Bob Schieffer, CBS chief Washington correspondent and anchor and moderator of Face The Nation, spoke Tuesday in the Hutchinson (Kan.) Sports Arena as the first speaker of the 2009 Ray and Stella Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College.
I was there, and I was quite impressed.
Schieffer displayed a great, personable demeanor.
He was open and honest and didn’t shy away from any questions that didn’t involve the legal case of Dan Rather, which involves Rather suing CBS on claims CBS made the anchor a scapegoat on his discredited President George W. Bush war service story.
His openness was most apparent during the press conference that was a prelude to the day’s lecture.
When I arrived with HCC journalism instructor Alan Montgomery, Schieffer, who will be 72 as of Feb. 25, was already chatting away with several high school journalists waiting for the press conference to begin.
Schieffer told the students that they should go into journalism, or any career field, because they enjoy it and it makes them happy.
“Pick out something you really like to do,” he said.
For Schieffer, journalism makes him happy because he said it “is just so much fun.”
In the way of reporting advice, Schieffer also had suggestions for the students and all the journalists in the room.
Schieffer said to always ask the obvious question and never assume you know what someone is going to say, don’t try to impress readers by writing in flowery language but instead you simple and declarative sentences, and if the writing process is become a struggle it probably means more reporting needs to be done.
That’s great advice, and it is incredibly accurate.
He then shared a few stories about his adventures in journalism.
My favorite story he told was about when the mother of Lee Harvey Oswold called the newspaper he was working at and asked for a ride to the airport because she thought her son had just shot President J.F. Kennedy.
He gave her the ride, but the law enforcement prevented him from fully getting the story.
The lesson he learned from that, Shieffer said to everyone at the press conference, was simple: always answer the phone.
Of course, he also fielded several questions from reporters about where the media is heading considering so many newspapers are hurting financially.
“We’re in the midst of a communications revolution,” he said.
Schieffer said he felt things were heading towards the online world and news organizations needed to be working in that direction, but he was quick add that blogs don’t necessarily count because anyone can post anything to the Internet via a blog, most of the time while the writer is in his or her pajamas.
“You simply must get your news from more than one source,” he said.
Schieffer also said that regardless of where the media went, he was confident the press would always exist because in a democracy the press gives citizens another news source other than the government so said citizens can decide what is true by allowing for comparisons.
“There will always be a need for reporting,” he said. “There will always be a need for accurate information.”
Again, that is a great sentiment. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I love journalism and the work journalists do.
It is a necessary part of our country.
As a journalism nerd, I was overjoyed with the opportunity to hear Schieffer speak, especially he was explaining and promoting how important journalism is, and I got my picture taken with him.
The day wasn’t over yet, though, because then I got to listen to Schieffer’s lecture, which I recorded on video.
The footage can be viewed online at www.voiceofthevogts.com.
After Montgomery introduced him, Schieffer gave a lecture that was about 40 minutes long.
His speech was great, and it focused on the latest election cycle.
He gave great insight into President Barack Obama’s win and why Arizona Sen. John McCain wasn’t able to pull of the victory.
Schieffer said McCain had a hard battle to fight because it is the nature of the country to want something different after eight years, so McCain had little chance to win that elusive third term for the Republicans.
Of course, Schieffer also gave credit to Obama for reaching out and attracting a younger sect of voters.
The fact he was making history was also probably on Obama’s side.
“We didn’t just see an election,” Schieffer said during the press conference. “We saw a historic moment of this country.”
As Schieffer pointed out during the press conference, the proof of how electric Obama’s election was in the fact there was only one arrest made in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day, while several people were arrest during the Super Bowl, which had thousands few in attendance compared to the inauguration.
During his lecture, Schieffer compared the election of this country’s first black president to his scariest reporting experience, which was in 1962 when he covered a race riot on a college campus.
“We’ve come a long way in less than my lifetime,” Schieffer said about the United States during the press conference.
Following the rousing lecture, Schieffer then had lunch with the Dillon Lecture Series donors.
I followed the flock over to the luncheon site and peeked in the door as everyone took their seat.
Since I probably looked quite sad looking at everyone eating lunch, I was granted admission and given an empty seat that had a plate in front of it.
I snapped a few photos and recorded everything Schieffer said during the ensuing luncheon question-and-answer session.
You can listen to the audio from the luncheon online at www.voiceofthevogts.com.
Many of the questions asked by the luncheon patrons mirrored those in the press conference, so there is not sense in recapping them here (just give the audio piece a listen).
One thing did become incredibly clear, though, as Schieffer talked about politics and the policy changes he would like to see: the man is sharp and knows Washington, D.C., quite well.
I was amazed at how much knowledge he has about the world of national politics and law making.
He was able to discuss issues such as the Electoral College and his support for certain Constitutional amendments like it was nothing.
Besides being a journalism nerd, I moonlight as a political junkie.
I was fascinated by everything Schieffer had to say.
At almost 72 years old, Schieffer is still, as the mantra we were taught in journalism school goes, on fire for journalism and every story he reports on.
He loves what he is doing, and hearing people like him speak gives me hope.
Regardless of income, a person truly can be rich with happiness if the right career is chosen.
I’ve got journalism, so I’m set.
I hope everyone is as lucky, and I’m very glad I got to hear Schieffer speak.
Last time I had an opportunity like this, I screwed it up by electing to go to classes at Wichita State University.
It’s OK, though.
Schieffer satiated by journalist-giving-speech appetite . . . for now.
Here is an unedited audio file of the question-and-answer session Schieffer held during the luncheon following his lecture: BobSchieffer.mp3.
Here is his lecture, unedited video of which I recorded in two parts:
Here are a few more photos from the day: