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Schieffer's Victory Lap and Some Other Stuff



When I first heard about author James Frey's problems with all the fiction piled into his non-fiction memoir, I thought of CBS anchor Bob Schieffer.

Not because Schieffer's been making up Bush quotes during his stint as interim anchor on the CBS Evening News -- although, if you're reading this Bob, feel free (note to the humorless: this is just a joke). It's because, when the 69-year-old anchor sat own to do HIS memoir, This Just In, he went back and interviewed more than 80 people to make sure he got all the details right.

I caught up with Schieffer last week to interview him for a story Friday on his one-year anniversary as Dan Rather's replacement (read my take on why he should stay on the show at least another year or two here), and we wound up talking about that very issue.

"That's good recall on your part -- I had not planned to do much reporting on that. I thought, I'm going to mostly tell stories about me. But as I got into it, I started to check my own version of things, I started calling people up - I wound up doing 85 formal interviews for that. It not only gave the book much more texture than it would have had otherwise, it gave me a chance to reconnect with people. The fact is, you can't trust your own memory any more than you can trust anyone else that tells you something because people forget things. (For the book), I once spent one whole afternoon with Eugene McCarthy. He could barely speak above a whisper, but he had total recall. He was just as funny as he had ever been, he hated Bobby Kennedy as much as he ever did...It was a great experience. The fun of reporting is not always writing the story, it's being out there and seeing it.''

Another question I had: in a recent column for CBS' media blog Public Eye, I noted he seemed a little uncomfortable introducing Assignment America, a new feature where the audience would help pick feature reporter Steve Hartman's stories. His reply:

"I think the jury's still out on that. These pieces he's been doing are terrific. I worry whether giving viewers three choices -- I wonder if we need to do that. I wonder if people think it's a little gimmicky. We thought we'd try it for a while, and it might be fun. I know one thing, we're going to keep Steve Hartman doing just the kinds of pieces he's been doing. Whether we're going to change how he gets his assignments, is still something to be decided. He's just a great storyteller -- and we want to take advantage of that, but we want to make sure we showcase it in the right way. We're looking for ways we can interact with our viewers. But what I don't want, is...I don't want the fact that we're telling people to vote and all that kind of thing, to ever overshadow the kinds of pieces he's doing.''

The part where we talk about the whole anchor thing will run in tomorrow's Floridian.

Shout Out to My Times Colleagues

We're hitting the time when major journalism awards are being announced, and some friends of mine at the time have done well. Feature writers Kelly Benham and Lane DeGregory, photographer John Pendygraft and our Jennifer Porter series were recognized in the National Headliner Awards bestowed by the Press Club of Atlantic City. The Associated Press Sports Editors also recognized Damian Cristodero, Lou Hau, Gary Shelton and Marc Topkin. Congrats, dudes.

Nerissa Prest Has Left the Building

Those insominiacs checking out WFLA-Ch. 8's weekend newscast will note that co-anchor Nerissa Prest is gone; Sunday was her last day at the station. Prest supposedly left the building out of frustration that she couldn't get a shot at anchoring weekdays.

WFLA certainly has an odd setup in its anchor ranks. All the people of color who anchor at the station are stuck in the weekend jobs, in part because Ch. 8's lineup of weekday faces hasn't changed in many years. Top anchors Bob Hite and Gayle Sierens have been WFLA employees for 29 years, and have anchored the station's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts for 21 years.

Every so often you hear rumors one or the other is about to retire, but they have no clear successors -- backup anchors Keith Cate and Stacie Schiable aren't nearly as popular -- and with local news viewership in such a freefall, no executive wants to be the guy who split up Bob and Gayle and cost WFLA its Number One status in the market.

Unfortunately, that makes WFLA the only station which doesn't have a person of color anchoring during the week, with all of its minority anchors in weekend jobs. (I once wrote about how the phenomenon of minority anchors getting stuck on weekend duty is pervasive enough in the industry that folks sometimes call those shifts the "weekend ghetto.")

Personally, I'd love to see weekend guy Josh Thomas move to weekdays alongside Schiable. That would give WFLA a chance to try some new faces on the weekend and add new blood to a seriously stagnant anchor lineup.

But as long as WFLA maintains its precarious lead in the ratings, they'll be far too cautious to try anything so risky.

Bubba Holds His Tongue

He's known for being one of radio's biggest bad boys, but folks representing Bubba the Love Sponge have admitted that the threat of litigation will keep him from loosing a bombshell he's promised since debuting on Sirius satellite radio in January: the dirty laundry on his former bosses at Clear Channel Radio.

The Sponge stopped by WSUN-FM (97X) this morning, in a highly-hyped appearance the Cox-owned station billed as Bubba's farewell to his fans on traditional radio. But the station had also promised some dish on Clear Channel, thinking that the Feb. 28 expiration of Bubba's severance payments would free him up to talk trash.

But Clear Channel begged to differ, sending a letter to the station asserting that Bubba will never have the right to disparage them in public. Unwilling to deal with the kind of legal battle a deep-pocketed radio conglomerate can muster, Bubba's reps have conceded that he's probably not going to say anything harsh in public about the company that fired him and nearly destroyed his career.

Guess that rebel spirit only goes so far when big dollars are at stake.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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