So, what do you do for a living?
As Los Angeles bureau chief, I help to coordinate the coverage of news in 10 western States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Basically keeping pulse on everything west of the Rockies, I stay in touch with a bunch of people in New York as to what's of interest, what is not, for a national audience. I work with a totally fabulous group of reporters, producers, camera- and soundmen, editors, engineers, and business staff that keeps the bills paid and the lights on. Our offices are in L.A. and San Francisco.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
Considering how complex our world and how little air time we have, there are many areas that could use more coverage. So I am going to suggest two.
Diversity: By 2050, the U.S. will be about evenly split between whites and minorities. Hispanics lead the way as America's majority minority. But there are others. For example, South Asians — Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, etc. They have become a minority of growing influence, dominating in fields like high-tech and science. Then there's the growth of Islam in America. By one estimate, there are now over 1,200 mosques in America. And, in Katrina's wake, we see what has been billed as the largest migration of black Americans since the Civil War, a shift that will impact communities nationwide. The stories of an ever-changing America are endless.
Technology: In the early 1980s, the Apple II was one of the very first PCs to galvanize consumers. In the 1990s, the Internet exploded into the mainstream. Who knows what's next? Here in California, there's a push to mini-satellites. Described as more than "orbital knick-knacks," these little gizmos open the possibility that ordinary folks can put something into low orbit. What then? We live with technology more than ever in this Information Age, so the story possibilities are rich. Personally, I'm attracted to the wired kitchen — the one that will do everything for me on remote.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
The strangest event took place years ago in Libya. I was part of a press tour deep into the Sahara Desert to watch Muammar Qaddafi dedicate a huge, fresh-water well. Some 200 guests, including diplomats and journalists, were flown from Tripoli, Libya over miles of pure white sand into a gleaming, marbled, air-conditioned airport all alone in an expanse of sand dunes. Over a perfect new highway, we were bused to an open plain that housed this huge construction project. About 100 yards from the wellhead stood a long stand of bleachers, with tenting to protect us from the sun and the sand. The nomadic Libyans, with their camels, streamed across the desert from all directions. We waited for hours. Then, as the sun began to sink, there was a distant cloud of sand approaching the bleachers from behind. Leading a caravan of Jeeps was Qaddafi, standing tall, clutching the rollbar, turban streaming in the wind. He was headed for the wellhead. The nomads broke from their encampment, we journalists broke from our press pen, all running as one chaotic herd toward the wellhead. I remember wondering if I was going to be trampled by a horse or a camel. Somehow we got out there with our camera just as Qaddafi simply hit the switch. There was no speech, no dedication, no ribbon-cutting. From deep under the Sahara a tremendous geyser of fresh water blasted toward the night sky. The moon was full, the stars were crystal, and we were ... soaked.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
With 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, I'd want CBS News LA producer (and close gal pal) Eleanore Vega by my side. A take-no-prisoners journalist with the best, truly practical survival skills, Eleanore can cover a breaking story and carry the walking wounded as she goes. Plus, if you ever want to go whale-watching in the lagoons of Baja California, she's the best tour guide!
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
If I weren't in news, I'd love to be a diplomat. My dad was in the Foreign Service but saw his career ruined by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In fact, my dad counseled against going into the Foreign Service, having seen it destructively politicized in the Red Scare of the '50s. He told me to avoid government service. So journalism seemed another great way to earn a living and to see the world.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
The biggest change to CBS News is the increased warp speed at which we must report — and report accurately. The pressure to be first is exponentially greater than it was when only ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS did the news. The 24-hour cable channels have helped to pick up the pace considerably.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
I'm a multi-media, multi-tasker so here goes: latest book is "Blindsided" by my friend Richard Cohen. The latest movie is "Wedding Crashers." And the latest TV show, thanks to Netflix, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I am watching the ENTIRE series, starting with the first season. For some reason, I can't get enough of Larry David and his sly neuroses.
What is your first memory of TV News?
My first memory of TV news is in black and white. Two anchors on NBC: Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. News was the only thing my brothers, sister and I could watch, except for an occasional family show from Disney. One of my daughters even asked me — when she was younger — if the world had color when I was growing up. It did. But TV did not.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
I'd absolutely love to have my kids go into the news business. But here's the trick: a lot of journalism is practiced in groups — so finding a smart group will be their challenge. At the very least, they'll need a smart boss.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
There is no ONE PERSON most fascinating because, frankly, we enjoy a front row seat on the doings of just about everyone. The greatest asset of journalism is the infinite exposure it gives us to people, places, and things. It's like being paid to stay in school. Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes another crazy story. I have to admit to a particular, personal fascination with Oprah Winfrey, although I have never covered her. Our careers took us through the same newsroom in Baltimore — a long time ago. She has taken the power of TV both to inform and to do much good. TV at its very best. Secondly, she has kept her humanity despite the incredible stardom she has earned. Television is a voracious universe. Oprah's balance and grace while living a TV life are her most amazing assets.
The biggest jerk is OJ Simpson. Need I say more?
And finally, a question from twoconcepts who asked this question of Jennifer in the comments section:
Is the day of the huge TV news stars — Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Dan Rather — over because there are so many channels?
There will always be stars in TV news. They're hired to help get people into the tent. It's part of the performance aspect of television. Like entertainment TV, news TV requires great communication skills. And you'll always need one or two voices to help pull it all together. Now, whether the new anchors get the same super-size salaries remains to be seen. Those big salaries were born in a day when only three networks did news. The network monopoly is over. We still generate first-class reporting but have to push through the growing crowd of competitors to be heard. That's where the anchor comes in. Yet with all the competition, the anchor may be a star but not quite as RICH a star as Brokaw or Rather, Couric or Sawyer.