CBS News’ Dickerson: Journalism Still Has Impact


CBS News correspondent John Dickerson came to the Queens campus of St. John’s University on Oct. 3 to speak at the “From Homelessness to Hope” lecture at the Little Theatre. But before he left, he was talking journalism saying the craft he’s practiced for almost 30 years is still making an impact by keeping people informed. 

“It’s giving them control over their lives,” he said in an interview after the event. “The world seems so crazy and chaotic. Understanding something that doesn’t necessarily make you happy nevertheless gives you the sense that you have some control over it.” 

However, he said modern news coverage has a potential downside as well. 

“It can keep that blood pressure up for everybody by constantly seeking the attention of the audience,” he said. How? “By keeping them nervous all the time.” 

Dickerson said he was also concerned about what seems to be a pre-eminent storyline on news outlets every day. 

“One of the huge challenges in journalism right now,” he added, “and in particular in national journalism with a President who makes so much news, is getting past what he’s doing and focusing on the things that are still affecting humankind.”

 The 51-year-old Dickerson’s first ever visit to the Queens campus came as part of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society’s lectures on homelessness. This first event was titled “60 Minutes on Covenant House” and featured the nonprofit’s president, Kevin Ryan, chatting on stage with Dickerson who recently became a reporter for CBS News’ 60 Minutes. Dickerson is also a member of the Covenant House Board of Directors. 

The conversation between the two men focused on the problem of youth homelessness and the role their Catholic faith has played in their efforts to solve the problem. About 150 faculty, staff and students attended. 

After about 90 minutes, Dickerson prepared to head back to CBS News but first offered this advice for journalism students at St. John’s. 

“Cultivate the talent and skill for asking questions, all kinds of different questions,” he said. 

“Study critical thinking the way you would study the violin. Read as much as possible. Take in a lot of information from a variety of things to keep you creative and to keep you sharpening your eye from the way you observe the world.” 

The University of Virginia graduate, with a degree in English, said journalists also need to make sure they include an important element in their stories.

 “Journalism has meaning in context,” Dickerson said. “Whenever you’re thinking about something, or doing a story, always be kind of pressing yourself to think about what’s the larger meaning of this.” 

As he left the theater, he stopped to chat with a few students, including freshman journalism major Ian Darville. When Darville spoke of his passion to become a journalist, Dickerson offered even more advice: study writing, he said, all kinds of writing.