Posts Tagged ‘60 Minutes’


The legacy of Morley Safer

CBS News correspondent Morley Safer, seen here in 2010, died Thursday in New York. (Photo: Charles Bogel/US National Archives/Flickr)

CBS News correspondent Morley Safer, seen here in 2010, died Thursday in New York. (Photo: Charles Bogel/US National Archives/Flickr)

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. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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.

Sean Penn and a journalist’s identity

Sean Penn, interviewed Jan. 17 by CBS about his Rolling Stone article, raised an indirect question about the role of a journalist. (Photo: Sachyn Mital/Wikimedia Commons/CC license)

Sean Penn, interviewed Jan. 17 by CBS about his Rolling Stone article, raised an indirect question about the role of a journalist. (Photo: Sachyn Mital/Wikimedia Commons/CC license)

On a Thursday night in Santa Monica, California, Charlie Rose sat across from Sean Penn, cameras rolling. Penn was being interviewed for a 60 Minutes segment on CBS (which aired January 17th) discussing his Rolling Stone article on Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, the drug kingpin who was recaptured by marines in Mexico after escaping from a jail in that country.

Penn was under criticism for that article about the journalistic conduct that surrounded it, particularly the issue of allowing Guzman to approve the article before publication, an issue raised by my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chairman Andrew Seaman.

Penn said his article had failed because his story became the lead story, and expressed his concerns to Rose on the state of journalism in the United States.

“I’m really sad about the state of journalism in our country,” Penn said. “It has been an incredible hypocrisy and an incredible lesson in just how much they don’t know and how disserved we are.  [There are] journalists who want to say that I’m not a journalist. Well, I want to see the license that says that they’re a journalist.”

While Penn received a severe rebuke from the journalism community for his conduct (a rebuke even I would agree with), Penn indirectly raised the matter of the identity of journalists in the digital age, a debate that has been ongoing since the founding of the internet, and one that continues in an age where the influence of social media continues to make a profound influence on journalism and its future.

In the digital age, the line between news and comment, objectivity and activism, has been blurred. The pages of the internet contain a mixture of content from news organizations who have spent decades in trying to build a trustful rapport with audiences, as well as others who have an opinion and interests, and can use the medium of the web to express them, either through blogs or through web sites.

There are people who will argue that Sean Penn is a journalist, and that what he did sparked a conversation on an important subject. I agree with the latter — Penn did spark a conversation about the issue of drugs, but he only did so because he is who he is, not because he is a journalist.

What is necessary for our democracy to thrive is the need for journalists and the ability to practice our crafts, and to present both sides of the story, to provide an impartial picture on the stories that audiences, whether in the US or abroad, want and need to know about, to help them cope better. What also is necessary is the ability for people to stand up and say what they believe in, to invoke conversation, to analyze, and to ponder where the future leads. Indeed, the debate on who is a journalist and the broader role of journalism will continue, long after this story disappears from the headlines, and I welcome that debate.

However, for such a debate to take place is the necessity of the facts, not one fact, nor two, but all of them. Penn is more than welcome to make his views on the issue of drugs known, but if he is to report on it, he needs the facts to paint that picture, irrespective of how the subject will feel.

To quote C.P. Scott, an editor of the Guardian newspaper in Britain, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” That is my philosophy when it comes to reporting. Perhaps Penn should adopt it too.

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. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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.

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