October 14, 2014

NewsDoc Alum Kristen Kiraly: Go above and beyond, partake in everything

Kristen Kiraly

NYU News and Documentary alumni (2012), is an Associate Producer at CNN’s Documentary Unit, whose passion for long form storytelling grew out of her documentary “Dogs of War: The Fight Back Home.”

What pushed you to pursue a career with CNN’s Documentary Unit?

I watched the news every morning as I drank a cup of coffee, and I really loved the long form pieces that were broadcasted. The stories went in-depth and really explored a subject. CNN has one of the few documentary units, though we also cover breaking news.

How did your thesis documentary on service dogs with post traumatic stress disorder, “Dogs of War: The Fight Back Home”, prepare you to enter the professional field?

Making a documentary is such a great experience because you do everything from shooting, editing, and writing. It think having a wide range of these skills helps you get an internship. I was also really passionate about my subject. I loved animals and to see them recover from the intense situations of war that they worked in, alongside their soldiers.

What do you enjoy about being an associate producer?

Telling people’s stories. I think that’s the really interesting part of this job — these total strangers open up to you completely; open up their doors, bring you into their lives. You really have to love people and one of the challenges is getting people to open up. The things you are exposed to in this profession are really moving, people will laugh and cry and describe experiences to you that they’ve never shared before.

What projects have been the most rewarding?

I am most passionate about our long term projects. My favorite documentaries that we have done have been on medical marijuana. We are currently working on our third one right now. For two of them, we followed separate families with young children in need of medical marijuana. One little girl had up to 200 seizures a week, but when she had medical marijuana, no seizures. It was amazing. You see the progress in these little girls and in these families. Our work enacted change around the country. Different states are now fighting for it.

Do you have any recommendations for journalists wanting to pursue a career in long form documentary?

Go above and beyond, partake in everything. If you know that you like a company that has a certain niche, just get into the company, even if it isn’t your dream job. Showing how dedicated you are will take you far. Talk to people about their experiences, find what job you specifically are intrigued by. That way if an opportunity does come up you know about it. Companies would way rather hire internal candidates than go externally.

Interview conducted and edited by Kelsey Doyle.