National Press Club

Hard News Key to '60 Minutes' Success

November 17, 2009 | By Gil Klein | gilbert.klein@yahoo.com

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“60 Minutes” has attracted a greater audience because it is emphasizing hard news at the same time that most news programs are going soft, Jeffrey Fager, the show’s executive producer, told host Marvin Kalb at the Nov. 16 Kalb Report.

“Our audience has increased as we have gotten harder,” Fager said. “There’s an appetite out there for hard news, and everyone else is going softer.”

That means the show is doing fewer personality profiles than it has in the past, he said, and more investigative pieces and more analysis of the big breaking news events.

“60 Minutes” has been one of television’s top-rated shows since its inception more than 40 years ago. Kalb brought in Fager and Lesley Stahl, one of the show’s leading reporters, to talk about what makes "60 Minutes" tick.

Stahl said two things are important to the show’s success. First, no reporter is assigned a story he or she is not enthusiastic about doing. And second, reporters approach stories as adventures, and they are bringing the viewer along.

Don Hewitt, the show’s creator and executive producer, told reporters “you have to be in every second of the story,” Stahl said. “You are taking people on this adventure.”

Each correspondent has a team of producers responsible for coming up with story ideas that they glean from calls and letters from the audience and from reading newspapers from around the world, she said.

“Nobody does a story they don’t want to do,” Stahl said. “I don’t know of any other news outlet that is quite like that.”

But Stahl said she was not optimistic that the money would be available for journalism to do this kind of expensive reporting as more and more news outlets are dividing up declining advertising revenue.

“Where is the money going to come from for journalism?” she asked. “For many years the best and the brightest wanted to go into it because they could make a good living from it. I despair for the future of what I do and for journalism in general.”

Hundreds of people packed into the Club’s ballroom and its balconies to watch the show, which will appear on more than 200 public television stations and be heard of Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

The show is co-sponsored by the Club, George Washington University’s Global Media Institute and the Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Affairs at Harvard University.