Alum Spotlight: Jennie Kamin

Alum Spotlight: Jennie Kamin
Christina Kopanidis-Cantu, Development Director

Post Oak recently caught up with alum Jennie Kamin (Middle School class of ’04). Jennie and her sister Abbie Kamin started at Post Oak School as toddlers and graduated from our Middle School (before we created the High School in the Museum District). Both alums have gone on to successful careers. Abbie was elected to and is currently serving as Houston City Council Member for District C. Jennie lives in New York. She is a journalist and Emmy award-winning producer of CBS Mornings.

Jennie took some time to talk with me about life in New York City and to share memories from her Post Oak years and the foundational impact of her Montessori education. 

Thanks for speaking with me today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself before we go down memory lane?

Of course. I graduated from Post Oak Middle School in 2004 and then went to Emory Weiner for high school. From there I went to Tulane for undergrad and Columbia for grad school with a couple of years in between. I currently live in the East Village in New York City, and I’m a producer for CBS News for our national morning broadcast, CBS Mornings.

What did you study in college?

In Tulane, I majored in political science with a focus in American policy and practice. At Columbia, I got my master’s in journalism.

I’m so curious, what is it like to be a producer on a national network show? 

It’s a lot of adapting. It’s a lot of fun! It can be very exciting and intense. You get to be at the forefront of a lot of national issues, which is very interesting to me. One day can be dramatically different from the next. It’s doing a lot of research and reporting, meeting interesting people, and learning about them. [There’s a lot of] planning logistics, putting together shoots, deciding where to shoot, figuring out how to get access to that place and directing in the field, working with a crew to put the thing together, and then writing a story and working with an editor to finish it up. That’s sort of my day-to-day. 

Do you specialize in one area? 

Yes, national. A lot of times that means there’s a local story happening somewhere that is significant nationally. I’m a features producer—I produce what are considered longer-term stories. And I do breaking news. For example, when the Queen died, I got on a plane that day and went to London, which was super interesting. But usually, I get to spend a little more time on stories. I’ve been doing some profiles about artists lately, which has been interesting. The last one I did was a profile about a performer named Jinx Monsoon. She won RuPaul’s Drag Race several years ago and is now on Broadway and is breaking down barriers for non-binary performers.

It must be fun!

It’s super fun! And there’s no day, no two days that are the same, which is always interesting and exciting. In the past, I’ve spent quite a bit of time on politics. In 2020, I was associate producer for one of the anchors on our show. We were discussing how to cover the swing states [for the election, during the pandemic]. So we just went to all the Midwestern swing states in an RV. [We were] producing pieces and writing them from the back of a moving RV and then going into the country and talking to voters and putting together stories about them.

Has the world of journalism changed since you started?

Something that’s happening right now is that local newsrooms across the country, but also national newsrooms across the country, are shuttering. And it’s a really rapid and dramatic decline. And that has brought a dramatic shift to the industry even since I started, which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t that long ago. What’s really changed is the number of reporters out there. Just the number of people actually looking into really important things becomes fewer and fewer every year. I feel that change in my work. I don’t know what that looks like long term.

How did you start in journalism?

In undergrad, I interned at the local NBC affiliate in New Orleans where I went to school. And then somebody went on maternity leave and they asked me if I wanted to be the early morning assignment desk editor while I was in my senior year. It was a 4 a.m. start time listening to the police scanner and determining where the reporters were going to go that day. So that was an amazing experience. And then in grad school, I was recruited to work at CBS. I have been there ever since I graduated grad school working on different shows and different projects.

Congrats on winning an Emmy! I have to ask, what was that like? 

Oh, thank you. That was a lot of fun. Everyone on my show won an Emmy for Best Outstanding Live News Program. It’s a particularly exciting category because within the news, the team is so important. We have a daily news program Monday through Friday. It can be very last minute; it requires all hands on deck all the time. All of my colleagues are unbelievably hard working. I work with the most incredible people. And it was a wonderful experience to celebrate together, particularly after being a little bit disjointed over the past couple of years. Since the pandemic, we don't see each other in the newsroom every day. People were covering really hard material for the last couple of years. Tough stories. So it was nice—and it’s fun to get a statue!

How would you describe your life in New York?

I love New York! It’s wonderful. I do a lot more walking here than I did in Houston. Yeah, it’s a lot colder much of the time, but it’s really wonderful. It’s alive. Honestly, my favorite thing to do here is just to walk around and experience the city and see new neighborhoods, and just explore the world that way. I don’t think you can do that in every American city. New York is very special that way. And, yes, you’re living on top of one another. I live in a pretty small place compared to where I might live or have lived elsewhere. But it’s very alive. I think the people here tend to be passionate about the work they’re doing, because it’s a grind to live here. People tend to be here for a purpose professionally, and because they really love the city. So it’s great to be around people who are sort of on that same wavelength. 

Shifting now to some memories about The Post Oak School, do you remember your Primary class?

Of course! Patty Clark was my teacher. She really helped shape the person that I am today. That’s such a foundational relationship. I remember so much from those days. Patti was just a wonderful and fantastic teacher.

I remember walking around the tape circle on my birthday with the globe. And, I remember the garden. I want to say we planted sunflowers. I remember one of the first books that I took home when I was learning to read and learning cursive with the sandpaper tiles. I still write in cursive today, mostly. 

We still teach cursive to all of the younger students at Post Oak!

What about memories from Elementary?

Lots of memories. I think the biggest one was in Lower Elementary. I put on plays with friends, which was fantastic and something I enjoyed. I was given the opportunity to write something and put it together, and figure out how we wanted to choreograph it and put on a play for the school. I wrote a puppet show, and in my memory, Miss Turner encouraged me to perform it as a live puppet show. That really informed the work that I do today. It’s not very different from just putting together a show. 

Jennie, what do you think about Montessori education, and what made you different from non-Montessori kids?

I definitely think the experiential learning opportunities set me apart. The opportunities we had, particularly in middle school and even before, to not only participate in trips but plan them was totally different. And those are skills I definitely still use today. In sixth grade, we got together with both classes and decided where we wanted to go on our trip. We just got to pick, and we chose San Francisco. And then we planned the whole thing: the hotels, we booked the meals, figured out where we wanted to eat, figured out what we wanted to do, and booked all of those experiences. What an amazing thing for 11-year-olds to work together and figure out high-level logistics. It’s something that kids are obviously capable of doing, but what I remember early is being given the confidence to understand that I was capable of doing those things. So that's probably a unique experience for Montessori education. 

Moving on to high school and then on to college, do you think that Post Oak prepared you and that you were ready academically to go on to the next level? 

No question. I think first and foremost, what I got out of my Montessori experience was curiosity and encouragement to explore what I was passionate about. [At] college, you have the freedom to do that. Of course, there are core requirements, but then you explore what you want to pursue, potentially for your life. That was a wonderful skill set that I developed in [Montessori] school: learning what I loved, what I was interested in, and being encouraged to pursue those things. 

What would you say to someone who is considering Post Oak for their children?

It’s a wonderful school and a wonderful system of education. The core strengths that I feel I developed were a love for learning—a real love for learning—and the enjoyment of being immersed in an environment where learning is happening.

I also think personal responsibility is something that is sort of magically woven in somehow, right? I remember very early having the experience of knowing I was responsible for my belongings and putting them away, and I had ownership over what I chose to wear to school.

All of those things were really important in my own self-expression and developing leadership skills.

If you’re a parent who values those things for your children, you should definitely consider Post Oak and Montessori education. The other thing I’ll mention is the community service emphasis, which was really important to my own development. From very early on, we interacted with the world and wanted to make an impact on it. In fourth grade, we held a protest for the hole in the ozone layer, but essentially, a climate change protest, which was pretty radical for Texas at the time. To be engaging with those big issues as a fourth grader and having discussions about them was hugely important. I also think it’s pretty radical to spend an entire day out of the week in middle school devoted to community service. But what I learned in that time was so important and very much [of it] lives with me today [and impacts] what I want to do with my life and for the world. I remember spending half the day at Meals on Wheels, [and] in sixth grade, part of the day at Sheltering Arms. I remember the people with whom I interacted, I remember their names. And just knowing as a kid that it was really important to develop those relationships to interact with people from different communities—to want to help in some way and to know that you can—was really amazing. I loved my experience there. 

Any final thoughts?

I forgot to mention that between undergrad and grad school I took a couple of years to pursue acting and film production. (I also interned on the WB studio lot in LA, which was unforgettable). Then, I missed journalism and ultimately returned back, leveraging some of the production skills I learned along the way. I also think understanding that I really needed to pursue my creative interests, getting the courage up to do it, and figuring out how came out of my Montessori foundation. I've noticed that a lot of my Post Oak classmates have pursued non-traditional or creative fields. My dear friend Christina Moser is a very successful artist in Marfa, Texas, and she was encouraged to explore that gift when we were kids in school. My sister, Abbie, is a highly accomplished city councilperson. Other classmates are writers. While some parents might find it scary that some grads have pursued slightly unconventional (or at times, risky) career paths, I think being encouraged to pursue what lights you up (and hopefully also the areas in which you can make a difference) regardless of how you might fail is worthwhile. 

[Going back to what we were talking about] can I say one more thing in terms of how journalism has changed since I entered the industry? The public’s relationship to truth and reality has really changed, with the rise of social media and the ability for people to share things. Honestly, like bad actors intentionally sharing false things with the public; I’ve noticed the way people treat my colleagues and me has changed [in some settings]. It’s a battle for truth, and it’s a scary one. And it’s really important. I think education is the most important part of solving that issue.

I was there in the aftermath of January 6. There are other events that are not as political in nature where the relationship to truth shifted—really around Covid. You know, the things that people believe or tell us that they’ve read or seen, it’s just changed. There’s so much information out there. It used to be that people relied on the newspaper and relied on their three broadcast stations. Now you can read anything on Facebook and Twitter and believe it’s true. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I do know that we’re in a very different world. And learning to understand the media and learning to investigate facts is so important. 

Does that change the way you present a story when you know something might become a hot button topic? Are you thinking, how am I going to make sure people understand that this is the truth, which is just so bizarre to even say that.

It has my journalistic colleagues and me really doubling down on fact checking, which [we] do anyway [and have always taken very seriously], but just knowing that our work is under a microscope is all the more motivation to be fair and correct all the time.

There are certain stories that I work on, [and I know] people aren’t going to like this, or they’re not going to believe it’s real. That was probably always there. The adage is, if it doesn’t make somebody unhappy, it’s not journalism. There are always people who are not going to like every story. Sure, but definitely [today], there’s more of a backlash. 

Did you see that when you went out to the Midwest in the RV in 2020? 

It was a really heightened election, also in 2016. When I was in grad school, it was kind of wild. Most people are not so intense, but tensions were high. Many people didn’t want to talk to us. Some people yelled things at us. But mostly people were open, welcoming, wanted to talk about their views.

May I ask you about being in DC in the aftermath of January 6? What was that like? 

It was pretty surreal. It was over by the time I made it there. But people were still hanging out in the city who had participated. The next day talking to people about what occurred was really interesting, talking with people who clearly had been there, people who had witnessed it. [I] didn’t know the magnitude of it, but it was a big deal.

I’ve always wondered this about journalists in general: You have to stay neutral, you’re just telling a story. You’re not sharing your own opinion. What is it like when you have a contrary opinion to the person you’re talking to? 

It’s such an important question. It’s how I was trained first and foremost. The priority is truth and accuracy, and that’s my number one objective: just get the facts. And then secondarily, its objectivity and fairness, for sure. And how I was trained is really in empathy. To always be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, so that when you put your journalist hat on, you check your biases at the door. And what you’re doing, or what I tried to do, is just really understand everybody’s experience and where they’re coming from. And it’s not that hard to do, honestly, if you just practice it. If you have an interest in getting to know people, I think you can really try to understand anybody’s perspective. 

I’ll just mention, that wasn’t always the priority in American journalism. And it probably won’t be at some other point, but it is right now. And obviously, I think it’s an important time for people to trust journalists, because there is so much misinformation out there. So I think I try, and we all do try very hard, to understand everybody’s perspective and present it fairly. But I don’t think it’s the same thing as neutrality, right? Like not every issue is equal. It’s easy to raise a false equivalence. But that’s different from inserting your opinion. I really try never to insert my opinion or to come from a place where my opinion is informing what’s happening.

Thank you so much for your time and such an interesting conversation, Jennie! 

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