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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: 4 / 5)

A Life On the Road

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  Charles Kuralt

How do you handle criticism, and how does it affect your work and ideas?

Charles Kuralt: I haven't thought about it before, but truth is that I used to shrug criticism off pretty easily.

TV critics, especially those of The New York Times, who traditionally hate television and make their living writing about it, often didn't like what I did on the air. But, I figured I knew more about it than they did, and so it never bothered me a lot. I guess it must have bothered me a little bit when Tom Shales of the Washington Post ridiculed me for a whole column one time. Talked about -- I have this fat face -- he talked about my chipmunk cheeks and the light, inconsequential nature of my reporting. And, I guess that bothered me for a day or two. I think you do have to stop and say, wait a minute, does this guy have a point here? But, I finally decided he didn't, that he was right about the chipmunk cheeks, but about the quality of my work, I'd finally decided he was wrong.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Criticism never bothered me much, but then I never suffered a real drumbeat of criticism. On the contrary, I made friends with a lot of those who could have criticized me in print and who didn't, who praised me instead.

In the nature of the stories I was doing, there was very little to criticize. They were simple, innocent stories. I thought at the time that they were successful in their own terms. I recognize that they were not vitally important ones, but I don't think the occasional criticism bothered me very much.

What personal characteristics do you think are important to success?

Charles Kuralt: I've changed my mind about that over the years. I have certainly grown older, and I think I've grown a little bit wiser. I used to think that driving, sleepless, ambitious labor was what you needed to succeed.

As I look back on it now, I think I'd have done better if I had been a little more relaxed in my life. If I had not pressed quite so hard, if I'd not lost quite so much sleep. I don't think I had a reputation as a hard worker, but inside I was always being eaten up by the pressures. And, I think I probably could have done a better job if I had been more mature and been able to take a deep breath and just say, "Come on. Whether this story gets on the air tonight or not is not really the end of the world. We'll do our best and that's all we can do."

[ Key to Success ] Courage

But I was driven. Not on the surface maybe, but I had a tight stomach all the time. I actually developed ulcers. I don't think I could get an ulcer anymore. I think I've learned better than to put all that internal pressure on myself.

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
I had terrible migraine headaches. The funny thing is, they always came on the rare day when I had a day off. I thought of them as Sunday headaches, because as long as I kept that spring tightly wound, I was fine. When I let it relax, then I suffered, because it was such a change.

What did you think you learned about achievement and how to measure success from the people that you met on the road?

Charles Kuralt: It's funny. From my experiences on the back roads and in the small towns, never doing stories that would have made page one, or would have been the lead story on the evening news, I gained a great appreciation for what I would call the collective achievement of the country.

I began thinking of America as a much more just and humane place than I would have thought if I'd been forever covering the civil rights struggle, or all of those tough stories of the '50s, and '60s, and '70s. I concluded that there is such a thing as a national conscience, and that it can be touched. In my time as a reporter it was touched by Ralph Nader, for example, who was a young lawyer in his 20s who nobody had ever heard of, and who gave us seat belts, and air bags, and sturdier automobiles to ride in.

There are so many such people. Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminine Mystique, a book that Alvin Tofler said, "pulled the trigger of history," and started the whole business of women leading a much fairer life than they did when I was coming along. Of course, most important of all were the changes that accompanied the civil rights movement.

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo

The country can be touched by a handful of people who are sure they're right. A Martin Luther King can finally get inside the skin of nearly everybody. I think that's what I learned the most, that there is a belief in fairness, if you can just get people to stop and think about it in this country. It's part of our tradition. There are a lot of people in small towns, big cities too, who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority of the kind that some people suffered from once in our society. I became much more confident and much more reassured about America, I think, than I would have if I had been stationed in Washington covering the Congress, or the White House, or stationed overseas covering wars, and riots, and politics. I gained a genuine appreciation for the goodness of most people in this country.

Did you learn how people measure success and achievement?

Charles Kuralt Interview Photo
Charles Kuralt: I think all those people I did stories about measured their own success by the joy their work was giving them. They got a kick out of it, and very often they didn't much care what the neighbors thought. I met a man who thought there ought to be a straight highway from Duluth to Fargo. The state wouldn't build it, so he just decided he was going to build it himself. He worked on it for 25 or 30 years, all by himself. He finished 11 or 12 miles of it, he had 180 miles to go. He was 78 when we met him, but he was a success in his own eyes. He thought he was doing something that needed to be done, and he was the only one visionary enough to see that it needed doing, so he set out to do it, all alone.

I think that's the great achievement, achieving satisfaction with yourself, satisfaction in your own life. The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege in my experience. "Money can't buy happiness," we were told when I was a little boy, and I'd say that's so.

Is there some idea or problem that you'd want to do something about?

Charles Kuralt: Oh, there are lots of them.

I'm still interested, as I was when I was 10 or 11 years old in this thing that so much interested my father, injustices in society and the unfairness that still exists. I mean, that a country so rich that it can reach out and touch the stars and send people to the moon still has hundreds of thousands of its citizens who can't read and who really haven't any way of making a way for themselves in society. That's terribly troubling to me. In recent years, since my retirement, I've spent a lot of time trying to be of help to the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, my father's old school because I realize, and I now have time to do something about it, that a society like this just can't afford an uneducated underclass of citizens. We just can't afford it.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

That's something that's much on my mind.

I'm not any kind of social reformer myself, but looking back on it, I'm much prouder of my father and what he did, mostly quietly, than I am of anything I have ever done because what he did was back in the '40s, before anybody else had the idea, he started day care centers for the children of poor women. He sold it to the local government on the basis of getting these welfare mothers back to work. Well, what he really had in mind was giving those children a chance by educating them a little bit, giving them a head start, as it is now called.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

There were other initiatives that he took which really changed people's lives. That's something. I can't say that I've changed anybody's life, ever, and that's the real work of the world, if you want a better society.

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