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The Public Eye Chat With…Linda Mason

It's Thursday, and that means it's time for the Public Eye Chat. This week's subject is CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects Linda Mason. You can read excerpts and listen to the full interview below.

to listen to the interview.
Brian Montopoli: Producers will contact you and say "can we do this?" Can you give me an example of that kind of interaction?

Linda Mason: Sure. We're doing a story on something and we want to go get pictures of the person in question. Where can we go? Can we go on the sidewalk outside his house? Can we knock on the door and ask him to come out? …Of course you can't go on somebody's private property, but you can stand on the public sidewalk and have your camera there. They were just looking to get some video. So that's an easy one.

A harder one is we want to go undercover with a hidden camera. We're looking at airport safety, and we have a story on airport workers who don't have to go through the strenuous system that the pilots and the hostesses have to go through. They have a separate door where they come through. Can we send a hidden camera there? We talk to the lawyers and depending on what state you are, etc. etc., yes, and we did it. And it was a very interesting piece.

Brian Montopoli: Recently, as you know of course, a producer was fired for writing a Notebook that was in part lifted from a Wall Street Journal piece. What actions, other than firing the producer involved, has CBS News taken in response to that?

Linda Mason: That's something that happened a month ago, and I'd just as soon pass. We've taken – we think we have fixed the situation.

Brian Montopoli: Has there been any change in reminding people about standards? Has there been anything like that?

Linda Mason: Well, every time something like this happens, whether it's at CBS, the New York Times, NBC, ABC, yeah, we sit down and say, "Hey, we've gotten a little too complacent, we have to pay attention to these things." Absolutely.

Brian Montopoli: And so did that entail a company-wide refresher course?

Linda Mason: There wasn't a refresher course. It was ironic because I was scheduled to give a standards session to the Web at that very time, right before it happened…

Brian Montopoli: But that would have happened either way.

Linda Mason: That would have happened either way, yeah. It wasn't spurred by that event. It was spurred by, as I went through the different groups who I had not yet reached, the Web was one of them.

Brian Montopoli: Is the notion that CBS News has credibility beyond what maybe a blogger has particularly important to maintaining its popularity and success?

Linda Mason: I think a blog and are two different things. I think a blog tends to reflect the opinion or opinions of the people putting out the blog. It in no way strikes to be fair and measured. It's putting out that viewpoint, I think. And I think that is trying to put forth the whole story. So I think there's a real difference.

Brian Montopoli: And do you think people understand that difference?

Linda Mason: I don't know.

Brian Montopoli: You told me, a little while back, that you were "the first woman at every job I had at CBS News." And that includes in 1971, when you were the first female field producer for The CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite. I'm curious your take on Katie Couric's experience as the first solo female nightly news anchor.

Linda Mason: I'm just surprised at how, almost 30 years after I worked on the "Evening News" as the first woman producer, that Katie is having such a tough time being accepted by the public, which seems to prefer the news from white guys, and now that Charlie's doing so well, from older white guys. I guess they want the reassurance of a Walter Cronkite.

I had no idea that a woman delivering the news would be a handicap. And I'm afraid that Katie's paying a price for being the first woman. But I think it's a great trail that she's blazing, and I think if the broadcast continues to be as good as it has been, if we continue to break news, if we continue to tell interesting stories, people will start to watch. It takes time, I think. But I was surprised that there was an obvious connection between a woman giving the news, and the audience wanting to watch it.

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