2012 Scholarship Luncheon with Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News and Executive Producer,
February 17, 2012
Click here for YouTube videos of the event.
by Aimee Vitrak
At a time when the journalism industry is faced with bad news daily, the OPC Foundation Scholarship Luncheon provided some good news and even optimism as it celebrated 14 students who aim to become tomorrow's foreign correspondents. Each scholar had the opportunity to explain to everyone in attendance at the annual Scholarship Luncheon at the Yale ballroom the stories they have already told and the stories they'd like to pursue in places like Mumbai, the Chinese countryside, Uganda, Ghana and Jerusalem. On the morning after the announcement of Anthony Shadid's death in Syria, the Scholarship Luncheon on February 17 was an opportunity for the journalism community to gather, reflect and regroup. The scholars' enthusiasm for the craft of storytelling served as a reminder for how people are pulled into journalism, and why the pursuit of the truth might be a cause worth the risk.
Last year's keynote speaker Charles M. Sennott, executive editor of GlobalPost, led the luncheon like a coach at halftime, calling Shadid, whom he had worked with at the Boston Globe the greatest Middle East correspondent of our generation and went on to buoy the audience's spirits. "His death is a time to take stock and as editors to be incredibly vigilant about those who we send out in the field…and prepare our correspondents to work safely." He asked for a moment of silence in honor of Shadid.
OPC Foundation President William J. Holstein then began the scholarship presentation by saying the luncheon and awards served as a career starting place for many of the winners who had two days of networking opportunities at a reception hosted by Reuters for current and past winners at its Time Square headquarters the night before the luncheon. On the morning of the luncheon, scholars met with veteran international journalists at a breakfast hosted by Holstein. Then there's the luncheon itself, which had more than 200 people in attendance many of whom are on the hunt for an ambitious scholar for an internship or foreign posting. After the luncheon, scholars mingled with journalism luminaries like Jeff Fagerand Charlie Rose and business cards and promises of Facebook friending flew. The winners then toured the Associated Press. "We are launching careers here today," Holstein said.
The scholars thank you speeches were inspiring and left many in the audience in awe of the languages they speak, including the language of technology with one scholar, Lauren Rosenfeld from the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, able to produce stories across all "platforms," meaning video, writing and multimedia, or what's known as the modern-day journalism triple threat.
Sophia Jones of George Washington University began her interest in journalism at the age of 16 in Nepal where she worked for a local publication. It was there, she said, that she understood for the first time that "war has many faces, not just men with machine guns," when she witnessed a Nepalese girl hiding from gunmen.
Catherine Ryan Gregory of the University of Oregon said she liked telling a larger story through a smaller one as she learned after seven weeks in Ghana where she wants to return this summer and eventually publish a book about witchcraft around the world and how it reflects on women's rights. Georgia Wells of Stanford University said she returned to Egypt this winter after writing her essay for the OPC Scholarship and went to Tahir Square where the population has changed from students to eight-year-old boys, one of whom told her that now was the "most noble" time in his life.
Lauren E. Bohn from American University in Cairo gave an appropriate quote from legendary "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt by including in her speech, "we don't do stories on the issues, we do stories on the people caught up in the issues." Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News and Executive Producer of "60 Minutes," invoked that same quote during his keynote address. Fager said that being based overseas was the "best job in my CBS career and the most important opportunity of my career. The second best was landing at '60 Minutes' as a producer. I was confident, maybe a little cocky, and went to Executive Editor Phil Scheffler looking for a raise. He suggested I should start looking for another job." He called Scheffler and Bill Owens who is now Executive Editor, tough. "You need to be [tough] in that job."
An award-winning journalist in his own right, Fager became the first chairman of CBS News a year ago after more than 30 years of experience at every stage of the TV news business, including 15 years at the executive producer level, seven of those at the helm of "60 Minutes." He has helped to usher in an international news renaissance at CBS News and said he believes if fascinating stories are produced, the audience will follow.
The award winners later met with foreign editors and toured The Associated Press headquarters in New York City.