10 Plus 1: Gross On Putting Out National Product

This week for 10 Plus 1, we talked to D.C.-based Associate Producer Josh Gross, who is presently busy with the Zacarias Moussaoui trial in Alexandria, Virginia. Below, Josh talks about Syrianna, Moussaoui's personality, refusing a producer's request to find "examples" of child pornography for a story, and his early discovery that TV reporters can't play softball.

What do you do at CBS News?

I'm an associate producer, which means I do a little bit of everything. In the past few months I've been onsite covering the West Virginia mining disaster, the Valerie Plame leak investigation and traveled with the president when he's given speeches across the country. In between these larger news events, I contribute to the Evening News by doing research, interviews or stakeouts. I'm currently covering the Zacharias Moussaoui trial in Alexandria, VA.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
Foreign news and issues are chronically underreported but that response has probably already been taken. I'll go with science and the environment.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
Most of the coverage of the Moussaoui trial has appropriately been focused on the courtroom actions but as a person Moussaoui himself is a very interesting character. It's obvious when he walks into the room that he despises everyone in there. He systematically stares down the judge, the lawyers, court security and then the audience before taking his seat. He's not crazy, as several people have asked me, but very intelligent and filled with a severe and consuming malignity for everything American. And while the judge has taken away his ability to defend himself, he is still very engaged in the proceedings. After two full days of complex and revelatory courtroom maneuvering that led up to the judge's dismissal of the Government's aviation witnesses, he turned to those in the gallery and said "This is still just a sophisticated lynching" in a heavy French accent.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A few years back, the Evening News did a story on a Supreme Court ruling involving internet child pornography and a producer asked me to find "examples." I don't think the person understood what they'd requested and I refused troll the internet for images of naked children. They wanted to blur the images and use them in the background. Besides having a general objection to the task, I argued it would do little to advance the story. We ended up not doing it.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd still be working in the media in some form. Travel writing sounds pretty nice.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I read blogs all the time. I've heard people refer to them as "the CB radios of this century," but that's mostly from old-schoolers who still resist the idea that the internet can be a major tool in news gathering. Take the purchase of Knight-Ridder, for example. A consolidation like this means there will be fewer reporters digging up their own stories, and more papers relying on news services. If individuals can get their stories or opinions out there via the internet, it will be beneficial for everyone. At the same time, 95% of the stuff out there is pure junk, and blogs can never take the place of well-researched and edited stories. But the internet is full of sinkholes and journalists need to be careful. I've seen sites such as Wikipedia, or even the Onion quoted by those disinclined to do their own research and interviews.

There are so many blogs out there that demand some level of attention that it becomes hard to look at them all. But I prefer to read the sites that are well written, as opposed to those that have gained attention by being more belligerent then the next. That ranges from sites that deal with national politics like the Captain's Quarters or Daily Kos, to local DC issues like DCist, to those just for fun like Unrequited Narcissism or DCeiver. And there's an incorrect assumption by most people that blogs are just places for political rants. Take Eye Level, for example. It's a site that covers American Art hosted by the Smithsonian. It's not a topic I would normal be interested in, but its approachable presentation makes it an interesting read.

What's the last really great book or movie you found?
Syriana. I had he same reaction walking out of it as I did when I saw Vertigo for the first time in college: "If they can make movies this good, why have I been watching all this other garbage?" I mean, Hitch? Come on.
What is your first memory of TV news?
My father worked in local TV, so as a kid I assumed everyone sat down and watched the news from 5 to 7 each night. My first memories of TV news were less of watching it and more of going to his company softball games. Any possible mystique I could have had of the Television Reporter vanished when I saw how poorly they played ball. And it wasn't until I was older that I realized that most people have dinner around 6, not at 8:30 when the show's over and their dad gets home.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
Let's get rid of the bottom line and answering to our corporate parents about revenue generating. It's infected everything, even blogs.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I normally don't cover any one specific thing long enough to become too fascinated, but in 2004 I was able to follow Dick Cheney on the campaign trail for several weeks. I came in unprepared for the control he exerted on every facet of his life, public and private, and it's why I think the Harry Whittington thing was handled so poorly. That was the first time, in a long time, that he didn't have 100% control of a situation.

I won't call any one person out for being a jerk but as a group the so-called political experts who are sometimes needed to add context to stories can be a most unfriendly group.

And now, two questions sent in by reader gshelton4 that came from a class of 14 and 15 year olds:

What current or past news person would you like to pattern your career after?

Isn't this two questions? Steve Hartman didn't have to do two questions.

While it would be noble to say that I'm trying to follow in the footsteps of Charles Collingwood or Walter Cronkite, I can't really say that there is one single person that I'm trying to pattern my career after. There are certainly people in this business who I respect and attempt to emulate. But I think television journalism, and maybe all journalism, is currently in the middle of evolutionary shudder and it may be a better time to explore new ways of presenting the news instead of following too closely after someone else.

Who do you feel set the standard for quality news reporting?
How about I give you the names of a dozen people who are lowering the standard for quality news reporting?

It may be because his retirement announcement is fresh on my mind, but if you read the recent tributes to Mike Wallace it's clear what he has done in the past 40 year is matchless.