Westmont Magazine Live from CNN
Kyra Phillips ’90 wondered why students were laughing during one of Greg Spencer’s communication studies exams. Then she read the last question: “Where is Kyra transferring to become a famous journalist?”
The answer was USC, and the prediction came true. Since 1999, Kyra has worked as a news anchor and cor-respondent at CNN. Viewers know her as the weekday anchor of “Live From.” She has earned many honors: four Emmys, two Edward R. Murrow awards for investigative reporting and numerous Golden Microphones. AP named her Reporter of the Year in 1997, and she received the Bill Stout Memorial Award for enterprise reporting. While at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, she discovered she could purchase the ages, addresses and phone numbers of 5,000 local children for $277 using the name of a notorious child killer. Her story led to the enactment of national legislation, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Kyra developed an early interest in journalism, starting a school newspaper in fourth grade. Becoming a Christian in high school transformed her life and led her to Westmont, where she felt pulled in two different directions: youth ministry and journalism. Professor Greg Spencer advised her as she sorted out her future, teaching her writing skills, critiquing her stories and recommending books. “Greg created a nurturing environment for me and encouraged me,” she says. “He really gave me wonderful direction and support.”
Eventually, she chose journalism and transferred to USC. After graduating, she worked at television stations in Green Bay, Wis., Lubbock, Texas, and New Orleans before returning to Los Angeles and joining KCBS-TV.
As a young reporter in Green Bay, Kyra realized there was a lot of mistrust between the military and the media. “I felt that if I went through training and really got on the inside, I could understand them better, and they would trust me,” she says. That approach has worked. She started with SWAT training and has built ties with law enforcement and the military, observing elite Navy units such as the Seals, the Top Gun School and the CAG 9 airwing. Not only has she flown in many types of fighter jets, but she was the first female reporter to ride in an F-14 during a combat training mission over the Persian Gulf. An embedded journalist on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003, she covered the Iraqi War for CNN. “Reporting is more real, more solid when you live it as they live it,” she says. “I never realized the physical and mental toll of war. Bravery is not easy to bear for the men and women in the military.”
Kyra has blazed a trail in another area: religion. Her war coverage includes stories about chaplains, and her friendship with the Atlanta courthouse chaplain helped her report on the shootings there. She did a one-hour special on Billy Graham, gaining a personal interview with the ailing evangelist. She surprised his staff when she asked to pray with Graham; that was a first! She’s proud that CNN has started a faith and values beat.
“I love adventure,” she says. “I love going into male-dominated situations where I’m seen as the clueless female reporter. Then I talk the lingo, ask the right questions and fit right in. I’m glad I have that passion — it has helped.”