Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi just returned from covering the Middle East crisis and this week, she took some time to answer our standard 10 questions, plus one from a reader. Read on to find out what happened when Sharyn "skipped" customs at the Baghdad airport, what she'd like to see done differently on the "Evening News," and why she's not a huge fan of a certain former sitcom star.
What do you do at CBS News?
I'm a news correspondent. That means I'm a reporter who has to brush her hair.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
I don't think there's a single issue, but I think we could do a better job at the way we approach stories. Not every story should be two minutes long with an expert interview in the middle. I think sometime we're just too predictable.Give us a great behind the scenes story.
Here's one I can repeat: Last year, I was traveling to Iraq for the first time. I arrived at Baghdad airport and the electricity was out. The airport was pitch black, my luggage was gone and I was alone. I didn't know what to do next.Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to?
A kind Iraqi man who had been on my flight took pity on me and ushered me through the dark airport and into the office that deals with lost luggage. I was standing in line to fill out my claim when a uniformed man grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me through the airport. I thought I was being kidnapped.
Turns out, I somehow "skipped" customs as I snaked through the dark airport. I spent 45 minutes in a nine-by-nine foot room being screamed at in Arabic by two large men. It felt like three hours. The only English they knew was "jail" and "long time." One of the guards also sang the theme song of "Friends" to me at one point and I'm still not sure why.
I never got my luggage back. It didn't seem to matter.
I have. I spoke up and I was unassigned.If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd like to believe I'd be living in Georgetown, South Carolina, writing a great novel. More likely, I'd be working at Piggly Wiggly.Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I like Drudge, Gawker, and Curbed. I'll check Public Eye to make sure I haven't screwed up. I am addicted to the Perez Hilton Web site for celebrity gossip. He's brutal and fantastic.
I read dozens of newspapers on the Internet each morning. I always check the Daily Mississippian to see how the Ole Miss Football team is doing and The Georgetown Times in South Carolina (where my parents live) to see what's going on there. A few weeks ago they had "complete coverage" on the alligator that was "terrorizing" Georgetown. Good stuff.
What's the last really great movie or book you've found?
I usually think the best book is the one I just read. So, I'll go with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I love it. It's just this stunning, unforgettable, southern novel with these quirky, riveting characters. McCullers published it when she was 23. How unbelievable to have that much talent at that that age!What is your first memory of TV news?
Also, I just finished Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem. I love him. He's a great writer and a genius.
The last great movie I saw has to be "Anchorman." I'm pretty sure I've worked with Ron Burgundy.
I remember coming home from school and watching the news the day President Reagan was shot. I must have been 8 years old. We were living near Washington, D.C., at the time and my father worked in the District and I was very worried that he was in danger so I watched the news for hours. I was terrified.If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
You don't have enough time or space, I promise.Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Most fascinating: I interviewed Bill Clinton a few times. He's a study.Finally, a question for Sharyn from PE reader HS_NC: How do you feel the evening news and/or the morning shows can compete with 24 hour news channels? Do you feel it is possible to cover news thoroughly in 2-3 minutes vs reporting live all day long?
Biggest Jerk: When I working at KHBS/KHOG-TV back in Arkansas, they sent me to interview this teen star who was making an appearance at the mall. His name was Sasha Mitchell. He played "Cousin Cody Lambert" on an ABC show called "Step by Step" and this, of course, made him a big deal.
His "people" kept us waiting for like two hours and then when we finally we went to interview him he complained about the lighting, said he was too exhausted to answer any questions, left to get an Orange Julius and never came back.
I ended up getting yelled at back at the station for not getting the "all-important" interview. (Apparently, my bosses' daughters loved Cousin Cody.) Last I heard, Sasha was on "E.R." in the role of NO NAME.
Of course we can compete! The 24-hour news channels are great because you can deliver news in real time. Evening news has the luxury of pulling back and reflecting before we send it out to the universe. I think viewers watch "Evening News" not to just find out what's happening now --- but to find out what it means it down the road.
If it's on the "Evening News," it's an important story. When you only have a 30-minute newscast, there's not a lot of time for nonsense. I think viewers who don't have a lot of time appreciate that we aren't wasting their time.