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10 Plus 1: Following The Money

During his tenure at CBS News, correspondent Anthony Mason has worked out of London and Moscow and has reported from more than 30 countries. Prior to CBS, he's had some notable experiences reporting from New Jersey cemeteries and he founded Green Hornet Broadcasting (read on for more on that.)

So what do you do for a living?

I cover business stories for the "Evening News." That means I report on everything from payola scandals in the music industry to troubles in the auto industry to the Martha Stewart trial. I go wherever the money goes.

I also moonlight for our "Sunday Morning" program doing primarily cultural stories. I did a long series on mystery writers (I've profiled more than 40 of them) and lately seem to be doing quite a few stories on musicians.

What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
Everything really. The strength of TV news is the power of images. The great weakness is the lack of time. We don't have nearly enough of it. Especially not in a 22 minute newscast.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
When I worked in local news in New Jersey years ago, I was sent to cover a story about a man who refused to bury his dead teenage daughter because he was convinced she would be resurrected. The court finally ordered him to bury her. My new bosses ordered me to go live from the gravesite. As I was going on the air, I looked down at the monitor briefly to see the word "LIVE" go up in the corner of the screen over the images of the headstones in the cemetery behind me. Strange and embarassing.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
Probably Joe Halderman. He's a producer for "48 Hours" now, but we worked together when we were both based overseas in the late 80s, early 90s. We went to quite a few hellholes together.

He was the producer on my scariest assignment: Afghanistan after the Russians pulled out. We went in on foot with the guerillas. For a while we carried the camera gear on two donkeys – until they were both killed – one by a mortar shell, the other froze to death. We were shot at, shelled and lost about 20 pounds in two weeks crossing the snowy mountains to Kabul and back. So Joe's been through the fire and I figure 10 broken fingers wouldn't faze him.

If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Writing a novel. Running a political campaign. Managing a rock band. I've always had too many interests. Which is why this career has worked so well for me. It's allowed me to indulge all of them.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
Technology. I still remember filing a radio report from the scene of a mass shooting in Hungerford, England back in the late 80s. I was standing in the middle of the street with this massive newfangled satellite phone. The battery weighed a ton, but I was portable!! The whole time I was describing the horrific story on the air, I was thinking: "This is Amazing! I'm talking on a wireless phone!" Now, look where we are.

But while the tools are better, the job hasn't really changed. It's still all about telling stories.

What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
"Chronicles" by Bob Dylan

"The Mansion on the Hill," Fred Goodman's great book about the business of rock 'n roll.

And I'm almost through Bob Spitz's epic 800-page biography of "The Beatles."

Guess I'm in a music phase. But doing profiles of Bruce Springsteen, Donovan, and Neil Diamond for "Sunday Morning" made we want to read up on how the music business really developed.

What is your first memory of TV news?
The coverage of the funeral of JFK. I was just a kid and, to be honest, I was angry my cartoons had been preempted. But soon after I became obsessed with TV news.

My oldest friend, Sandy Kenyon (who now works for WINS radio and WABC TV in New York) and I would run around Central Park as kids with the first portable reel to reel tape recorders interviewing strangers. When I was 8, I printed up newspapers that I sold to my parents. And when I was ten, I created an imaginary TV network. The flagship station was WGHB (Green Hornet broadcasting – I named it after my favorite superhero.) I programmed the network with all my favorite shows from the other networks and mapped out the schedule in a school notebook. Of course, I did my own newscasts with a card table as the anchor desk and a telescope as the studio camera.

I used to think everybody was this obsessed. But then my wife, Christina, clued me in that I was just odd.

Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Yes, if they had their hearts set on it. You travel, see amazing things and meet fascinating people. And it beats working for a living.

But I have three incredibly smart and talented kids and most of all I want them to follow their passions, as I've been fortunate enough to be able to do.

Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
President Nixon. Admirable and loathsome. Heroic and human. I campaigned for him in '68 when I was just 12, so he was always larger than life to me. During my first job as a reporter in Tulsa, while Nixon was in his self imposed exile after Watergate, I got a chance to interview him. I recall looking at the mike in my outstretched hand and thinking: "That's Richard Nixon talking into MY microphone!"

Then in the early 90s, when I was Moscow correspondent for CBS News, Nixon came through town and I got to follow him around for a couple of days. He was up early every morning in meetings with Russian officals by 8 a.m. and sized up the complicated political situation there almost immediately. He had the shrewdest political mind of anyone I've ever met.

The biggest jerk was a mystery writer who shall remain nameless. We went all the way to Italy to profile him because that's where his books were set. But he kept slipping away to sneak a drink and then blew up at us when we asked him to re-read passages from his book so we could shoot him from different angles. I still admire his writing, but sometimes the people you admire disappoint you.

Finally, a question from John M., posted in the comments section:
How difficult is it to report on economic news when the official numbers seem questionable? Examples include the monthly unemployment figure that fails to account for people no longer seeking work or people getting public assistance, and other statistics that seem manipulated because of politics, like the initial GDP that's revised downward later. Can you get other sources or experts who can tell you what the real numbers are?
Thanks for the question, John. Interpreting the numbers is one of the most difficult things we try to do. You can call three different economists and get three different opinions about what they mean. And then, as you point out, the numbers can be revised a month later and those "enouraging" job growth numbers maybe weren't so encouraging after all.

In the end, I don't worry about the numbers so much (unless they are extreme) but try to report on where the overall economy is. You do that by talking to business owners, job placement firms and the people out hunting for work. Sometimes they can tell you where the economy's headed even before those numbers can.