Why television is still best for story telling

Photo: CBS' 60 Minutes

This report, on last night’s CBS 60 Minutes, reminded me why television, if it wants to be, is still the best at telling stories.

It was a follow-through report about the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, half of which are under the age of 18.

“Which means about half a million children are still living on the streets, in crowded orphanages or in makeshift camps.  Untold thousands of kids are separated from their families, threatened by hunger, disease, sexual assault and even a modern day slave trade,” reported 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

The 60 Minutes report focused on an American charity called the Global Orphan Project, whose rescue workers still race the clock to save the lost children of Haiti.  Most extraordinarily, the report featured a man by the name of Moise Vaval.  I will  paraphrase and use direct quotes to tell the story:

“Moise Vaval is Global Orphan’s country director and a Haitian pastor. While he was helping hundreds of orphans, we learned that he was also looking for his own missing son. Eight year old Jean-Mark didn’t come home from school after the quake.  “Jean-Mark is a lovely child, a charming guy anybody who meets him man or woman you fall in love with him,” Vaval told Pelley.”

Moise Vaval is Global Orphan's country director and a Haitian pastor. His 8-year-old son Jean-Mark didn't come home from school after the quake. Photo: CBS' 60 Minutes

Vaval didn’t know whether his boy was dead, injured or lost.  60 Minutes followed his search over the next six weeks, a search common to many thousands of Haitians.

“We caught up with Pastor Vaval again in early February. It had taken weeks to gear up the registration of lost children. Vaval took a break from his work at the Global Orphan Project to go with his wife to the Red Cross to report Jean-Mark as a missing person. He also returned to his son’s school.

“This is Jean-Mark’s school, pancaked all the way down to the ground and these are some of the desks the children were using when the earthquake hit,” Pelley said, standing atop the rubble of the school. “We don’t have any idea how many kids are still entombed in this building, but it is many. It is a terrible thing to contemplate but the fact is for thousands of Haitian families they will never know whether their children were killed and if their children lived they may never find out what became of them.”

Maybe it was to keep his mind occupied, but Vaval was working night and day. He traveled to neighboring islands to check on orphans, and he preached to his own congregation amid the rubble of his broken church. He told us no matter what happened to Jean-Mark, his son was in the hands of God.

“I never worry about tomorrow. Never. Tomorrow will be good because it’s in God’s hands,” Vaval told Pelley.”

Ten weeks after the quake, 60 Minutes went back to Jean-Mark's school. There, searchers had just recovered the body of the young boy. Photo: CBS' 60 Minutes

Ten weeks after the quake, 60 Minutes went back to Jean-Mark’s school. They had brought in heavy equipment and were digging through the rubble. It was then that Moise Vaval was pulled away from his work at the orphan project by a call from the workers at the site. They had found a book bag that belonged to his son Jean-Mark.

“And not long after, his weeks of wondering came to an end.

A few days later, he brought his family to his own church, for the funeral service of Jean-Mark. He told us the moment was a grace from God, a blessing that he was able to bury his boy in a time when so many others do not know the fate of their children.”

Powerful, poignant story telling at its best. Kudos to 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley, producers, Solly Granatstein and Nicole Young, and the 60 Minutes videographers and editors,  for the remarkable job they did in producing this report.

Stories like these explain why 60 Minutes is still on top after more than five decades.

Its success formula? Telling great stories. Doing it the right way by not cutting corners.  By doing it, producing this brand of journalism,  60 Minutes audiences have followed and keep returning week after week, year after year.

So have 60 Minutes advertisers. They have been willing to pay a premium to associate their products and services with this television news magazine.  By doing so, CBS has been able to spend the kind of money it takes to produce such high quality news programming.  It isn’t cheap, but it is some of the best TV news story telling around.

Hopefully, it will stay that way for a long, long time to come.      


About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
This entry was posted in broadcasting, earthquake, education, haiti, Journalism, television, The United States, University of Nebraska. Bookmark the permalink.

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