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Giselle Fernandez, 61: Retirement Is Not in My Vocabulary

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Giselle Fernandez has been living her purpose for over 40 years, sharing and amplifying human stories not only as an anchor and journalist, but author, and producer. She discusses her approach to creating openness and connection in her interviews, her passion for storytelling, and why she doesn't believe in retirement.

There was a time in the world of TV news when a woman’s career could have shamefully been over far before she had fully mastered the art of human storytelling. Fortunately for Emmy Award-winning journalist Giselle Fernandez, those days are over. At 61, she is living, working and thriving at a job she has been in and loving for 40 years. To do what she does, at the level of impact she does it, requires skills that can only be acquired with time on the job. Being able to delve deeply into stories with such humanity, empathy and wisdom as she does, is not something one learns quickly or easily. It is hard won over decades.

Since the start of her career as a journalist, Giselle Fernandez has been known for her cutting-edge reporting in hot spots throughout the world and interviewing prominent global and local leaders. Today, this veteran anchor showcases her talent each morning on Your Morning on Spectrum News 1, and on the Emmy Award-winning weekly series L.A. Stories with Giselle Fernandez, highlighting people who shape lives and create an impact throughout the community.

She has held many titles throughout her career. Aside from anchor and journalist, she’s also been deemed author, philanthropist, as well as president, director, and producer of her own production and strategic messaging company. She is a six-time Emmy Award winner, twice named Journalist of the Year and Anchor of the Year by the LA Press Club and recipient of numerous honors and awards in the fields of journalism and philanthropy. Out of Giselle’s portfolio of reporting, notable moments for her include the rare interview she did with Fidel Castro, and her war zone coverage in Somalia, Israel, Panama and Bosnia. She is also incredibly proud of her documentary titled “Our Story,” which raised awareness of the healthcare crisis facing low-income children in the Latin community.

You have had a long award-winning career. What are your feelings on retirement?
I don’t believe in it. I think it is way overrated. As Serena Williams said, “I believe in involvement, not retirement.” I think American culture in regards to retirement is not so great — that we are somehow at some time ready to be put out to pasture, to play golf or go to charity lunches all day long? I find it is dispiriting; it kills the spirit. We human beings need to know we matter, that we have purpose and are of service in the world; we need to be in motion towards something. I am driven; I am just made that way. The idea of not working, of being on permanent vacation, to just spend time wrapping up life as it dwindles away… no way, I will not go gently into that night. I have seen people retire and I have seen what it does when people step off the train of their life, and it is not good.

“I love amplifying the stories of others and sharing them”

Of course I believe in carving out time for joy, for family and friends. I also believe one’s work is one’s calling. I am so lucky because I have my calling, my work. I love amplifying the stories of others and sharing them, be they good, bad or ugly, so that we can learn from the human condition. My calling is to be the scribe, to tell those stories, to find the humanity and the universality in them that help us all navigate through the complexities of crazy life. That is my mission, because I see the humanity in it all. I try to add to that adult human manual to life, which none of us were born with, as learning is made possible through observing the life, the learnings and the journeys of others. 

I can’t imagine not doing it; it would make me feel very not alive, and I want to feel alive and on mission and be of service. Retirement is not for me.

How do you start your day?
My day starts with the alarm sounding at 1:30 am — when most people are dead asleep. I wake in the wee hours … jump out of bed, at the first buzz and don’t allow myself to dilly dally even for a second or I’d never get up. I immediately say a prayer of gratitude before I let the groan slip from my gut on the reality of rising before the sun — it’s a ritual by decision that I practice every day to set the tone. I shower, put on an outfit chosen the night before, blow dry my hair, let the doggies out, make a cappuccino with skim milk and head out the door exactly one hour later to the station in El Segundo. I listen to the news the whole way down and every day, on my way, can’t believe I think to myself, ‘This is not so bad.” I’m up before dawn, do four hours of live morning news and then start a full day after 9am. I love the whole day doing what I have to do… I just go to sleep earlier and wake earlier than most. 

How do you prepare for an interview?
Extensively. I read as much as possible about the subject of my interview. I read ten years of interviews they have given so I can see the habitual story they have repeated to define them. I look for the nuggets that have been left unexplored and I study their body of work, their contributions, their impact and philosophies and then I digest it all and listen to my gut on what fascinates me about them. From there, I plan out the interview. It’s when I sit down with them all that goes out the window and I am determined to be present and listen hard — use all the research as a foundation but let the conversation, the energy, the trust and connection in the moment lead the way. This way it is organic and not premeditated. It allows the person before me to show up and feel the authenticity of my interest, my focus and my desire to give them a platform to share who they are. I’m not about the gotcha interview that tears someone down. If I’m sitting with them, I’m interested in what they do and genuinely want to allow them the space to share who they are. What more can any of us ask for. We long to be seen for who we really are in all our complexity. That is the aim of every conversation I conduct — and that’s the gift of the interview.

“If you create the energy for connection, people feel free and trusting to open up”

How do you know what to ask and when to ask it?
I listen. I do not have flash cards. I write a list of questions and identify themes and pull from that toolbox while in conversation — if you do the research, which I do extensively, then you are prepared. I don’t believe asking a pre-set list of questions evokes answers that are real … thoughtful and not prepackaged. If you create the energy for connection, people feel free and trusting to open up. If I’ve done the research, I have it in my brain to pull from naturally as I conduct the interview.

How do you decide who gets interviewed?
I’m interested in newsmakers, innovators, those who set policy, create programs that impact others — I typically look for characters who inspire or are mirrors to who we are in America today. I’m very captivated by human beings in all our complexities and look for titans of industry, warriors for good, those in service to others, those who have fallen only to rise again and inspire with their grit and grace. I look for transformative leaders in every walk of life who inspire us to see ourselves in each other. The media has gotten negative and ugly and I’m not into screaming matches or tear-down sessions that interviews have devolved into. I am all about illumination — the good, the bad, the ugly — that allows us to see ourselves in the mirror. These are the kinds of folks I love to sit with and talk with. 

“I have interviewed so many stars and leaders but it is the ordinary extraordinarys I gravitate most to, every day folks doing amazing feats with their talent and drive”

What are some of your favorite interviews? 
Oh lord, so many — especially with my prime time interview show, LA Stories. I love my interview with Death Row music founder, Michael Harris who spent 33 years behind bars and was recently released by Donald Trump during the last hours of his presidency. His is a redemption story like no other and it was fascinating and gripping to hear how he remained free behind bars in his spirit, how he developed a connection with god to be of service no matter what and how he is giving back now to those he once hurt selling drugs. This is a man on a mission to do good and build back the label that he once started. It’s a fascinating story of the possible and how humans have the capacity to rebuild and change.

I have interviewed Fidel Castro, President Bush and Hillary Clinton, Tom Cruise, Madonna, Barbra Streisand and so many stars and leaders but it is the ordinary extraordinarys I gravitate most to, every day folks doing amazing feats with their talent and drive. These are the titan spirits that move me most, like William Harvey, a holocaust survivor who spent the last years of his life sharing his story of survival, of the atrocities of the death camps, and yet how he would survive, come to America, to Los Angeles and build a life of joy despite such tragedy. These are the stories that give me hope in humanity — a hope I love to share with those who tune in to watch during such divisive times.

Who would you like to interview that you have not?
Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Oprah, Shonda Rhimes, Richard Branson, Amanda Gorman and the list goes on…

What is it like being a news anchor?
It’s fun if you like politics, culture, how humans navigate the matrix of life — it is the greatest job in the world. I’m a news junky and passionate about politics and civic engagement and love the headlines and stories that are mirrors to who we are — we are the recorders of history and, while local news is very different, we tend today to be the trusted news local communities go to more and more to get their information. It’s live and exhilarating and keeps you present to the moment and engaged in the unfolding history before us. It can be very assaulting with one negative headline after the other as we’ve experienced with this pandemic, protests, politics, war in Ukraine, inflation, now monkeypox — viewers can tune out when it gets too much as it has these past years. We cannot, but I consider it an honor to deliver the news of the day. Knowledge is power, and while we navigate really treacherous assaults on our first amendment, called fake news and grapple with changing technology and false narratives presented as facts, it’s a worthy mission, as upholding our duties to be the recorders of history is a daunting responsibility but matters more than ever. Facts matter and truth matters — I am mission driven to sit on that anchor desk and make sure we are doing it right, unbiased, fact checked, from the heart and always with a reverence for truth.

“I am mission driven to sit on that anchor desk and make sure we are doing it right, unbiased, fact checked, from the heart and always with a reverence for truth”

What does it feel like when the producer says, ‘You’re live’?
I love it. I feed on it. I love the adrenaline and the magic of live television. But what I love more is telling a compelling story that matters, that impacts our viewers’ daily lives about the city we live in. I truly love being present in the moment … and at the forefront of what’s happening in the world. It’s an amazing field and I feel privileged to be in this line of work.

What are your favorite sources of news?
Lord… too many to list. The usual suspects: LA Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post but also People magazine, Slate, The Guardian, and many many podcasts and broadcasts pushing the envelope on great, innovative storytelling…

Are you on social media?
Oh, lord… I try and do them all… even did a TikTok with my daughter that got thousands of views — more than any of my interview shows, which is hilarious. It’s a necessary evil, I guess. I could be more active and try harder to reach more with social media but it’s just not my bag. But I try to some extent. Could do more, just not that interested.

How do you feel about there being more older men on the anchor set than women?
That is changing… we live in a patriarchal society and it changes slowly but I have seen the needle move. I think times are changing and there is more embrace of just smart and seasoned journalists at the desk. I hope to be among them into my 70s still working at what I love … 

What is your diet?
I’m very healthy – super simple: egg and toast in the morning, a strong cup of coffee, salad for lunch and protein and veggies for dinner. Fruit and almonds if I get hungry during the day and lots of water. And yummy wine and a shot of tequila now and then never hurts.

What is your exercise routine?
I have a great little workout set in my garage so I can work out with my pooches around me. We love to hike in the hills above Sherman Oaks, Franklin Canyon, Tree People, Will Rogers Park … so many places to enjoy the outdoors in beautiful California, which I love to do.

What are your favorite stops in the LA Arts District?
The studio of Chicana powerhouse artist Yolanda Gonzalez and anywhere artist Chaz Guest is showcasing his amazing creations.

How do you stay in touch with pop culture?
I read a lot and listen to all kinds of music, radio and podcasts. But mostly, from my 16-year-old daughter. I did a Lizzo TikTok, for god’s sake, with her. She keeps me cool.

What are your ambitions for the next five years?
To continue telling great stories in our local market, to create trust and a track record for truth and fairness and I’d love to get my series on the life of Oriana Fallaci, my favorite journalist, made and on a streamer for all to see. These are just a few things on my bucket list. Did I mention wanting to visit India, Morocco, and Egypt?? Make a great paella? The list goes on…

Favorite skin care products?
Olive oil and coconut oil 😊

Favorite guilty-pleasure streaming shows?
Hacks, Grace and Frankie, Bridgerton, Virgin River…. 

Three non-negotiables in life today?
Faith, family, friends, and my dogs… they come first always. 

Connect with Giselle Fernandez:
Instagram
Twitter

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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