. CT.
For the last 13 years, Stephanie Hungerford has worked in television in Vancouver and LA. She was a multi-media studio exec at Twentieth Century Fox until making a career change into writing. She is currently a story editor on First Dates, a Warner Bros. production airing on Slice in Canada. Stephanie can be found @hollywoodheels and www.stephaniehungerford.com.