Professional Friday visits 60 minutes and CBS News

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The day began with the rescuing of the purple monster.

Plush, small and clearly lost, he sat slumped in the middle of a cafe table of the Times Warner building. All 16 students attending Stony Brook’s Professional Friday’s trip stared curiously at the creature, who had somehow found himself sitting at breakfast with the group of young, aspiring journalists.

The rescue mission ensued when an approaching mother and her two daughters, her youngest in a stroller and oldest hiding behind it, pointed with great enthusiasm at the precious, purple friend.

“Is this toy yours?” asked Jonathan Sanders, a journalism professor at Stony Brook University who helped to cultivate Professional Fridays.

The oldest girl looked fearfully at the crowd before her, then slowly smiled and stared at her shoes while her mother took the monster away, thanking us for keeping safe watch over him during his unscheduled time away.

And as the lost, purple monster parted ways, Sanders announced that it come time for the group to depart as well. With great haste, everybody grabbed their bags, backpacks and reporters notebooks and headed to 57th street for their adventure: a tour of 60 Minutes and CBS News.

Walking over, students expressed high hopes and nervous jitters for meeting with some of the world’s best journalists.

“I’m a senior and this is my first Professional Friday’s trip, so it’s kind of exciting,” said senior, Sarah Elsesser.

To every New Yorker, the 60 Minutes building looks like any other gray, grimy skyscraper in the concrete jungle, but inside it is anything but ordinary. Offices line the building floor, as employees and editors type hastily away at their keyboards.

Everyone was lead into the screening room, a conference space where the 60 Minutes team views and critiques each story before it can air. Sound absorbing wall panels silenced the room, but as Sanders put it, “If these walls could talk there would be dents.”

Jeff Fager, former Chairman of CBS News and current Executive Producer, greeted the group with a soft spoken but authoritative hello, and an introduction like no other: a story about how he just got back from dinner in Russia and arm wrestling with Vladimir Putin. Jaws dropped, pencils scribbled on notepads, and everybody was smitten. These are the stories journalist want to be a part of.

Fager went on for the next hour taking questions and explaining the magic behind 60 Minutes. Interestingly, for being the most successful television broadcast in history it doesn’t follow any of the broadcast journalism styles.

“You don’t hear the words ‘news speak’ around here,” said Fager. “We want to cover something interesting that sucks the people in. We want to tell a story.”

And for drawing an average of 12.2 million views per week, they better be some damn good stories. Fager said that 60 Minutes is unique in how they cover stories, but the secret is all in the approach.

“We want to find the angle that nobody has touched,” said Fager. ”People say it’s impossible to do stories about business or finance; we love to! We love difficult.”

Conveniently located directly across the street from 60 Minutes is the studio for the CBS morning and evening news. The CBS newsroom is the true hive of the news organization. Similar to the layout of Stony Brook Newsroom, small cubicles can be seen overflowing with papers, computer screens lit up with various news websites, and reporters on phones discussing what could be the next big story to go on the show.

Professional Friday’s gives students the opportunity to be immersed in the reality of what they are working towards.

Here, walking through the CBS Newsroom, students can see how similar their schoolwork is to work in a full-blown news organization. An experience that can only be described as both inspiring and humbling.

Everybody then re-gathered in the CBS cafeteria where students got to speak with former Stony Brook University students Dahlia Ibrahim, Emily Heller and Arielle Dollinger.

It was a range of critical knowledge and advice about things such as what students should look for when applying to jobs, what to expect on your first day, about starting local or going big and to plan for irregular working hours. It was the kind of information you can only know from experience, and some of the best kind to pass down.

“I got a lot of advice from the alumni,” said junior journalism major Nikita Ramos. “They knew the struggles of interning and working and could give advice for the future for jobs and internships.”

One of the biggest surprises of the day came when students were leaving CBS and bumped into CBS evening news anchor, Scott Pelley, who was walking into the building, coffee in hand, like it was any other day.

“Jon, how are ya?” Pelley shook hands with Professor Sanders and exchanged a few words while the crowd of students stood wide-eyed and star-stuck.

Pelley said that these journalism trips were a great experience and that student journalist have an important job to full fill.

“The world needs good journalists right now,” Pelley said.

The day ended with a trip to the Ernest Hemingway display at the Morgan Library for a quick dinner and tour of the writer’s work. Student’s explored the original copies of notes, while talking in hushed tones about the day, still soaking everything in.

“I originally liked CBS so going inside of CBS really opened my eyes to what broadcasting really was like and it really inspired me to my pursue my career in journalism,” said freshman journalism major Dorothy Mai.

“My parents are both journalists so I grew up seeing it and I can’t think of anything else I’d want to do,” said freshman journalism and political science major Rebecca Liebson. “I saw how much fun my dad has had at work and it’s just such a fun job. You don’t work nine to five hours and get to learn news things all the time and meet new people. It’s just exciting and out of the ordinary.”

Written by Emily Benson 

Photos by Christopher Cameron, Julio Avila and Dorothy Mai 

Student quotes gathered by Dyondra Wilson