Spending the summer in Dan Rather’s office

While some college students spent last summer at the pool, on the beach and in the bars, SHSU student Jason Clark spent last summer in New York City, at CBS and in Dan Rathers office. Clark, 21, is the latest recipient of the CBS/Dan Rather internship endowed by SHSU alumni Dan Rather in 1999.Business wise, Mr. Rather was really generous with his time and money, Clark said. He really took extra care to make sure that I felt at home.His home away from home was in East Village, a trendy part of Manhattan, where he shared a suite at a New York University dormitory with an investment bank intern. It was similar to White Hall, Clark said. It had a kitchen and living room area, and I had my own room. The internship was all expenses paid. Clarks only personal expense was, playing around money. However, playing around was peripheral to his work responsibilities.My first week there, I worked exclusively in Dan Rathers office to become acquainted with things, and past that, my time was split between 48 Hours and the CBS Evening News, Clark said.While working for the CBS Evening News, Clark worked for several people, but reported to Senior Producer Terri Belli primarily. We worked mostly on business stories, he said. We covered anything from gas prices to NASDAQwe did it all.While working for 48 Hours, he reported to Executive Producer Susan Zirinsky, whom actor Holly Hunter played in the movie, Broadcast News.Zirinsky is a fantastic lady, Clark said. She goes a mile a minute, and she really taught me a lot. The first day I came to 48 Hours, she met with each and every one of the interns and explained how a newsmagazine works and the challenges it has. He emphasized that because 48 Hours is a one-topic newsmagazine program, as opposed to Dateline or 20/20, thinking up and developing story ideas strong enough to hold viewers attention for the full hour is difficult at best. You get the full monty with 48 Hours, Clark said.Thinking up story ideas was one of Clarks primary responsibilities as an intern.I worked in the research and planning department most of the time at 48 Hours, and this is where you came up with story ideas, Clark said. The research was overwhelming because CBS has special files, and a lot of places dont.Clark had to learn how to be efficient in using the endless research resources available at CBS.I would read papers every dayall kinds of stuff. Often times, I had 50-100 pages of material that I had to read, he said. Sometimes Zirinsky would give me story ideas, and then Id make phone calls. If they sounded credible, then wed talk some more. I also used Lexus Nexus a lot, and if I didnt find anything, I would get on the Internet. A lot of times, we got our stories off the Associated Press lines.Once Clark thought up a story idea, he would have to blue sheet all of his research, a responsibility only a few interns were given.To blue sheet a story meant to condense all the facts into about three paragraphs. Its basically a synopsis of all the research, Clark said. I really had to sell these story ideas to make the producers want to do it.After he completed the blue sheet, he would present it to Producer Kathleen OConnell, the initial person to screen it. If approved, it would go further up the company ladder.I would have to answer questions about ita lot of times detailed questions, like, Whats wrong with this person? Is she crazy? Why would she do something like this? Why would viewers want to listen to this? Clark said.Of all his responsibilities, Clark said writing was the responsibility he felt the most pressure doing.I was dealing with professionals in their own right in their field, and I wanted everything to be grammatically correct as well as coherent and concise. A lot of times, it would be a very complicated story, but I had to jam pack the facts and make them easy to understand and interesting enough to sell to a producer, he said. It takes at least six months for a story to progress, so I wrote probably 10 blue sheets, and any number of those could be in a different process.Clark knew that RTV was a tough business, but one aspect of the real world of journalism that surprised Clark was the level of competition.There is severe competition, he said. You have competition from other networks, and you even have competition within your own network. CBS has several newsmagazine shows like 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II, and you have to compete for ratings. There arent usually a lot of news stories out there, and when there are, you dont want to have to reinvent the wheel, Clark said.With so much competition, the decision for CBS not to cover any Gary Condit stories was a huge risk.Mr. Rather believed that you dont do stories on hearsay, and I totally agree. Theres been a feeding frenzy on this story and not much there, Clark said. CBS is known for its hard news and took a lot of criticism for this decision. Granted, Condit may not be a great guy, but whether or not he had anything to do with Chandra Levys disappearance is a different story.According to Clark, Rather not only mentored him on integrity, but on the fundamentals of being successful in his career.Mr. Rather and I sat down, and he gave me tons of advice as far as how to dress and etiquette and things like that, he said.These one-on-ones with Rather were a highlight of the internship.I liked going on the shoots, the on-location things that [Dan Rather and I] would do. Doing the beginning shots for 48-Hours was cool because Id get to ride around with him, Clark said.In addition to working for Rather and Zirinsky, Clark got to network with other well-known journalists.I met a lot of famous news people like Andy Rooney, Richard Salingerhes one of my favoritesEd Bradley and John Roberts, Clark said.Celebrities he met were not only in the journalism industry, but also in the entertainment industry. Clark took advantage that The Early Show was produced in the same building and regularly had entertainers as part of its lineup. They would have musical groups come in and play songs. The show had a really small stage, so Id just go in there and listen to them, he said.Uncle Kracker and Destinys Child are only a couple of bands he met. Even going out to lunch in Manhattan presented opportunities to meet celebrities.I was getting a sandwich at Food Village, which is right next to CBS, and Matt LeBlanc, who plays Joey on Friends, was there, Clark said.Even if Sam students do not aspire to achieve a very public internship, as is often the case in the television industry, most could think of an ideal internship they would like to get. Clark shared advice on how students can increase the chance of getting the internship they want.Become involved in everything you can, he said. Try to become a well rounded person. Keep your GPA up, too.In contrast to Texas, where the attitude about colleges and universities is too often, bigger is better, Clark emphasized how SHSU provides its students with opportunities that bigger universities do not.I think academically, we can hold up to any school. A lot of people from Texas forget that Sam is a lot more hands-on in contrast to other schools, at least in the RTV department, Clark said. Youre involved as quickly as you want to be as opposed to A & M or UT when its your junior or senior year before you become involved. At Sam, if you want to become involved as a freshman in the news program, you can. You dont always have that opportunity at other schoolsyou can try, but youre not going to.The bigger is better attitude in Texas contrasts the attitude about SHSU at CBS, according to Clark. It is held in high regards at CBS. Theres a whole different attitude because Dan Rather graduated from SHSU. I tell them Im from Sam, and theyre like, Oh, wow! You come from a good school, Clark said. I thought most people there had never heard of it, but almost everyone I spoke to had.Despite his success while at CBS, Clark stayed grounded and was excited to share his plans after his anticipated graduation in May.I got engaged over the Labor Day weekend, he said. Clark has dated his fiance, Nicole OHagan, a SHSU elementary education major, for six years.Clark doesnt know exactly where his career will lead, but he has a clear vision of what he wants to do.I want to stay in Texas, but I want to go where the money goes, he said. Im hoping to work my way up in a smaller market like Bryan-College Station or Waco or some place like that. Im going to send my tapes out there and see what happens.

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