SPJ notes: Jeff Fager, CBS and “60 Minutes”

Jeff Fager, chairman, CBS News and 60 Minutes executive producer, shared these thoughts during the Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention:

“60 Minutes” doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. Instead, it knows its product and what viewers want and delivers that, without fail or compromise, each week. (If you haven’t watched “60 Minutes” before, I encourage you to visit the site and watch before continuing.)

Fager’s advice:
– On getting ahead: Be better than everyone else. Do everything you can do enhance your stories. Be tireless when you are tired and curious when you care the least. Never be above doing something.
– “You don’t have a chance to go back and read that paragraph again.” This means so much coming from a broadcast perspective, where a viewer has one shot to hear and understand something as it’s intended. Print and online journalists would be smart to take the statement seriously, though – it’s true for us as well. The whole notion that the copy is right there doesn’t mean that someone will read it again. If something is confusing, ill-written or downright wordy, it means they’ll move to something else.
– Dig deep. You can’t do everything well. Beat reporters should focus on their beats and really dive in. Skimming the surface because you want every assignment means you won’t develop your reporting and writing skills. The biggest mistake is not digging enough in a specific area.
– Know what your audience wants, and do it well each time you do it. That doesn’t mean the end product alone. It means each phone call, interview, photo coverage, designed page, online headline and so on. It all contributes to the whole.
– Make the time to do your part well, or don’t waste your time. The integrity, character and professionalism you show each day on any part you work on shows. If it’s amiss, don’t do this job.
– “A story should get the time it deserves.” This can be interpreted a few ways: 1) A story gets the air time/play in the print edition/play on the website that it deserves. If it’s a good story, it’ll go Page 1. If not, it won’t. In “60 Minutes,” a story won’t get any play if it isn’t a deep-dive story. 2) A reporter should give a story the time it deserves – you can’t toss together a good story haphazardly or at the last minute “because you can.” Give the story the time it deserves.

One of Fager’s statements best sums up a good attitude toward approaching the news business:

“We don’t have sweeps,” Fager said. “We have every single Sunday.”

-BFC

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