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If you like Charles Kuralt's story, you might also like:
Sam Donaldson,
Nicholas Kristof,
Dan Rather,
Mike Wallace and
Oprah Winfrey

Charles Kuralt's recommended reading: My Name is Aram

Charles Kuralt also appears in the video:
Changing Lanes

Related Links:
Remembering Charles Kuralt

Charles Kuralt Learning Center


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Charles Kuralt
Charles Kuralt
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Charles Kuralt Interview (page: 3 / 5)

A Life On the Road

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  Charles Kuralt

Why do you think you succeeded where others didn't?

Charles Kuralt: Others did, of course, succeed in other things, things that were beyond me. Among my classmates were people regarded as highly successful in life, including the president of the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina, something I certainly never would have been qualified to be. I didn't have any kind of formula. I think it was just genuine passion.

I wasn't thinking about where I was going in life. I was just thinking about what I loved to do and what I loved to do is have that little bit of special privilege that attaches to a reporter. You get to stick your nose in where others don't. You get to interview the coach before the game and, whereas everybody in the stands might like to talk to the coach, you're the one who gets to do it. That pleased me, this notion of being somebody just a little bit special, which is the reporter's privilege.

How do you account for what you have achieved?

Charles Kuralt: I don't know. I recognize that I had a good deal of good luck in my life. For one thing, I came along at a time when it was pretty easy to get a job in journalism. I went to work at CBS News when I was about 22, and within a year or so was reporting on the air. It's impossible to imagine that happening to a young person today. In those days, television was expanding so quickly that you didn't really have to have much age and experience. Almost any warm body would do.

They were hiring people in those days just about as fast as they're laying people off in broadcast news today. So that was purely a matter of luck. I didn't have the ambition to be a broadcaster. I was going to be a newspaper reporter the rest of my life, but that opportunity came along, just because I was the right age. So luck has a part in it.

I keep coming back to the passion for what I was doing. That was the overwhelming thing to me. Not where I worked or where I lived or how high I rose in the profession, but just the joy of carrying my portable typewriter to an event and trying to describe it. That was something I became pretty good at and naturally, when you're good at something, you love doing it. I think that must be true of physicists and of medical doctors and of musicians, all fields in which I am abysmally ignorant. But, I imagine that it's that enthusiasm, that passion for what you're doing that is most important in one's career.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

How would you explain to someone who knows nothing about what you do why it is so important to you?

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
Charles Kuralt: That would be very hard for me to do. I don't have any well-developed philosophy about journalism. I recognize that ultimately it is important in a society like this, mainly so people can know about everything that goes wrong.

For most of my career I didn't do stories about things that go wrong. I did stories about unexpected encounters, back roads, small towns and ordinary folk, sometimes doing something a little extraordinary. I would not argue that it was important to society at large, it was just fun.

It was so much fun to have the freedom to wander America with no assignments. For 25 or 30 years I never had an assignment. These were all stories I wanted to do myself. So, they were always about somebody I liked, 'cause if I didn't like him, I just didn't do the story. And, to have somebody else paying the bills for this tourism to every corner of every state over and over again -- why, who wouldn't want a job like that? Well, who wouldn't want a job like that is somebody who wants to be home for supper every night and have a settled family life and all that. You do give up some things.

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
I don't do it anymore, at least not for television, because I woke up one day and decided I'd done it long enough. But looking back on it, I must say, it was a very satisfying life. There is also this element: I didn't know how to do anything else. I really couldn't have succeeded in the wholesale grocery trade. This was one thing knew how to do. Of course, as anyone does, I got better at it as I got older.

What setbacks have you had along the way and what have you learned from them?

Charles Kuralt: Honestly, I didn't have very many setbacks. While working for CBS News I encountered a few bosses who didn't think I was very good at what I was doing, especially when it came to covering hard news. And I recognized myself that I had flaws as a serious, hard news journalist. I didn't like the competitiveness of big time journalism. I was always afraid that Dick Valeriani of NBC was sneaking around behind my back when I was a Latin American correspondent, discovering important stories that I had no clue to. And I was right, of course. That's exactly what he was doing.

I didn't like the deadline pressure. I didn't like being under some assignment editor's thumb, and just when I was finally planning to have dinner with my wife, being told, "No, this afternoon you have to fly off to Bolivia, because there's a military coup in progress there."

When I worked in Los Angeles covering hard news, very often when something important would happen I'd be off in the woods covering something unimportant, which was more interesting to me. A very big setback was a big story that broke, the big earthquake in Alaska. And, NBC managed to get its first film on the air from that event 20 minutes, or half an hour before CBS News did. That was entirely my responsibility. And, I was abruptly -- well, within a few days I was told to forget about it. I could just come home from Los Angeles and return to New York where my bosses can keep an eye on me. They knew I wasn't any good at covering breaking news stories.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What did I learn from it? I don't know. I learned that they were right. I much preferred the peaceful life on the road, where I didn't have to stick my nose in where I wasn't wanted, and didn't have to ask embarrassing questions and do all the things that real reporters have to do.

Ever have any self-doubts? Any fear of failure?

Charles Kuralt: I must have gone through that, but I was pretty confident that what I enjoyed doing, I could do well.

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This page last revised on Feb 28, 2008 16:14 EST
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