Everybody Has A Story

By CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman

One minute you're eating a TV dinner. The next minute you're newsworthy.

Every two weeks we throw a dart at a map of America. I go wherever it sticks, find a phone book and pick a telephone number at random. That's the easy part. The hard part is explaining to the person who answers the phone that I want to do a story and put it on national television! Think about it: What would you say?

Since launching this project in 1998, I have heard it all.

"Yeah right, and I'm Barbara Walters."

"I don't want to buy anything."

"I gave at the office."

One woman was absolutely convinced I was her friend Ronnie playing a mean practical joke. She didn't believe a word I said and hung up. Poor Ronnie is probably still paying the price.

No audition. You got the gig. Can you start tomorrow?

Although it has taken up to 44 phone calls (the average is about 8), I
eventually find a believer. Stories almost always focus on the family member
who picks up the phone. However, on rare occassion I do center on someone
else in the family who may have a little more to say. But that is the only
latitude I'm granted.

Stories MUST come from somebody at that home. No one
is ever turned down because I think they may be too boring or controversial. It is strictly first come, first serve. If they're willing, I'm willing, which is why viewers often ask me, "What would you do if you got an ax murderer?" The simple answer is: I would do the story.

But don't hold your breath. First of all, I doubt an ax murderer fleeing the law would list his number in the phone book. Secondly, it's been my experience that most people in this country are good (or at the very least, well intentioned).

I generally meet folks with wonderfully positive stories that tend to center around family; like the 5-year-old boy who floats helium balloons to his grandma in heaven, or the 87-year-old mom who still does her son's laundry. Expect my segment to find those kinds of people. There's enough crime on the other channels.

Not my idea. But I did invent the Inernet

I wish I could say I came up with this idea, but I didn't. The idea comes from a newspaper reporter named David Johnson. He is a reporter for Idaho's Lewiston Morning Tribune.

For more than a decade he has been picking people out of his local phone book and putting their stories on the front page. Several years ago I interviewed Johnson and tried his idea myself. I was doing it more or less as a joke. I never dreamed you could actually find good stories like that. It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong. Like Johnson, I now believe the white pages are chock full of amazing, untold stories, and I'm on a mad dash to tell as many as possible.

Where can I find it?

Everybody Has a Story airs every other Friday on The Early Show and the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. If you miss it, you can also catch it the following morning on The Saturday Early Show.

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