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Hello To The Chief

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Washington Bureau Chief Janet Leissner has certainly had her hands full this week, but she took some time to reflect on her extensive experience at CBS News to answer some of our questions and yours. She has some interesting stories to tell -- including some little-known Bob Schieffer trivia and the tale of her very first television news shoot, when she learned that polyester drapes are highly flammable.

So, what do you do for a living?

Lots of people ask me that. Officially, my title is CBS News Washington Bureau Chief. But in addition to worrying, constantly, about what we'll do if there's another terrorist attack, I'm Den Mother and Shrink for a bunch of wonderful and diverse personalities, both on the air and behind the camera. I'm in charge of CBS News' coverage of our nation's capital, which includes everything from covering the Bush Administration, what goes on in Congress, to minute-by-minute coverage of the antics of the new panda cub at the National Zoo.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
A few months ago, I might have given you a lofty answer, like more business news, or stories about religion, but now there's an easy answer. More sports coverage! Not only could a few more football and golf stories bring in young, male viewers -- the eyeballs we covet -- but we've now got the ultimate "in" at CBS Sports. We should finally be able to get access to all that great sports footage we've never been allowed to use!
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
On my very first shoot as a TV news producer in Canada, I went with a crew to set up for an interview (you can imagine how terrified I was.) We were working on a story about the elderly and medical costs, so we went to a nursing home in the suburbs of Toronto to interview a resident. The crew set up the camera and tripod, as well as a bunch of lights, in the recreation room of the facility. A lovely woman was brought in in her wheelchair, and the correspondent began his questions. About 10 minutes into the interview, I started to smell something strange. Suddenly, the room began to fill with smoke. I looked up to see flames coming from the lovely, polyester drapes. Our lights were too close to the drapes, and they caught on fire. Not only was it the strangest thing that ever happened to me on the job, it cost me $300.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
Bob Schieffer. He might not want to tend to my broken fingers, although here's a little known fact: Bob was actually pre-med his first year in college. His mother really wanted him to be a doctor. Obviously, Bob decided to go in another direction. But having Bob Schieffer with you, when you've run out of gas and you're trying to hitch a ride, is a no-brainer. He's so well-known, and so well-liked, that cars would be lining up to give him a lift. I'm hoping he'd take me with him, deliver me to a hospital emergency room, and then find someone to deal with the no gas in the car situation.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I've always been fascinated by medicine, and probably should have gone to medical school. My grandfather laid out a plan for me when I was very young: "you should be a 'childrens' doctor' (his native language was German) and marry a brain surgeon." Not a bad plan, in retrospect.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
Two big changes. The growth of 24/7 news, thanks to cable, and the amazing technological changes. I may date myself by admitting this, but I go all the way back to the days of covering news with film cameras. Now, we're at the disc stage and pretty soon, video will fly through the air on computers, and all sorts of people will be able to do some of the shooting and editing.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
"Atonement," by Ian McEwen, "Survivor," by John Harris (I think.) As for movies, the last one was "Good Night and Good Luck." I don't get out much.
What is your first memory of TV news?
My father used to watch the "Today Show" religiously while he got ready to go to work in the morning. So I remember Dave Garroway and the chimp. We all watched the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite," every night before dinner. But my first real memory of being glued to the TV, watching the power of TV news, was the JFK funeral. We had the TV on non-stop for three days.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Sure, if he or she wanted to. This is still a great business; one of the few where you actually get paid to travel the world and talk to fascinating people. So I'd say be prepared for a roller coaster, as things continue to change in the news business. Be prepared to work really hard, but if you're curious and are passionate about the news, go ahead and try it.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
The most fascinating people I've covered were the students in the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. I was lucky enough to be in China for CBS News in the weeks leading up to and after the student uprising. Talk about courage and passion -- those kids were amazing. I'll never forget them.

I think I'll leave the jerk for another time.

Finally, a question from our comments section by twoconcepts: "Don't you think the Web is really the future of news? You have this big bureau fighting for a slice of 22 minutes once a day, but the Web is infinite."
The Web is definitely a part of the future of news. The Washington correspondents already see its potential, and file as often as they can. They're finding it a great outlet for longer versions of what they report for the 22 minute evening newscast, as well as a tool which allows them to tell their stories in a more conversational manner. They file text and standups all day, so they don't have to wait until 6:30 p.m. to update their stories. The future is more and more integration between the TV side of the business and the Web.