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Sunday, April 8, 2007

More Q & A with John Roberts

Here are a few more questions from All Things Anderson readers that John Roberts answered.

1)From Carrie M. How do you view the future of television news? The internet has changed so much. Bloggers and online news sites have become many peoples primary source of information. They can get the news they want when they want it. And they can be selective. Where does that leave broadcast journalism?

What I like about the explosion of internet news and blogging is that more and more people are becoming interested in current events and politics. For a number of years, it looked like younger generations were losing touch with the world. I think the more that people are aware of events around them, the better off we are. So I welcome blogs, the Daily Show, internet news, etc. The challenge for us is to give our news programs more context and perspective than people can get from other outlets. I think in the future, you’re going to see a rich synergy between broadcast and the internet. Just look at the way CNN and are integrated.

2) From Lori in Chapel Hill:You have had such an extensive and rich career in television news, not only as a reporter but as an anchor. Of all the historical events you have covered over the past 10 years, is/are there any one or two stories that are most memorable to you?

I think the two most memorable have been Hurricane Katrina and the Israel-Hezbollah war. Katrina, because in a few hours, a city in the United States became no different than the type of scene I’ve witnessed in some of the poorest areas of the world. I don’t have to rehash the whole failure of the federal, state and local governments to respond…you know it well. Suffice it to say it was a real eye-opener for me. Also – my embed during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. We walked into Lebanon – about 10 miles – on an overnight march. Talk about feeling exposed. I was so exhausted, I kept falling asleep for the next three days. But it was an amazing opportunity – for which we won a prestigious Headliner Award.

3) From Sheryn in NJ:What stories have kept you up at night?

Global threats – terrorism. Also human suffering. Oh, and economics. Nothing will keep you awake at night like the thought that your retirement investments could tank..

4) From Megan C., Toronto, CanadaWhat do you find the biggest differences to be between your work for Canadian news outlet programs (i.e. Canada AM, MuchMusic) and American news outlet programs (AC360, Special Investigation Unit, CBS)?

Hi Megan. Great to hear from folks north of the border. The differences between what I do now and MuchMusic are pretty obvious…that was music – and this is news..! But as you know, MuchMusic, and particularly The New Music program that I hosted go deeper than music videos. The New Music was like a Rolling Stone magazine for television. We covered a lot of social and lifestyle issues as well as music. I traveled to Jamaica a few times to trace the emergence of Reggae music – even attending the funeral of Bob Marley – and we went to Trinidad twice to cover Carnival there. Canada AM was fairly close in tone to the American morning shows, though we spent a lot more time on politics. It was almost as if you took one of the Sunday shows like Late Edition and put them on weekday mornings. There’s a tremendous amount of creative energy at CNN. At AC360, David Doss, Kathleen Friery and Jamie Kraft are always pushing the envelope in how to approach news. The folks at Special Investigations Unit are tremendously talented as well. Sometimes they spend months on a special (such as Death Squads) – other times (like Fatal Journey), they can turn something around in a weekend. As I mentioned in one of the above questions, I think there’s less difference overall between the Canadian and American approach to news. I think we’re all pretty much on the same page now. Except…what the heck is a chesterfield?

5) From Cindy:What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while you were reporting in the field?

I think the funniest thing happened last summer during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. We were trying to get into Sheba Farms – which is at the center of the lingering dispute between Israel and Lebanon. We tried several routes, but each time we ran into a road block and were told it was a “closed military area”. Well, we had become famous in Israel for getting into closed areas, so we backtracked, then got onto the patrol road right along the border. Now, that road is lined with motion sensors, cameras, you name it. And it was completely exposed to gunfire from the Lebanese side. Our camera crew was in an SUV – and my producer and I were in a taxi! So – you can imagine the picture….here’s us – in our taxi – traveling along what was probably the most dangerous piece of road in the entire Middle East. We went along the road for about 5 miles, and were just coming up to this really cool village that actually straddles the border. That’s when out of nowhere, three Hummers filled with heavily-armed very pissed-off Israeli soldiers pulled in front of us. Oy vay! There was much shouting on their part – explanations on our part….a lot of back and forth. It turned out they had been following our journey with the sensors and cameras that line the border road. They considered arresting us, but they decided we were too crazy to arrest, so they escorted us out of the area and let us go.

6) From Cassie:How do you decide whether or not to go and report a dangerous story?

It depends on what the level of danger is. If you know that there’s a good chance you or someone else could get killed by covering it, that’s something you want to consider very carefully. That said, Iraq is SO dangerous ALL the time, you’re taking your life in your hands every time you walk out the front door.

7) From Sue from New York:With the advent of cable TV and news available 24/7/365, viewers have become conditioned to immediate access to information, stories and breaking news. Without biting the hand that feeds you (and the hand that signs your paycheck), what's your take on the 24-hour availability of news, and the "quality versus quantity" argument?

Sue – you’re correct. Quantity doesn’t always equal quality. And it’s sometimes frustrating to have to sift through reams of information on line – or on air just to find what you’re looking for. That’s what I like so much about AC360. It really ‘surrounds’ a topic in such a way that you come away with a pretty good understanding of it.

8) From A Viewer in Virginia:How did you end up at CNN? Did you approach them or did they approach you about a job?(Please tell him that he adds much journalistic credibility to CNN.)

Hey, thanks very much for your kind words – CNN really is a terrific place to work. I was the White House Correspondent at CBS before coming here. One day, I ran into CNN President Jon Klein at the White House. He and I had worked together a decade before at CBS. We got together for lunch and started talking about the future. I’d been at CBS for nearly 15 years, it was time for a change and CNN had a great opportunity for me to cover many of the subjects that I love – politics, world affairs, the military. It was a perfect fit – so here I am.

9) From Purple Tie: How do you feel about CNN and other network news shows covering more tabloid news such as Anna Nicole Smith and Brittany Spears? Do you think they put these stories on because people really want to see them or do people really want to see it because it's on so much?

The ratings prove that people want to see those kinds of stories. And I don’t think we should be “above the news”. Everything in balance though.To be honest, I am concerned that many people shun substance. They want to know more about Britney’s breakdown than they do the education bill. And it takes a scandal to get interested in Washington.As a nation, we seem to care less and less about important things – while our global competitors become more serious.Historian Will Durant’s wife Ariel issued a cautionary note – writing: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

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