Gary Tuchman Interviews With AC360 Review
Did you always have aspirations to go into the news business? If you weren’t in this field, what do you think you would be doing?
There were only two jobs I ever really wanted to have. One was a television journalist. The other was a major league baseball player. The one I thought I was better at I ended up doing. But I do stop in any batting cages I see as I travel on the job!
As a field correspondent, when you arrive on the scene of an incident such as the recent tornado in Greensburg or the Virginia Tech shooting, what’s your process for getting a story? About how big is your team and what do they do?
When we cover breaking news stories like the shooting at Virginia Tech or the Kansas tornado, the first thing we want to do is get a handle on what we are dealing with. We want to have some time to report on the ground before we go on air to tell our viewers what is going on. These stories are tremendously sad, but also complex and we want to make sure we have the facts right. The tragedy at Virginia Tech was a huge story; and because of that, we at CNN at one point had 180 employees on the ground. When it comes to major stories, we are almost like an army. I've never known of a journalistic organization that can "bring in the troops" so quickly and efficiently.
About how long does it take to complete a story from start to finish, and do you only focus on one at a time or work on several at once? What goes on behind the scenes when we don’t see you on the air for a few days?
My friends and relatives ask me this question all the time too, and the answer varies. There are some stories that we start working on that can be on the air in just a couple of hours. But there are other more complicated stories that we work on for weeks or months. I just worked on a story about a former priest accused of committing a murder in 1960. We had to work slowly and deliberately on the story to make sure we got the known facts just right and it took many weeks to put it together. So, when you don't see me on the air, it's usually because I'm researching or shooting a story.
What would you say have been the most notable changes in the news business since you started at CNN in 1990?
The technology has changed so much in this business. HDTV, the way we edit, the size of our cameras, our portable broadband live units are just some of those changes that have made broadcast journalism so much more interesting and exciting. What hasn't changed (at least for us) are the standards we need to reach to put a news story on the air. As a matter of fact, that bar has only been raised higher. We have an entire department at CNN just devoted to making sure our stories are fair. That's in addition to the lawyers and editors who check our stories.
Do you like breaking news or feature-type stories better, and what are the different challenges in covering both?
Nothing gets your adrenaline flowing like covering a breaking news story. What's gratifying about working at CNN is that you know that when there's huge news, most of the viewers will be turning to us. So you feel a strong sense of responsibility to get that breaking news on the air correctly and fairly. That being said, I like feature stories too because it allows you to be creative in a way that is often not easy to do with a "down and dirty" breaking news stories.
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you on a story? What has been your most fun story to cover?
One of the stranger things to happen to me occurred when I was in Afghanistan. I am an avid roller-blader, and when I travel, I bring my skates with me. I wanted to skate in Afghanistan, but it's considered inappropriate to wear shorts in public and because the temperature was over 100 degrees F, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Ultimately, I was told it would be okay to wear shorts at the soccer stadium in Kabul; the same soccer stadium where Taliban forces executed people during their reign. While I was skating around the dilapidated track in the stadium, I noticed a contingent of Afghan soldiers sitting in the stands just staring at me. They watched me for a while and when I was finished one of them came over to me. He told me they had never seen the contraptions on my feet before and he was wondering if I could take them off so he could look at them. I gave him the skates and he brought them back to the other soldiers and they took turns spinning the wheels with their hands. Their fascination...was fascinating.
When it comes to the most fun story, that's a tough question. Covering big important stories is fun in a journalistic way. But covering the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run derby in 1998 for a couple of weeks (following them around the country) was a great gig.
I see you’ve covered both Afghanistan and Iraq and unfortunately, the way things are going, it looks as if we’ll be fighting both wars in some form for quite a while. Do you see yourself going to either country again? Is there another place in the world you’d like to go cover?
There is no big story I would not cover. Going to places like Iraq and Afghanistan is not for every journalist, and nobody at CNN is ever ordered to go somewhere they don't feel safe. But no news organization does more to keep its people as safe as possible as CNN. So I'll do what it takes.
As a journalist, do you feel it is more important to tell the stories people want to hear or the stories people need to hear?
Good question! Journalists need to give viewers what they want, AND what they need. And if it all works out, a story you do will do both. It's a daily battle trying to figure out what the right formula is. But I think we do a decent job figuring it out.
Sometimes journalists have a specific issue that they're really passionate about--Lou Dobbs has immigration and Anderson Cooper has Africa, for example. Do you feel this way about any story topic?
I enjoy doing stories in small town America. About people who think that maybe they've been forgotten, but then realize after we do the story that they have not.
Okay, I have to ask about the polygamists. Time and time again we 360 viewers see you, nice-as-can-be-Gary, basically being shunned. How difficult is it to cover that story?
Thanks for the nice words. I try to be nice to people, but only if they're nice to me! The continuing stories we've been doing about the FLDS church on the Arizona-Utah border are certainly interesting because they are a polygamist sect. But the reason we keep covering it is not because of the polygamy; it's because the leader, Warren Jeffs is charged with abusing children. He is specifically accused of arranging marriages of underage girls to men. Polygamy may be illegal, but it's the allegation of ruining children's lives that has helped make us decide this is an important story to continue covering.
Earlier this year on 360 it was announced that your son Daniel got his black belt. So…has he taken you down yet?
Ha! I knew it wasn't earthshattering news for all of our AC 360 viewers, but it was a big deal in our house when my son got his black belt! I'm a lot taller and bigger than him, but he knows all the moves! So I now call him Mr. Tuchman; not just Daniel!