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10 Plus 1: Aaron Lewis Discusses The Network Pool (It's Open Year Round)

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Aaron Lewis started at CBS News in 2002 as an intern for the weekend news and soon became a desk assistant during the beginning of the Iraq War. He spent a few years at CNN as a video assistant and returned to CBS last August as the network's pool coordinator. Along the way, he's had some interesting experiences -- including one anecdote about what it's like to crash a story at CNN. Literally.

What do you do at CBS News?

For certain news events, the five major networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC) are either mandated or decide amongst ourselves to provide a single camera crew to shoot and feed back to all of us at the same time. These events are considered "pooled" events. My job is to represent CBS when it comes to coordinating logistics with other networks for these "pools."
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
When it comes down to it, nothing is more important to our viewers than their health. Everyone at least knows someone who's been affected by cancer, Alzheimer's, or heart disease. Progress is constantly being made on those and other diseases. I think viewers would welcome more stories about such progress.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
After about a year working in CNN's video library - and a good amount of prodding - I'm given a chance one day to help produce live shots for CNN International and Headline News. Of course, I was excited to do something other than log and archive video all day, and I wanted to get more opportunities like that, so I didn't want to screw up. Anyway, the producer I'm working with asks me to track down video and get it cut for air in less than 10 minutes. So I take off through the newsroom and after about three steps, I trip over a random incline in the floor and crash to the ground with a tremendously loud THUD. The newsroom goes dead silent and everyone just stares at me for several seconds. Then laughter. Even the interns had their fill. I was OK, but needless to say, I didn't make the best impression. It took another couple months before I got a shot in the newsroom again.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
I can't think of any story I've specifically objected to, but that's the beauty of working in D.C. The stories coming out of Washington, while not necessarily sexy, have an inherent impact on most people's lives. Compare that with the folks in, say, L.A., who have to decide how much they need to pay attention to the Celebrity Trial du Jour.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
It would certainly involve sports. Maybe assistant GM under Theo Epstein. I think I could bang out some trades to bring another World Series to Boston.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I do a lot of reading on the Internet. I check WashingtonPost.com, TVNewser and Public Eye regularly throughout the day. I'm also a baseball nut, so the Buster Olney and Peter Gammons blogs on ESPN.com are must-reads. Bill Simmons on ESPN's Page 2 relates to my generation like no one else. And since I like to keep up with my hometown news, I stop by Boston.com every day.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
I'm in the middle of reading "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," by Jane Leavy. Koufax is a rare superstar who retired at the top of his game and has avoided the spotlight ever since. It's interesting to see what makes him tick. I also saw "Thank You For Smoking" for a second time over the weekend. It's the funniest satire I've seen in years.
What is your first memory of TV news?
I'm going to catch a lot of grief from my colleagues when I admit this, but my first vivid memory of a live breaking news story was Baby Jessica in 1987. My sister and I were captivated by the whole thing, right up to the dramatic live nighttime rescue. Then again, I was only 6 years old at the time, so maybe I was just excited to stay up past my bedtime.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
There's an overwhelming sense of negativity in this business. Journalists are skeptical by nature - and that's certainly an admirable and necessary quality given the nature of this industry - but often times that energy is focused too much on the problems we're reporting on and not enough on possible solutions. The good news is, more recently we've moved away from that negativity. Instead of simply railing against soaring gas prices or the waves of illegal immigrants, we're seeing more stories about ways to fix the energy crisis and to reform immigration policy.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Love him or hate him, there's not a more fascinating figure than President Bush. He's running the nation in one of our most historic times and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll look back on these days in 20 or 30 years and see his presidency as a defining period in America, for better or for worse.

The biggest jerk I've encountered is one congressman I interviewed about three years ago who seemed genuinely insulted that a desk assistant was sent to talk with him. I had had several interviews under my belt by then, many of which with more important politicians who couldn't have been more courteous and patient with me. But this gentleman was appalled that we didn't send a star reporter, when all we needed for the story was a ten-second sound bite.

And finally, a question tailored just for Aaron: What's the most interesting thing to happen in the Washington news room this week?
That had to be Monday when President Bush addressed the nation. My job was to sit in on the network pool producer conference call and listen for any last-minute changes or cues. But it was a complete surprise when the Oval Office feed came up without notice about a minute early and the president started his speech. Everyone on the call was confused and was trying to find out from the producer on-site whether or not this was the start of the address. As it turns out, the president was mistakenly cued early and he stopped several lines into his speech, but not before CNN had decided to put it to air. Of course, the CNN-haters out there quickly pounced all over them, but you can't blame them for making what seemed like the right decision at the time. I was actually surprised that more networks didn't do the same thing.

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