Equipped with a Temple ‘T’ bow tie, Charles Osgood, a CBS anchor and syndicated radio commentator, visited Main Campus today to receive this year’s Excellence in the Media Award. After receiving the award, an annual honor by the School of Communications and Theater, at a luncheon in Mitten Hall, Osgood visited Annenberg Hall to offer some words of advice for aspiring media professionals.
Osgood ran a casual question-and-answer session, touching on topics from the feared demise of traditional journalism to his narration of the Dr. Seuss-inspired film, “Horton Hears a Who!” After the event, The Temple News, alongside Temple Update the Daily News, sat down to ask Osgood some more questions.
Temple Update: This is obviously not your first award. How is this one different than awards you’ve won in the past?
Charles Osgood: In the last couple of years, most of the awards I’ve gotten have been for lifetime achievement. When you start getting these lifetime achievement awards it means the end is near – you’ve already had your lifetime. But I’m in the process of signing up for another three years on CBS for television and Westwood One for radio.
The Temple News: Many of the students listening to you speak in the atrium today expressed a lot of anxiety about the changes taking place in media today…
CO: There’s a lot of anxiety in the media too. Whether you’re working for the newspaper, magazine or broadcast, the environment has become more difficult. Part of this is because of the competition. Another part is because the business model for television networks and radio stations has changed. The Internet is one of the main reasons for this change but the internet hasn’t figured out how to monetize yet. Nobody can say with precision what things will look like 20 years from now but if you can tell a story, know how to write and can recognize a story when you hear one and write it under deadline, there will always be room for you. And the people who really do it well will be rewarded.
Daily News: You’ve inspired a lot of journalists, myself included. Do you have any journalists that you’ve found inspiring throughout your career?
CO: Yes, and I didn’t have to look very far. I’ve been working for CBS which means that my head’s been bitten off by Walter Cronkite himself. Charles Kuralt is my real hero and the fact that I succeeded him on CBS Sunday Morning surpassed my wildest dreams. To me it was simply magic the way he could tell a story. He just had a tremendous gift for saying what he had to say. You had a sense that he was really talking to you and not just reading a script.
TU: What advice do you have for all the students downstairs who would like to be in the position you are currently in?
CO: I don’t think there is any way you can guarantee yourself that. But the business is changing so that there might be a position that’s perfect for you when you’re ready to step up and do it. You can’t be wonderful all the time. But if at least you have some sense from yourself and from the feedback you get of whether you’ve hit the nerve you’ve been trying to hit with a story, you’ll be ok.
TTN: The Osgood files have very tight writing and a very unique voice. What advice could you give to aspiring journalists to help them develop a voice of their own?
CO: First of all, if you do listen to somebody and you think their style is compelling and you’d like to have some of that quality – don’t do it by trying to imitate them. I substituted sometimes for Lowell Thomas when I first started working at the CBS network. The script was written by somebody who was writing for Lowell Thomas. I ended up sounding like an imitation of Lowell Thomas – how could I not? You have to be yourself. But you have to have enough of a dramatic sense to ensure that it doesn’t sound like it’s read. You have to look away from the camera so that you’re not staring down the person you’re talking to. Also, you have to give yourself time to think, even if the words are there for you. You have to hit the word as if you’d just thought of it. You’ll sound more like somebody actually talking.
DN: Do you consider yourself more of a storyteller or a journalist?
CO: I’m not sure I know what the difference is. The journalist is dealing in real events, so obviously the first priority is to avoid ‘improving’ the story by coloring it too much. But you have to understand what part of the story is a story and what part is just a recitation of notes. You can read the telephone book – it’s full of names and words but it doesn’t have any weight to it. What you’re looking for is ‘why are we telling this story at all?’ Every story is an example of something. Ask yourself what your story is an example of.
TU: What your favorite story you’ve ever done?
CO: I’ve done so many stories. I have four radio shows a day. The reason they’re so tight is that they’re so short. I have a colleague that says that the first thing you want to write is the opening sentence. How do you want to start this off? Then the very next step is to write the last thing you want to say. Each story is an example of a larger ongoing story.
TTN: As a young person, I’ve never watched network news. When I watched YouTube clips of past CBS Sunday Morning newscasts, I felt like I was born a generation too late. Your broadcasts gave me a sense that a whole American community was coming together to celebrate the positives. Do you feel a sense of loss seeing today’s media becoming more fragmented?
CO: Well I hope not. Our ratings are quite good. All the other Sunday morning programs are centered on Washington. And a lot of it is some variation of yelling. Anger and certainty that you’re right and your opponent’s wrong. I think politicians and media are told how to be these days. That should change. Instead of cobbling together a coalition that will get you electoral votes, say what you think. And at least open up a possibility of seeing the other person’s side. I think that’s why our Sunday morning program consistently beats all the other morning talk shows combined – they’re all talking about the same thing, we’re talking about something else.
DN: Do you think it’s ever possible to run out of stories to talk about?
CO: No. The news is wonderful that way. It refreshes itself every single day. There are always slow news days. But sometimes I like them better because there’s no one saying ‘well you have to do that story.’
TU Update: How did you get involved in ‘Horton Hears a Who!’?
CO: I was having lunch one day and the guy handling the phones ran up and said, ‘You’ve got a call from 20th Century Fox. They want you to narrate this movie – ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ They want to know the name of your agent.’ So I gave them the name of my agent and the two of them made a deal. But somebody who was working on the movie came up with this idea. This is not something that my agent came up with. That’s why he’s no longer my agent.
Carl O’Donnell can be reached at carl.o’firstname.lastname@example.org.