The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

September 28, 2011

Dan Rather returns to Sam Houston State University

HUNTSVILLE — Legendary television journalist Dan Rather dropped by the Sam Houston State University campus Wednesday to tell his own story, and also offer advice to the aspiring reporters in attendance.

“Learn how to write,” he said. “Writing is the bedrock of the craft, whatever the craft is. If you learn to improve as a writer you can learn to improve as a thinker, therefore you can improve as a person.”

“Mingling with the Media” is organized by Priority One, a student-run public relations organization which engages in multiple projects throughout the school year, and last year featured Melanie Lawson of KTRK in Houston.

The organization is led by Peter Roussel, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, who joined SHSU President Dr. Dana Gibson in the official interview portion of the program.

“It’s quite a career,” Roussel said of Rather’s. “He has covered virtually every major event over the last 60 years. That’s pretty incredible.”

With the partnership between the president’s office and Priority One, last month SHSU officially booked Rather as the featured guest of “Mingling With the Media”.

Rousell said Gibson’s assistant Maggie Collum “quarterbacked” the event.

Rather spoke on his most memorable moments as a reporter, citing the civil rights movement as his first assignment from CBS. He also talked about the time he spent interviewing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Saddam Hussein.

Rather said all he ever wanted to be was a reporter – that he was naturally inquisitive since childhood. His parents never graduated from high school, but they were avid newspaper readers, as Rather recalls.

“I knew that if they spent so much time reading the newspaper, it had to be important,” he said.

 But Rather admits that he was lucky in his success, gifted with professors who believe he could do things he had not considered. He also said his work allowed him to gain the respect of strangers, which also contributed to his success.

“I have benefitted tremendously from the help of strangers,” Rather said. “You have to get outside of Texas to understand if you get there early, stay late and work hard, people will notice and give you a break.

“I could name 20 stories that if you told me when I left Sam Houston that would get to cover just one of them, I would’ve signed my life away.”

Earlier in the day, just over 50 students attended a last-minute Q&A session with 60-year journalist at the SHSU Dan Rather Mass Communications Building.

Rather included himself when he said one of the biggest issues facing today’s press is the lowering of standards in the competitive pit of journalism.

“Nobody does it perfectly,” Rather said. “Journalism is so demanding and I’m not complaining. But somebody must be an honest brochure of information. To be an objective journalist is to as much as humanly possible, squeeze out your biases, squeeze out your opinion and get the facts.

“Understand you can know all the facts and still not know the truth.”

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