Industry Pro: NBC Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Antoine Sanfuentes, Part 1
Today’s Inside Scoop (part 1 of 2) ventures into the world of television news, to a DC-based NBC News executive who was an anthropology major in college when an internship sent his career in an unexpected direction. As you read his story, though, you will find out that childhood dinner conversations and a family love of public service instilled passions in him for which that internship put him on the perfect career path, a career path which has taken him to the White House (for many years) and around the world.
Current position: Deputy Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News (Note: Antoine is now NBC Washington Bureau Chief.)
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
Current Location: Washington, DC
College & degree: American University, BA in Anthropology
How did a degree in anthropology turn into a career in network news? I actually started as an intern. I had been working at AU’s campus radio station, WVAU. I started as a DJ and ended up doing some ad sales, too, including putting ads together and airing them. I found it was something that I really enjoyed, having the deadlines, working with the technology. A friend who worked here at NBC’s DC bureau suggested I apply for an internship. So radio actually brought me to television.
I started in the press and publicity department, essentially giving tours of the building. It’s a very historic landmark here. You know, the Nixon-Kennedy debates were held in our studios. It was a real thrill for me personally to walk in here at the time. There were legendary journalists and anchors working out of this building. And during my internship, I just got the bug.
So you stayed on after your internship ended? When I graduated in 1990, I moved into the engineering department. I started as a temporary worker and eventually I worked my way into the newsroom, in an entry level position, the desk assistant job.
When did you start looking at producing? You know, I’ve always been a voracious consumer of television. Growing up, watching the news- Walter Cronkite and others- was required by my parents. It’s something that continued on at the dinner table. We were always talking about things happening in the world and in our country. So naturally, that translated to public service, to having an interest in providing public service. Actually, that’s what led me to anthropology. So, combining the two, the interest in the technology and public service, plus the interest in learning about the world, about people, that got me going in this direction.
The desk assistant job was the foot in the door. In some respects, you learn a whole new way of conducting yourself. When you walk into a legendary place like NBC News, you walk into history. And fortunately for us, the foundation of this history comes with a tremendous amount of integrity, of professionalism, as building blocks. And I was the beneficiary of this. I was taught from the ground up.
The news desk is really the center of our coverage operation. News is broken and covered from the news desk. I worked my way up by working every conceivable shift that was available to me. I worked as a desk assistant, as a futures editor, working on coverage of events beyond today. I worked as an occasional production assistant, as a field producer. I was bumped up on occasion to be a desk editor. So as my knowledge base grew, their confidence in me grew.
I had the benefit of a wonderful editor, Tim Russert, who was there for me and provided the right kind of shot in the arm, the right kind of experience with control. Again, NBC is the kind of place where you have decades and decades of experience all around you. You have young folks that come in and they’re working alongside people who’ve been in the business thirty years. It provides a nice balance.
A lot of what you hear about television news these days relates to cut-backs and that sort of thing, but you know, it isn’t unusual to go into these news organizations and find a great bench. We pride ourselves on having a deep bench, not only on air.
So what would you consider your big break? Would you consider it the internship? My big break was a) getting a job with NBC news and b) pinching myself every single day I come to work because it really has been, on a personal level, an extraordinary career in that they have trusted me to do all of the kind of things that I have done.
Where did you go after your position on the assignment desk? After I worked on the assignment desk, I was asked by a young White House correspondent to join him at the White House, a man you might know as Brian Williams. I was very fortunate to be able to work with Brian during his time there. He was already very experienced at the time. I learned probably the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from him.
I covered the White House for thirteen years. I was able to work with some of the most extraordinary correspondents- Brian Williams, of course, David Bloom, Claire Shipman, David Gregory, Jim Miklaszewski. The list goes on and on and on. And while I did that, I was able to go off and do special projects with Ann Curry. We did a lot of work together in Africa and Sudan and Congo. And I was able to take what I learned at the White House and take it into the field for those kinds of things that were equally rewarding.
While we’re on this path, why don’t you bring your career path up to now? So, I’m Deputy Washington Bureau Chief and Vice President. What gets me here is 13 years at the White House. It was a good amount of time to cover a beat, especially one as rigorous as this. Typically, correspondents and producers last one administration, if not two. If you consider that a president travels throughout the year, and he picks it up even more if he’s running for reelection. I did it as the White House producer and then as Senior White House producer.
So the time was right to make a move. And when Mark Whitaker came in (as Washington Bureau Chief), he reached out to me. At the time of Obama’s transition, I was in Chicago for a month and a half with Savannah Guthrie covering the transition. He asked me to take on more of a leadership role. To be considered for that is a great honor. So, of course, I accepted it.
Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.): Maybe I can answer it this way. I have a couple of things that I firmly believe in, one of which is, “What is your Plan B?” I learned very quickly in this business that while Plan A is all mapped out and logistically the right way to go, at least half the time, Plan B is what you have to fall back on. Early on, I banked a lot on A and made a few mistakes along the way.
Click Here to read Part 2 of Antoine’s Inside Scoop profile, come back next week!
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