There are various reasons as to why we go into journalism. We pursue this work because it is a calling, because we have the ability to make a difference for the common good, and ultimately because we believe that the power of the written word or the broadcast segment evokes the ability to impact the civil discourse of our society.
We do this not for fame or for fortune, but for the ability to know that the work we are doing is making a difference, no matter what we cover.
The same rule applied to Morley Safer, the longtime CBS News correspondent synonymous with the program 60 Minutes. Safer died Thursday in New York, days after announcing he would be retiring from the network after 46 years on 60 Minutes, and over half a century with CBS itself. He was 84.
Safer did 919 stories for 60 Minutes over the course of his tenure, some associated with the currency of events, others to paint a portrait of the world and what makes it tick, in addition to its effervescent qualities. There were certain elements that became quintessential hallmarks of a Safer story for a viewer — from the language he used to the picture he wanted to paint, to what Canadian journalist Peter Mansbridge described as the broad picture, the world view, in an interview with Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC.
These were elements that were signature of Safer’s work, especially on 60 Minutes, whether it was his 1979 interview with actress Katharine Hepburn or his 1991 visit to France, to examine the global health effects of the country’s food culture.
His interviews were different compared to others one would see. He humanized personal interviews with celebrities, asked questions of key events here and abroad, but most notably, left us thought-provoking images and thoughts about how the world, and its key personalities, work.
Safer, born in Toronto, and who worked for Reuters, as well as CBC, before joining CBS in 1964, yet said that he was never comfortable being on television. For Safer, one suspects the story trumps the medium to which it is seen, and that the quality of the story is the only thing that matters.
This industry continues to change, and new platforms continue to become available beyond broadcasting and newspapers. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are becoming hubs for content. Yet, through all of the changes, there is one fundamental reason journalism continues to prevail. There’s always room for a good story, and that good storytelling remains the core ethos of journalism. Good storytelling can change anything.
The stories will continue, and though we will never again see a new story by Safer, he has left a prolific insight into how a good story should be.
He also gave us a reminder to us all, that in spite of the changes to come, journalism is still fundamental to society, and it is worth preserving, not just today, but every day.
Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism.
The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.