…There is no substitute for putting in the work. A mentor of mine used to say, “get paid to get your reps in”. You can watch and critique others and yourself for hours (and you should!), but there’s nothing like getting up every day and grinding away yourself. That’s how you get better. Hard work + preparation are my secret weapons and the cool part about them, is everyone can access those instruments.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Robay. Danielle is a TV host + entertainment journalist, who is transforming her generation’s relationship with media. She currently brings a blend of candid political and cultural commentary to WCIU’s popular morning news program The Jam, where she’s the youngest TV host in Chicago — she also engages with over 250,000 fans on her social media platforms. Her previous on-air reporting and hosting credits include Entertainment Tonight Online, NBC 4, and HLN’s Dr. Drew, where she’s interviewed everyone from Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock to Michael B. Jordan and Taylor Swift.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Danielle! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My path is one full of persistence, hard work, long hours, commitment to my craft, and some educated risk taking. After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles with zero (and I mean zero) professional contacts and very little money. My grandmother’s friends let me live in their garage near Santa Monica for free for three months. I quickly began cold-emailing and cold-calling. When no one responded to me, I sent cookies to their office, waited outside of studios with coffee to introduce myself to people.
Eventually, my persistence paid off. I started doing freelance red carpets and movie junkets and eventually procured a full-time host position (which includes producing + writing) with Clevver TV. I then became the recurring millennial voice on HLN’s Dr. Drew, and started working with NBC4, and ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and then eventually Entertainment Tonight Online. I recently moved back to Chicago (where I’m from) to co-host The Jam!
I am now a TV host and entertainment journalist currently co-hosting WCIU’s Chicago-based morning news program The Jam. As the youngest morning TV host in Chicago, I bring my trademark blend of energy, wit, and candid cultural commentary to the city — and to my loyal social media following, where I have over 250,000 connections across major digital platforms (Instagram is my favorite).
My previous on-air reporting and hosting credits include Entertainment Tonight Online, NBC 4, and HLN’s Dr. Drew, where I’ve interviewed everyone from Tom Hanks and Jessica Alba to Marc Cuban and Taylor Swift.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
For years I have been watching, studying, and taking notes on people I consider to be THE GREATS. Larry King is one of those ‘greats’. After watching hundreds of hours of Larry King interviews, I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with him last year. We talked about Trump, he told me about the first question he would ask Osama Bin Laden if he interviewed him, and detailed stories about growing up, his most memorable interviews, and his passion for understanding WHY. It felt like an outer body experience to be sitting and talking with a man I had watched for years. I was in awe of his insatiable curiosity and ability to connect with me + quite frankly anyone, from any walk of life. I left that table with such admiration for him- it was one of the coolest moments of my career by far.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a women’s interview series with some exciting partners! The reason I do what I do is because I’m seeking to transform this generation’s relationship with popular media, creating a platform for young women to shape the world through open dialogue. If we are what we eat, then we are informed by the content we consume.
Just like Barbara Walters did for earlier generations of women, I seek to transform this generation’s relationship with popular media, creating a platform for young women to shape the world through open dialogue. And this interview series is going to be just that- stay tuned!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have a ton of stories! I have been fortunate enough to have interviewed hundreds of celebrities. But the ones that stand out to me are the people who have a special quality. Maybe they are incredibly grounded (Mila Kunis + Gwen Stefani, Tom Hanks, Gigi Hadid, Alexis Ohanian). Maybe they surprise you by being different than their public persona (Simon Cowell) or have major soul (Alicia Vikander, Sophia Bush). Sometimes they leave an impression on you because they are just as funny in person (Steve Carrell, Rosie O’Donnell, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer) or are inspiring + you can feel their purpose- something larger than themselves (Gina Rodriguez, Michael B. Jordan). Or maybe they just simply have that magic, you know the kind that just lights up a room (Sandra Bullock, Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto).
I really love my job because I study people’s lives. I learn from their failures and their triumphs and their wisdom. I pay really close attention. I’m truly listening. I feel like they teach me how to live better in some ways.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The Trailblazers: women who have risked their own reputations and/or careers to push culture forward. I heard Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak earlier this year. She lead the ACLU’s campaign for gender equality, and broke down so many barriers. Women like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Pauli Murray, Frida Kahlo and today, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Malala, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, Chelsea Handler, Jane Fonda. I am inspired by women who, for lack of a better mode of expression, STAND UP when they are told to sit down.
And truthfully, I am so, incredibly inspired by the young girls who I get to meet via social media, on the street, or at events. There is a new wave of girls + women who are empowered, inspired, and inspiring. The future really is bright!
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in journalism?
One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
The good news about starting any career (but especially a career in TV hosting/entertainment journalism) is that all the resources are out there, and every skill we need is within us. The hard part is the endless trial and error it takes to find those resources and master those skills; it takes confidence to understand that you won’t be perfect (or even close to OK) when you first start out. I still feel clumsy when I take on new responsibilities. But that’s where the growth comes from. To borrow a phrase from Brene Brown, we don’t get anywhere we want to go unless we “dare greatly.”
I think people get stuck on how to do something. How to get an interview, how to put a reel together, how to meet executives. Just focus on what you want to do, have two or three important reasons WHY you want to do it, and you’ll figure out the how.
The most prevalent question I receive from college students and people on Instagram and social media is “what if I’m not ready for that? Should I still apply?” and my response is always “Why don’t you think you’re ready?” I don’t think I’ve ever been “ready” for a job I’ve applied for or taken; I honestly don’t know if anyone truly is. You can’t really be ready until you get there and actually do it for a bit. What I have learned is, the best things in life are on the other side of fear. So just GO FOR IT ALL!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Media is a mirror to our culture. The images and conversations around us matter; they impact our world views, our assumptions, our thoughts, even when we think they don’t. Just like Barbara Walters did for earlier generations of women, I seek to transform this generation’s relationship with popular media, creating a platform for young women to shape the world through open dialogue.
I try every single day to make sure that the topics I cover on The Jam and on my social media are as honest, and multifaceted as women are. I think women want to talk about everything from the best new eyeshadow at Sephora to Prop 8. They want to discuss the Kardashians and The Bachelor, just as much as they want to discuss reproductive rights and social justice. The social IS political nowadays. I hope any woman who spends time watching my show or following me on Instagram or Twitter feels like I get where they’re coming from and that their various interests and passions matter-that they are seen, heard, and represented in some way. When I hear women I look up to like Chelsea Handler or Hillary Clinton talk about and stand for issues that matter to me, I feel like I’m not alone. My goal is to be a person that women can count on as an advocate and an ally.
When Catt Sadler recently left E! over pay inequality, we discussed it on our morning show. My response was pretty passionate and after the show I took to Instagram to elaborate on the topic. I have never received so many responses from both men and women. Many women thanked me for talking about money, a ‘taboo’ topic for women. I was surprised by how many men messaged me telling me stories about watching their mom’s struggle through similar situations growing up. The coolest part was that I had a woman message me saying that she harnessed the advice I gave about asking for a raise and walked into her boss’s office and received one that week! That was the first time I truly recognized the power of social media.
I talk with a lot of college and post college age women about their careers. I love strategizing with people about how to get their dream job or take their careers to the next level. I’m constantly doing it myself, so it’s really fun doing it with other women.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
A few things.
1)A mission: I want to be the millennial Barbara Walters, or the titan of “cerebral entertainment” as I like to call it. There’s so much overlap nowadays between what happens in our social and political worlds, and I want to create more space for women to have open dialogue and share what’s meaningful to them. I don’t just want to add content to the arena, I want to add value. However divided we are as a country, pop culture still links us together: the music we play, the TV we watch, the memes we share — it’s all an expression of our collective experience. We’re all tapped into the same network of stories, which, if we let them, can transcend our racial, sexual, gender, geographic, and socio-economic differences. And that’s POWERFUL.
2)A passion for people and learning: I truly love every moment of my job. I feel a ‘high’ when I get to have an amazing conversation. And as nerdy as it sounds, I LOVE learning. My job requires so much research and preparation and that is one of my favorite parts- I get to learn every single day!
3)My family + friends: I want to make my parents proud, and I want to be able to give to those who have poured so much love into me for years- mentors, family friends, teachers etc.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Wow, I wish I could give more than five! Here’s what I’ve got:
1. Study the people top-notch at your craft. Who’s doing it best? Read their biographies, memoirs, and interviews. Take notes. What sets them apart from anyone else? What traits can you emulate but make your own? Kobe was obsessed with Michael Jordan, Lady Gaga definitely modeled after Madonna. Who will you model your career after?
2. In entertainment, no one who’s serious about your career will ask you to meet after work hours. First meetings should always be done between 8AM-6PM.
3. Even the most creative skills — especially the most creative skills — require long periods of clumsiness and tedium. A lot of the work isn’t “glamorous” or “sexy.” There’s a lot of emailing and researching and practicing that isn’t necessarily “fun.” But that’s where you grow and set yourself apart in your field. The more time you spend doing the least glamorous parts of the job, the more you learn the details and intricacies that are most important. Embrace it all.
4. That said, there is no substitute for putting in the work. A mentor of mine used to say, “get paid to get your reps in”. You can watch and critique others and yourself for hours (and you should!), but there’s nothing like getting up every day and grinding away yourself. That’s how you get better. Hard work + preparation are my secret weapons and the cool part about them, is everyone can access those instruments.
5. HAVE FUN! The person who relaxes the most and has the most fun on television WINS. I look back on so many professional moments I wish I would have been more present for. But at the time, I took every interview, every question, every minute so seriously. I wanted, so badly, to be taken seriously! But after I got more comfortable with my skill set and practiced enough to be more comfortable, I started having fun. And that’s when things start to fall into place.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Hillary Clinton- She spearheads change, constantly + repeatedly takes the high road regardless of the circumstance, and makes herself vulnerable to the world in an effort to make it a better place for other women. That’s incredibly inspiring to me.
(But if you know Michelle Obama, Chelsea Handler, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Walter’s or Jane Fonda- they are all on my ‘must meet’ list)