10 Plus 1: Steve Hartman Has A Story

Steve Hartman is probably best known for his offbeat stories, and it turns out he has some even more offbeat anecdotes about how they came about. (One of which suggests that he has some sort of subconcious affinity for Motley County, Texas.) Read on to find out other notable tidbits, like who shines Morley Safer's shoes and why Hartman never became a meteorologist -- but he's pretty sure Bill Maher would make a good one.

So, what do you do for a living?

I tell stories. Right now my job is to tell stories our viewers have specifically asked to see. We call the segment "Assignment America." Every Friday night on the CBS "Evening News" we present a list of three feature stories we're considering for the next Friday night's broadcast. We then invite people to visit our Web site and vote for the story that sounds most interesting to them. I tell the story that gets the most votes. I also shine Morley Safer's shoes.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
If you were to take all the commercials out of the "Evening News" (which my father suggests we do every time I see him) you're left with just 22 minutes of content. What's not being covered enough at CBS News? Just about everything! That said, I think we do a pretty good job of picking the most important stories of the day. A few of my colleagues have suggested openly that my features don't belong on a "hard news" broadcast like the "Evening News." They'd like to see that time go to something "more important." But others say features are important to balance out all the doom and gloom. For the sake of my mortgage payments, I tend to agree with the latter.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
I used to do a segment called "Everybody Has a Story." Every other week we'd throw a dart at a map of America, go wherever the dart hit, and then profile somebody picked randomly from the phone book. Well, one time the dart hit Motley County, Texas. It's in the middle of nowhere. Then two years later the dart hit the same place! That was weird enough. But when I stuck my finger in the phonebook the second time -- I got the NEIGHBOR of the guy I picked the first time! 280 million people in America and I end up with two guys who share a hedge! Seeing Andy Rooney in the elevator still feels a little strange too.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
Dr. Emily Senay from the "Early Show." She's a doctor so she could help with the fingers. And she's pretty cute so I wouldn't mind running out of gas with her. (I hope she doesn't read this.)
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd be a teacher. I really like kids and I hear that teachers make a lot of money.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here
When I started at CBS almost 10 years ago, Mike Wallace was really old. Now he's really old. The "really" is now in italics. Other than that not much has changed.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
The last book I picked up was a road atlas. My cameraman puts too much faith in his GPS and got us terribly lost in Philadelphia. Before that it was a book called "Trail Building and Maintenance." I want to build a little footpath in the woods near my house. Before that it was the Scrabble dictionary. Did you know 'OE' is actually a word?
What is your first memory of TV news?
I got hooked on TV news when I was a kid living in Toledo, Ohio. I remember thinking it would be nice to be a reporter – but I assumed I wasn't smart enough. I thought becoming a meteorologist would be a lot easier. Then I took a meteorology class in college and got a C-. Fortunately, it turns out you don't have to be that smart to be a reporter.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Sure. It's an exhilarating job and it can change the world. I'm very proud of what I do and the network I work for. I realize not all TV reporters are so lucky. I definitely wouldn't want my child working for some of the tabloid-y local news channels and some of the other networks I flip past. But that's why God invented nepotism.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Picking the most fascinating person is like being asked to pick your favorite child. I like all of them. And some I want to send to military school. That said, as a group, the most fascinating people I've ever interviewed were the people I picked randomly from the phone book for "Everybody Has a Story." Most of them had never been interviewed before. They answered every question openly and honestly. That's hard to find in this media-savvy world. It's hard to get anyone to tell you what they're really thinking. I will forever be grateful to those people for giving so much of themselves to me. As for the biggest jerk, I had to interview Bill Maher once and he wasn't so nice. However, in fairness to him, he's a lot smarter than I am and some of my questions probably came off sounding pretty stupid. Bill Maher could be a meteorologist, no problem.
And finally, a question from jlh10: If you had to pick one living and one deceased person to focus on for a story, who would they be? Why?
That's hard. I know it wouldn't be an actor or a politician. I take that back. I wouldn't mind interviewing John McCain. He seems like he'd at least answer my questions honestly. But there's something about living people that makes them a lot less interesting than dead ones. Dead people are fascinating. I'd like to interview Adam and/or Eve, Lincoln, Will Rogers or any one of my grandparents.