Anderson Cooper said he learned to speak the language of loss early in life, which helps him become a better journalist.
“I know how it is to be on the other side of the camera,” Cooper said about facing cameras and reporters during his brother’s funeral.
An anchor for CNN's Anderson Cooper 360°, Cooper has reported on natural disasters, war and civil wars around the world. He has to talk to people when they are in distress, he said during his visit to UTA as part of the Maverick Speakers Series. Krys Boyd, host and managing editor of KERA-FM talk show Think, moderated the event.
“You are asking them to open up to you at their worst moments,” he said. “I want to honor their stories.”
Cooper said people refrain from talking about grief, but he said his experience with loss has shaped the way he tells stories.
“There’s something particularly horrible about dying in silence,” he said. “I can at least honor the life that they have lived.”
As a reporter, he said one should not become desensitized to the death or destruction around oneself.
“It makes you a better reporter,” he said.
When Cooper found himself in Rwanda taking a picture of a woman whose skin was peeling with the heat, he realized he was viewing the bodies not as people, but, as dead bodies.
“I wasn’t viewing these bodies as people,” he said, adding that he tries to never forget about the reality of the situation and lets the situation around him move him and affect him.
Undeclared freshman Neda Langroodi said she was inspired by Cooper’s honesty and down-to-earth nature.
“He tries to remember the name of anyone who lost a family member basically to carry on their legacy,” she said.
For Sasha Meraj, a Tarrant County College nursing student, "An Evening with Anderson Cooper" was motivation to remember to care about people around the world.
“I am inspired to take each day as it comes and be aware of what’s happening around the world,” Langroodi said.
Cooper: Being born gay is a blessing
For Cooper, one of his great blessings was being born gay, he said, and he wouldn’t want to change it, because it allowed him to view the world and love people in a different way.
When Krys Boyd, host and managing editor for "Think," a KERA program, asked him about coming out to the public, he said he did not want his audience to perceive him as being uncomfortable with his sexuality. He also did not come out earlier because he was concerned about the safety of his team that accompanies him to different countries, which are not friendly or tolerant of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Cooper said he did not want his personal life to become an issue while telling stories as a journalist.
“It’s harder to tell a story when people know about you,” Cooper said. “In order to tell a good story, you want to be a sponge for the information they want to tell you.”
Message to aspiring journalists
Cooper urges aspiring journalists have an actual conversation with people, listen closely with compassion and learn how to write.
“Make yourself indispensable,” he said. “I volunteered for assignments that no one else wanted.”
Cooper advised students to continue learning something new every day and to allow situations and people they interact with to change them.
“I love what I do," he said, "and it doesn't feel like work.”