Professor Sam Roberts believes there are certain essentials his students need to know before beginning a career in journalism.
“I believe that the foundation for all journalism, whether it is print or broadcast, or the Internet or whatever, is two things: writing and reporting – everything else is distribution,” said Roberts.
The central focus of Roberts’ classes in broadcast journalism is cultivating an understanding of the fundamentals that are at the core of good reporting.
“What I try to do is give them a foundation in the way it should be done,” he said. “I always give them a lecture that ‘I’m teaching you the way they teach classical music.'” According to Roberts, if a person knows how to play Beethoven, he can play anything.
Beginning his career in journalism with United Press International, Roberts joined CBS News full-time in late 1962. In 1967, he became producer and later senior producer for CBS Evening News with Walter Kronkite, a post he held until Kronkite’s final broadcast on Mar. 6, 1981.
Roberts continued to serve in a variety of senior positions at CBS, including news national editor and foreign editor. In 1991, he directed the effort to secure the release of four CBS journalists captured by the Iraqi army. It took six weeks of extreme tension for his efforts to prove successful.
Roberts retired from CBS in 1995 and in 1996 became the vice president and general manager of television programming at the New York Times. He joined the faculty of the School of Communication in 1999.
Being successful in a highly competitive profession is a goal of Roberts’ lectures.
“I am training my students so they can compete with people who have two to three years experience,” he said. “Somebody who can show a potential employer that they have the journalistic skills, writing skills, reporting skills and performance skills will do well in this business.”
That very day, Roberts received a call from a former student who had just been hired by a major news organization over people with three or four years’ experience.
“That really made me feel good,” he said.
Looking back on his career, working with the legendary Walter Kronkite was what influenced Roberts the most.
“[Kronkite] was a tough, competitive editor and he demanded that we do better than the other guys,” Roberts said. “We had a certain spirit about that organization, that staff of that broadcast, that has really shaped my way of operating.”
Motioning to the wall behind him and the career mementos adorning it, Roberts expressed the core message he wants to convey to his students.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” he says. “If I can be out there watching guys go to the moon or watch historical events like the Civil Rights movement. . . you can do it – so get out there.”
Scott Wacholtz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.