Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Sudeshna Barman
White Station High School
Fifteen years ago, Arienne Thompson was just like us—trudging down the halls of her high school, turning in homework and taking tests.
Since then, she has walked down the red carpet at the Oscars, Emmys, and New York’s Fashion Week—not as a celebrity, but as a journalist.
Today Arienne Thompson, 31 and a native Memphian, is the entertainment reporter covering fashion and celebrities for USA Today. Because of her job, Thompson has met and interviewed notables ranging from Jay-Z to Tyler Perry to Sandra Bullock to Lady Gaga.
After attending White Station High School in Memphis, she graduated from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in history and Japanese. Then she moved onto the graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C.
During her graduate studies, she interned at USA Today. After graduating, she moved on to work as a production assistant at the television show America’s Most Wanted. She then moved back to USA Today, this time working as the online producer for the Life Section. She formatted articles for the web for two years until she began writing for the entertainment section of USA Today.
“I wasn’t a news hound in high school,” Thompson said. “I went to Notre Dame knowing it didn’t have a journalism department…in college I wrote music reviews only because I wanted the free CDs. It wasn’t until I went to grad school that I truly learned to be a journalist.”
Though Thompson majored in Japanese and history, she knew she would go to graduate school for journalism.
“Journalism wasn’t on my radar in college. It was only in the back of my mind, like – oh, that’s what I’m going to be doing in a couple years,” she said
Her favorite event to report on is New York Fashion Week.
“There are 20 shows in one week, and you’re not just sitting down, enjoying the show, and then leaving,” Thompson noted
Rather, Thompson goes backstage to interview the designer, tweets pictures of dresses, and talks to make-up artists and hair stylists before taking pictures of the show. Her favorite is the Marc Jacobs show.
“Marc Jacobs is like the Oscars of fashion week. It’s always on eight o’clock on Monday nights,” she recalled. “It’s the blockbuster show of Fashion Week. It’s always epic and theatrical.”
Thompson does not often get star struck. However, the exception is when she meets the stars of TV shows she likes, or lesser-known but talented actors she admires.
“I was interviewing Idris Elba a few years ago, back before he was so well-known. I went up to him and I was like, ‘You’re Idris Elba.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I know I’m Idris Elba. What’s your question?’ I was so embarrassed,” she said.
She recalled another memorable interview. After the nominees for prominent awards shows, such as the Oscars or the Emmys, has been announced, many news services take ‘reaction calls’ from celebrities.
“So I’m sitting by my phone, waiting for a call from Brad Pitt. Suddenly it hit me – this is unreal,” Thompson remembered.
The hardest part of her job?
“You have to ask these people about the divorces, the pregnancies, the failed movies. But you don’t have to ask these questions in an insensitive way,” Thompson said.
The paparazzi often come to mind when we think of celebrity media coverage, but Thompson said that there is little competition with tabloids.
“Our competitors are papers like the New York Times and Washington Post. We live in the world of confirmation. Unless we have it directly from the celebrity or publicist, it is not real,” she said.
Her advice for young journalists?
“Always say ‘yes.’ Do a little of everything…The people at USA Today, many of them have been around as long as USA Today has been around, since 30 years ago. A lot of these people are like, ‘Oh my God, I cannot do that interview and tweet.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Of course you can.’”
She cautions journalists to maintain a divide between PR and journalism, saying, “You should never be working at the whims of the publicist. Never. Ever.”
In the end, Thompson does not define her life by her job.
“As far as the celebrity world and the fashion world goes, it’s fun, but it’s not real. It’s not my life.”