Watching her explain the latest Supreme Court decision on live television, it can be hard to imagine Fox News Channel’s Shannon Bream as anything less than confident. But the cable news star says her path to becoming a familiar face to millions wasn’t always clear—and it definitely wasn’t easy.
As a lawyer in her 20s, Bream found herself unhappy and unfulfilled despite a promising career. So she took a risk, quitting her job to become an intern at a local TV news station. And after years of working her way up the broadcast ladder, Bream ultimately landed her dream job with her current role as Fox News Channel’s Supreme Court Correspondent.
We caught up with Bream to learn what it takes to make a major career change, how to stand out in a competitive field, and her secrets for staying cool under pressure—even on live TV!
Early on in your career, you made a pretty drastic transition! How did you decide to quit your steady job for a less secure path?
I always had a passion for news, if not the guts to pursue it as a vocation. The longer I practiced law, the more I felt like a square peg jamming into a round hole. I like to say I had my mid-life crisis in my 20s and got it over with!
I had a serious discussion with my husband, people I knew in the media industry, and other trusted mentors. At the end of the day, I concluded it was riskier to have a lifetime of regret than to take a chance on something I believed I was meant to be doing.
What advice would you give to others who may be nervous about taking that first step toward a different career path?
My impulse is to say, go for it! But the truth is, it takes some thought and planning. There are certainly financial considerations, and you may have drastic lifestyle changes in the process. My first shift in broadcasting was 2–11 AM, doing lots of grunt work and running the TelePrompTer for the morning anchors. Luckily, I fell in love the minute I walked into the newsroom, and I’ve never gotten over that. It’s true that if you love what you do, it rarely feels like work.
So, think it through, talk to people you trust, and be willing to start at the bottom rung. It’s going to involve risk, but that’s not a bad thing.
How were able to set yourself apart and get promoted in such a competitive field?
Hard work and persistence. I always tell our interns, “Ask for extra work, and don’t take no for an answer.” I love to see initiative in people, and I think bosses do, too. I worked nights, mornings, weekends—any time someone would give me something to do. I kept pushing, and I tried to shadow people I respected. I became better by learning from their example, which I still endeavor to do.
No matter what your dream job is, you’ll likely hear “no” many times before you achieve your goals. Just accept that as a fact. But by refusing to accept that “no,” you’ll separate yourself from the pack. Sometimes you just have to outlast the competition—and wear down your boss!
Looking back on your early days in reporting, what do you know now that you wish you could have known back then?
I’d tell myself, “You have a lot to learn, but it’s OK to admit that.” I wanted to be perfect at my job from day one, but I’m still working toward that impossible standard.
The first boss to give me a shot on-air left the station not long after I started reporting. The next boss fired me, and told me I was the worst person he’d ever seen on TV and that I would never make it. That felt like being punched in the gut repeatedly! But I pulled myself together and kept fighting for my dream. You will get knocked down, but if you choose to get back up—you’re not out.
What is the most exciting part of your job? The most difficult?
I think the answer to both questions is the same: the day we get a big opinion from the Supreme Court. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush to grab that stack of paper from the inside press office and go sprinting outside to our live camera location. There are key clues you can scan right away, like which Justice wrote the opinion. The reality is that it’s impossible to digest a 200 opinion in 30 seconds, but you have to try! Breaking news on live TV is a roller coaster.
Seeing you on TV, it’s clear you’ve mastered keeping your cool! What tricks do you have for staying calm in such stressful situations?
I never think about millions of people watching. There are usually only about five of us in the studio if I’m anchoring a show. I like to tell stories, so that’s what I feel like I’m doing. It’s a little more challenging when you’re at a live location, like in the middle of millions of people at the Inauguration or deciphering one of those Supreme Court opinions while standing in the middle of thousands of protesters. You have to laser focus your concentration on the words you’re saying while blocking out your surroundings.
When I feel nerves bubbling, I look at the camera and say under my breath, “humbly grateful.” That’s how I feel about my job, so it helps to center me.