Nick Valencia is a correspondent located at the global headquarters in Atlanta. He is a reporter that is recurring on numerous networks such as, HLN, CNN International, and CNN en Español. Throughout his career, he has extensively covered issues regarding race-related in the United States, which include police shootings across the country. In 2017, Valencia traveled across the country into Mexico reporting on the lives of undocumented immigrants after President Trump was elected. Later, within the year, throughout CNN’s Hurricane coverage, he helped reunite a son along with his father, who he feared had died in the storm.
Valencia was on-the-ground in Ciudad Juarez throughout the peak of Mexico’s war. In 2015, he was the primary source within the tunnel utilized by drug kingpin El Chapo to flee a Mexican prison.
As a general assignment reporter, Valencia has covered everything from presidential elections and congressional races to prisoners-of-war, and including the sentencing of U.S. Army captive Bowe Bergdahl. Over the years, he has reported on state legislatures across the country on controversial freedom bills, also because of the supposed Transgender lavatory Bill in North Carolina.He has also been on the ground covering multiple natural disasters such as terrorist attacks in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting and the murder of nine people in the historic Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
He started at CNN in 2006 as a teleprompter operator, traveling to Uganda as a one-man-band. Since then, he has been a part of three Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Awards at CNN. In his five years as a CNN correspondent, he has doubly been nominative by The Atlanta Press Club as “Broadcast TV Reporter of the Year.” In 2013, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) awarded Valencia its inaugural “Sí Se Puede” Excellence in Leadership award. Also, that year, The Huffington Post acknowledged him as one of the most influential Latino Journalist in America. He was named one in every of the “Top fifty Latinos” to follow on Twitter.
A graduate of USC’s Annenberg college of Journalism, he’s the previous documentary filmmaker for the National Champion USC eleven. Originally from Los Angeles, he currently lives in Atlanta, wherever from 2010-2014 he served as President of the native chapter for NAHJ.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in journalism?
At a very young age, I was 14 or 15 years old, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Initially, I wanted to be an athlete I played amateur ice hockey growing up, but I realized it was not going to be easy becoming a professional athlete and I needed something to fall back on. One of the things that I was lucky to have a high school teacher who was a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine and his name was Dave Gardetta.
He inspired me to become a journalist and I have always had an interest in people, social capital, and learning new things. In addition, the people that I had around me nudge me to pursue writing. I became a sports writer and then I transitioned into a sports editor at my high school. It has always been a passion and I knew that I wanted to make a career of it.
Can you share with us how the University of Southern California Journalism program helped prepare you for CNN?
Without USC I would not be here! I entered college in 2001 and USC at the time was the only school in the country that taught conversion journalism. Now it is just journalism, but back then it consisted of writing, shooting, and editing for broadcast journalism for the radio, broadcast television, or newspapers.
Back then in the early 2000s, the only publications that were doing multimedia were the Arizona Republic and the Indianapolis Star. I remember those two papers because they were shared as examples of the future when I attended USC. My professor stressed that this will be the standard in journalism moving forward and there were about a hundred in the room. They also stated that we would be the future of journalism in this ever-changing industry. It was the skills that I learned during my time at USC that essentially led me to a job at CNN.
What was it like traveling to Mexico for the purpose of covering undocumented immigrants after President Donald Trump was elected?
I think it is an important topic that is now coming full circle because it has become a national issue with the headlines of young children being ripped away from their families. We have correspondents at the border right now covering this issue because it is an important one. We just heard what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about asylum and gang violence, sexual assault is not enough to be qualified for asylum. It is a very relevant topic and last year it was in the early days of the Trump Administration and we did not know what that would mean for undocumented immigrants. At that time in my network of people I was the local chapter president of the NAHJ and the story was directly affecting my community.
I felt that this is something that needs to be addressed and we started profiling undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows. These individuals were not going to be intimidated by President Trump and they wanted to send a message they were here to contribute to this country. You must remember they were taking a major risk to talk to us and it took a lot of courage to come forward.
I went on a six-state two country tour where I spoke with numerous families that were affected by the Trump Administration views on immigration. I had the opportunity to speak with a mother that received a ten-year ban from the US on the California Border and recently followed up with her. She has an immigration court date and she is optimistic about her chances of being able to come back to gain citizenship in the US. I thought it was important to highlight it back then and I am still covering stories such as these to keep bringing attention to this issue.
How do you want your platform to inspire others?
When I started on air at CNN there were not a lot of young Latinos on national television. CNN gave me a great opportunity to be one of the few brown faces on TV. It is a little more common now to see correspondents that are Latino and there are several here at CNN. I want to make this clear I am not a Latino journalist. I am a journalist who happens to be Latino and I know every day when I show up on camera I hope that I am inspiring someone. When I go back home to my community there is a lot of love and support. They see me representing the community by giving it a voice on a world stage. I am not just a statistic or in jail, I have worked hard to obtain a successful career. It’s something that I have constantly worked at to sustain and it is a grind because there is always someone looking to take your spot. I do not take my position for granted and that is why I am always looking to improve my craft and I want to inspire others to do the same.
Who were some of your mentors as you worked your way up the ranks?
I started as a teleprompter at CNN and I’m one of a few that have been able to work their way up. Along the way, you need a lot of help to make a miracle like that happen. A lot of my mentors were internal, Paul Ferguson was someone who helped me early on to navigate and build credibility. If you want to be extraordinary in life you must do extraordinary things, take risks, and think outside the box. When I first arrived at CNN I knew I wanted to be a correspondent, but I had to figure out how I was going to make it happen. I knew if I wanted to separate myself from the rest I needed to do something big.
One of my inspirations was Anderson Cooper due to some of the risks he took traveling aboard to cover stories. I know a lot of individuals who only talk about doing certain things, but I wanted to be a man of action like Anderson has been throughout his whole career. I came up with an idea to go to Pakistan and I crisscrossed the country. This was in 2006 during the war on terror and ground zero for Jihad. I had to change my plans and go to Uganda instead. At that time Paul Ferguson who works on our international desk gave me a lot of guidance.
I also leaned on my family a lot for guidance. Don Lemon when I first started was a big advocate of mine. He would carve out time on his show on the weekends, so I could showcase my talents, and he hosts CNN Tonight in our Atlanta offices. We would discuss the raging drug war in Mexico. I think it is extremely important to have internal mentors to help you get to that next level where you want to be in the company. You want to seek out people who you respect and understand that you cannot be too prideful to ask questions when needed.
What is the greatest piece of advice that you have received and how are you using it today?
“Never fear the truth but be afraid of missing it” Bernard Shaw was a phenomenal anchor early on at CNN when it was trying to build credibility as it competed with other bigwigs like NBC, CBS, Fox News, and ABC. I think that bit of advice has always stuck with me as a journalist. My father past away when I was 17 years old, but he would always tell me “sí tu puedes,” which means, yes you can. I think about that a lot since it is something that I can remember through the adversity that I faced throughout my life to get to where I am now. Another thing is “Greatness is measured by how much it takes to discourage you,” and there is a lot that you can be discouraged by in life, but the measure of success is to show you can bounce back from failure.
Can you discuss what it was like serving as the president of the local chapter for NAHJ 2010- 2014?
It has been so rewarding to give back and be in a position where I am helping people and providing scholarships. We created a fund with the help of Turner and CNN for a young man who is now working for CNN Español, without my help getting his foot in the door. To see that happen with Rorlando Zenteno was been a feel-good story.
I met him when he was a hungry young man. This was something I found out later, but at the time he and his family were struggling while he was going through a lot of self-doubt. He shared with me later that seeing someone that looked like him working at a job that he had interest in gave him the strength to push through. Hearing things like this lets me know that I chose the right path to inspire others. We were able to start a scholarship and practice inclusion by reaching out to a variety of different journalistic groups like The Association of LGBTQ (NLGJA), NBAJ, AJAA, NAJA to name a few.
We really practice what we preached, and we are not just Latino journalist we are a journalist that cared about the community. That is a mission that I am standing behind later this year I will be running of the NAHJ on the national level because this something that I still am passionate about and wants to help make a difference.
During your interview with CNN, what were some of the things that they were looking for in a candidate?
It was such a long time ago, but I remember having to write an essay taking a stance on something and defined it. I also had to write a one-page article of who I want to interview and why. It was a very extensive essay process and then I had a phone call interview with a recruiter and ultimately received an interview with a guy by the name of Allen Ash who still works at CNN. They look for candidates that can persevere and as for me being from Los Angeles coming from a diverse background helped me out a lot. Other things we look for is integrity, ethics, sources, presentation, and storytelling.
What has been your toughest assignment to date and why?
The one thing that I am starting to gain recognition for is being the first American in El Capo’s tunnel. I’m in Almoloya de Juárez at Mexico’s maximum-security Altiplano prison about a mile from where he escaped. That was a big story to be a part of and, extremely difficult at the time as El Capo is the world’s most notorious drug trafficker. An extraordinary moment to be a part of history, to negotiate with the Attorney General for my way in and then to be able to access the tunnel El Capo used to escape.
I think one of the things we must face as journalists is that we meddle in tragedy all the time. To see the emotion of sadness on peoples faces after they just lost someone, or just survived a mass shooting, that is the toughest part of our job. Being composed enough to deliver the news as it is happening and not break down ourselves during a live broadcast, but that is why we’re not at the anchor desk because we are able to convey that sight, sound, taste, we are experiencing in the field.
Do you plan on writing a book at some point?
That is an intense undertaking. Jake Tapper just wrote a book, and I’m like how do you have time working six days a week, being on the air and oh by the way he has a picture book coming out. He also has other books out, but to answer your question it is not something that is on my mind currently. I am flattered that you asked, and I consistently wrote all the time documenting the stories I covered.
I have also been writing a letter to my baby since my wife is pregnant. We are going through an extraordinary time in history and I’m documenting experiences for my child. So, I guess it is kind of like writing a book, however, I do not think I have done enough interesting things yet in my life that warrants me writing one.
What is your ultimate career goal and has becoming a father altered that in any way?
I’m taking it one story at a time. I would be lying to you if I said that I did not have numerous things I wanted to achieve. However, a single story allows you to reach the elite level you are seeking. I want to be at the elite level of journalism one day. I believe you get there by hard work every day, having sources, ethics, and breaking news by being the first person to a story. I think this is what will lead to bigger and better things. I love being a correspondent, it requires a lot of traveling, but I am up for the challenge.