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10 Plus 1: From Page To Producer

(Catherine Herrick)
Catherine Herrick has risen through the ranks from page at the "Evening News" to associate producer at "60 Minutes." She just got back from India, where she and the rest of the "60 Minutes" team had to board elephants at dawn to get as close as possible to the tigers they were filming, among other activities. Want to know more? Read on…

What do you do at CBS News?

I am an associate producer at "60 Minutes" where I work on Scott Pelley's team. I work alongside a producer and Scott on a wide variety of stories a year. We start by generating our own story ideas and then reporting the heck out of them. We find great characters who we hope will light up the screen and work to produce the best story possible from the time we think of the story to the Sunday night the piece goes on the air. There are major logistical details that we work out with every single story and often seemingly impossible hurdles we have to jump over. One major roll of an associate producer is to make sure that what goes on the air is fair and factual. We go over and over our scripts to make sure that everything we are reporting is absolutely accurate....even if it means changing one word or even the tense of a word a few minutes before the show gets wrapped up.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
Definitely more stories about Cleveland, Ohio. I am proud Midwesterner so I couldn't resist cheerleading my city! But in all seriousness, we become a little too accustomed to inside the beltway stories so it's great that the Evening News has a new beat about Faith, Family and Values. Also, I think our viewers crave personal profiles of fascinating people. I wish we could restart another newsmagazine during the week similar to "60 Minutes" that is devoted to three in-depth profiles of the people that are shaping our times from entertainers to politicians, actors to athletes, even crooks or those extremely passionate and interesting people who are doing their small part to change the world.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
What I think is so impressive about our show is how much time and thought we put into producing every second of our 12 minutes stories. I'll give two examples of the effort we make for a quick but important shot. I just came off a two week shoot in India where we are reporting a story on Tigers. In order to get as close as possible to the tigers and really give our viewers a sense of their power and beauty, we took an 18-hour train ride from Delhi to the Jungle of India. We spent 5 days - waking up at 4am to then have our crews and Scott board elephants at dawn to go as close to the tigers as possible to get the shots we wanted. The result that you'll see in the fall was awesome but the behind the scenes effort was impressive. We travel with a huge amount of gear and getting it from country to country through customs takes weeks of planning, let alone getting it from Delhi to the jungle to the top of an elephant.

We try not to make a spectacle but when we do arrive at a tiny town in India off an overnight train with thousands of pounds of gear, we can't help but attract a hundred stares and porters that within minutes carried it all to the cars on their heads. Again, on the wildlife front, this past summer in order to capture the idea that global warming is having a major effect of the survival of polar bears, we flew from Greenland to Iceland to Northern Canada's Hudson Bay Region. In order to get our viewers as close as possible to the bears, we used to helicopters. On one we mounted a special gyro camera on the nose of one of the choppers that can zoom in quite closely when the chopper is flying over the bears. Then we had one cameraman in one chopper shooting the character in the other chopper who was darting the polar bear on the ground. The bear is then tranquilized so the choppers land and Scott and the scientist could go right up the bear and roll him over with their bare hands...which was all captured with our cameras now on the ground. This one minute sequence in our 12 minute story took months of set-up but the result was a great minute of television and something that just so rarely happens - being face to face with a live polar bear.

Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
Yes I have but I would rather not comment on it. Luckily it was a while ago and I have 100% confidence that it will never happen again.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A dream job in another lifetime would be the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine or Travel and Leisure.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
Not really except when I google something and a random blog comes up that sparks my interest. I read a lot of restaurant and hotel reviews on-line. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking was an amazing book about life and dealing with grief. On the lighter side, I am pop culture junkie and I can't get enough of a good round of Page 6, US Weekly, People, ET and the Insider (after the Evening News of course!) From time to time, I re-read the Killer Angels about Gettysburg which is probably one of my favorite books of all time.
What is your first memory of TV News?
Reagan was elected when I was five and I vividly remember watching his inauguration and all the events that followed in those eight years. His presidency had a huge influence on me and my obsession with news, the inner-workings of the White House and Washington, and foreign affairs. Every school project I devoted to subjects like those summits with Gorbachev when the Cold War was really starting to change course. And like so many in my generation I'll never forget Challenger and Reagan's "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God" speech the night of the crash. I didn't like sleeping at friends houses on Saturday nights since Sunday mornings at my house were devoted to watching the news shows (still are!) - at that time especially the McGlaughlin Group. I couldn't miss it. We read a ton of newspapers and my mom used to call the school secretary to leave notes for me on the bulletin board at school when major news events happened just so I was in the loop while at school since that was long before the days of 24/7 non-stop information. The night the first Gulf War started, I was allowed to stay home from school the next day to watch those amazing pictures coming in from CNN where we were actually watching a war live.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
I get so sick of the knocks we all get for being too liberal and out to get everybody. The truth is we just want to give our viewers the truth. We are transparent. We want to tell interesting and good stories that are entertaining and important. We all get lumped together in this weird media universe of all the cable talk shows and blogs and tabloids and shouting matches. But at CBS, we are still doing good solid journalism - getting the facts and truth out in an interesting way.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Two years ago, Scott, Bill Owens and I profiled a 12 year old composing prodigy named Jay Greenberg. We spent a lot of time with Jay off and on camera and just recently we revisited with him. His mind is like none other I've come across and it's just fascinating knowing that someone like Jay with the most extraordinary mental powers exists. Also we talked to a mother in Budapest, Hungary who is from Alabama. Her son has cerebral palsy and she was just so real and honest and devoted to making her son's life flourish. I am just fascinated every time we sit down for a new interview with someone. We talk to so many different characters in such a variety of fields and a great character can just light up the screen even if he or she is talking about a rather mundane subject.

The biggest jerks are usually people behind the scenes who want to "handle" us. The people that have a can't do attitude and keep saying no to us even though it's usually in their best interest to give us as much freedom as possible as the story will just be better with as much access and honesty as possible.

Catherine asked to respond to this question, which we used to include with "10 Plus 1" but no longer do:

If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?

Kathryn Kent and Maureen Cashin. Kathryn no longer works at CBS but she has left a lasting legacy that many of us aspire to emulate. She taught me from the day I walked into CBS fresh out of college that everything can be solved somehow while still keeping a smile on the face. Mo Cashin is the absolute go-to person for all things at CBS and in life. She just knows how to get things moving and done the right way and she's the glue that keeps so much together. Both Kathryn and Mo know how to achieve the impossible and they have been amazing mentors to me and many of my colleagues.
And finally, a question from reader PM:

What story are you most proud of?

I am most proud of a story I did with Scott Pelley and Bill Owens about a treatment for kids with cerebral palsy called conductive education. We visited a place called the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary that has treated kids with CP since the end of World War II. The rest of the world only learned about the Peto approach once the Iron Curtain fell. Peto is an amazing place where kids that appear to be destined for wheelchairs learn to walk and maintain an independent life often at a very young age. The kids go through a rigorous and highly disciplined program of intense, repetitive and often painful exercises 40 hours a week or more that forces the brain to figure out how to move the muscle. Slowly but surely, conductive education is starting to catch on in the states. I was especially proud that we could visit one of the American cities which happens to be my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio where determined parents are helping to bring conductive education to the forefront of CP treatments in the states. The story was an example of how we could report on a little known but incredibly important program that will hopefully help thousands of kids walk instead of wheel for the rest of their lives.
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