Q&A with Lesley Stahl

Veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl will be the keynote speaker at the annual League Club luncheon on February 23 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. What follows is a “web extra” of edited excerpts from Stahl’s recent interview with NI. For the full story, pick up the February 2018 issue of Naples Illustrated.

NI: What are some of the takeaways from the research you did for your book Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting?

Stahl: I heard about a community called Hope Meadows in Illinois. I was intrigued by it and ended up writing a whole chapter on it because it was so spectacular. It was about a community for foster children who were being adopted and they had to take all the siblings in a foster care situation and adopt them for life. In exchange, they would get a beautiful house and live in a neighborhood where everybody else in the neighborhood also adopted children out of the foster care system who had been shunting from one family to another. The women who started this program ended up with excess housing, so she invited senior citizens who wanted to downsize from their big houses to live in these smaller houses in this community. The seniors came organically and naturally [became] the surrogate grandparents of these children. Some came with health issues and the more they got involved with these children’s lives, the more the health issues resolved themselves. One man was given a couple of months to live and he lived for 15 years.

 Have you done a piece on Hope Meadows?

There was a story on 60 Minutes II when it just started [many years ago]. It has been such a success they have opened other similar communities, one [Bridge Meadows] in Portland, Oregon and the woman was about to start one in Washington, DC and another around New Orleans. It’s catching on.

For people who don’t understand how 60 Minutes is put together, what can you share from behind the scenes?

There are quite a few people who work on one 60 Minutes piece. Let’s say a producer comes to me with a story idea and I like it, then the producer does a lot of research, finds the right people, and has to persuade them to do the interview. The producer and associate producer then write a paper [on the proposed story] that the boss looks at and approves or doesn’t approve.

When we travel, it’s two producers, four camera crew, and me. After filming is complete, the producer and an editor together look at every single thing we shot. The producer does an outline and tries to work out a narrative. Finally, I see the outline and, in some cases, a full script and we work on it together and edit it.

Then we have to show it to the boss and his lieutenants. It’s like going in for an oral exam for a Ph.D.! They sit at a table and criticize the piece and ask a lot of questions. It’s an excellent process. There’s a person who reads the transcript of every single interview we do for every single story. Her job is to makes sure that all the answers go with the question, that you don’t have a question and then find an answer somewhere else in the interview. Secondly, the person gets to say what he or she intended to say—the essence of their argument can’t be distorted through editing. That’s her job and she does it for every single piece that goes on 60 Minutes. It’s a big job and it’s to maintain our high standards. We make sure we’re being fair to everyone we interview. Almost always, there are things we need to change out of that screening because of the critique. Then, we bring it back for a second screening and do it all over again. If there are any legal issues, CBS lawyers come to that second screening. Sometimes our pieces are too long and need to be shortened. Sometimes people we’ve interviewed have to be cut out of the piece, which is very frustrating. When it is finally approved, we have a whole studio that tapes our introductions, puts all the pieces together, and equalizes the sound. The average time from inception to getting it on the air is probably two months, but there’s no specific timeframe. If it’s really timely we can turn it one day.

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