By Diana Elbasha
The Working Press
CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeffrey Fager urged reporters during the convention’s keynote address to remember the storytelling roots on which journalism was founded.
By staying true to original, narrow reporting and courageous interviews, Fager said his network has defied what he called “conventional wisdom” that says news about important subjects doesn’t sell.
Nearly 21 million people watched “60 Minutes” at least once in the past year, according to the Nielsen Co., Fager said. He said the number outstrips any other non-sports TV program.
“The numbers contradict what I think a lot of relatively intelligent network news people have said – that the American public doesn’t want to hear about Afghanistan, that it’s a turn-off, or about the ramifications of one of the worst recessions in generations,” Fager said, adding that his competitors have resorted to focusing on crime and celebrities.
Fager’s hour-long speech, laden with jokes and high praise for his colleagues, drew frequent laughter and applause from the audience as he recalled lessons learned from CBS News pioneers Edward R. Murrow and Don Hewitt.
“I think we prove every Sunday that Americans are hungry for the kind of reporting that we care about,” Fager said, speaking of the “60 Minutes” news magazine.
“Our mission is not at all different from what the people who founded CBS News thought it should be,” he said.
Fager stressed the importance of clarity, accuracy and dedication to reporting.
“In television, you can’t go back and read that [paragraph] again. You better make it damn simple and clear and use every word possible to help explain the story,” he said.
Fager closed with video highlights of recent “60 Minutes” reports, including interviews with a semi-nude Lady Gaga and WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange to narratives of children thrown into post-recession poverty.
“This profession is hard, is difficult, it’s challenging, but its fun,” Fager said. “We get to witness history, we get to make a difference, we get to shed light on important stories that have ventured far and wide across the earth.”
His session drew an audience that spilled into the hall outside the Rhythms Ballroom.
Barbara Cochran, president emeritus of RTNDA, the predecessor to RTDNA, said Fager is spreading the values of being serious about news and excellent storytelling throughout CBS News.
“ It’s not gossipy,” said Cochran, who introduced Fager. “It’s important information but it can be absolutely fascinating.”
Cochran said Fager is a leader in broadcast reporting and that his speech brought an important perspective in a swiftly changing industry.
“As our media merges, I don’t know anybody going to work for a newspaper who isn’t going to be expected to work also on that newspaper’s website, to be able to capture video when they’re on an interview, and be able to post that video,” Cochran said. “Increasingly, the skills needed, no matter where your job is, are going to be the same.”
Fager touched on the importance of adapting to these changes when he promoted a new venture that lets viewers watch “60 Minutes” anytime, anywhere. The project is a Web-based show called “60 Minutes Overtime.”
“Our reporters talk about experiences they go through covering stories that never makes it on air, but are interesting as hell,” he said of the new program. “It’s about sharing other aspects of our coverage with a different audience, with original reporting, on the Internet.”