Like the minor leagues, Rome Hartman said, local television is still the training ground for those at the very beginning of their careers, when nobody except for a prodigy is great at what they’re going to be doing.
Three jobs in local television prepared Hartman for the majors.
At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, he will talk about “U.S. Journalism: Endings and Beginnings” from his vantage point as a producer with a 33-year track record in national television news.
“Journalism is a field, a profession, a craft that is in the midst of enormous change,” he said. “There’s a tension that exists in [such] a time. There are challenges and opportunities.”
Quoting Washington Post editor Martin Baron, he said he agrees that “it’s a time of both thrill and threat for journalism.”
During the spring of his junior year at Duke University, Hartman took a three-course sequence in public policy that began with a spring course, followed by a summer internship, then another campus course in the fall.
For his internship, Hartman was assigned to WTOP, the local CBS News affiliate in Washington, D.C., owned by The Washington Post.
“I sat on the assignment desk and tried to get out with the reporters every chance I could. I just had the time of my life,” Hartman said. “I think what I came to appreciate was the everyday rhythm. I wanted to be in television news after that.”
After graduation, Hartman said the only place he could find a job was at the local ABC station in his hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida. Two years later, he moved to a station in the larger city and market of Miami.
Since then, Hartman’s career has been replete with opportunities. He left Miami to become a field producer based in Atlanta, his first national news job. There, he traveled to wherever CBS decided there was news, covering a variety of stories for the station’s evening and morning news, including prison riots and the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
In television, Hartman said, the producer works as a collaborator and partner with the on-air correspondent, and then with the camera crew, sound editor and video producer.
“This generally means you’re responsible for some of the reporting, research and legwork, and a lot of the logistics, and you have a voice in the editing room,” Hartman said. “You’re trying to make the story work and be effective.”
That said, the producer’s role differs depending on the network and broadcast — even between CBS News and “60 Minutes.”
Hartman should know. He moved from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., in 1986, where he was CBS News’ White House producer, then senior producer for the “CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer,” and senior producer in 2005 for “60 Minutes,” a position in which he also wrote more than 100 reports.
He left “60 Minutes” in 2005 to launch and serve as the executive producer of “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” the critically acclaimed, award-winning program renamed “The CBS Evening News.”
All told, Hartman worked at CBS News for 24 years before “an elegant, wonderful idea” drew him to BBC News in 2007.
“When I left CBS, I went from one great institution to another,” he said. “They asked me to start something with a small budget inside an institution that wasn’t entirely convinced it was a good idea.”
He said he produced “BBC World News America” from a tiny studio in downtown Washington.
“Within a year, this broadcast was given a Peabody for a ‘unique broadcast, unique perspective,” Hartman said. “There were also Peabody awards for individual stories. We had access to the big journalism of the big BBC, but fewer than 20 people were producing a five-night-per-week show that was an hour long. It’s now a half hour show on PBS and BBC World News and is seen all around the world.”
At NBC News from 2011 to 2013, Hartman launched and served as executive producer of the primetime magazine program “Rock Center with Brian Williams.” The process of on-boarding three new programs — first at CBS, then BBC, then NBC — was especially challenging.
In 2013, Hartman returned to CBS News to produce the monthly program “60 Minutes Sports,” which he said is the best job in journalistic television.
One of the things Hartman said he loves about his job is that there really isn’t a typical day.
“I’m a piece producer, responsible for individual segments, not the overall program. Let’s say I’m doing a piece on overuse injuries, I might spend all day or week researching and reaching out to smart people. Then I have a story to shoot next week,” Hartman said. “On shoot I’ll work with camera crews on logistics, and with the correspondent and producer on smart stories and everyone making their airplanes. It’s a little like being a staff sergeant in a military maneuver because there are so many moving parts. Then I could have a day sitting with the editor and the video editor and trying to wrestle something to the ground. It might not look like I thought it would.”
There’s also a good chance, Hartman said, that a little piece of all three — research, on shoot collaboration, and screening — will need to be done on any given day. In this case, it’s more of a juggling act.
For Hartman, the best thing about being a piece producer is being paid to be curious. Learning about things he might not otherwise know, meeting people he might not otherwise meet, and putting it all together on paper and film doing the best he can do, has long been for him a wonderful job.
Hartman has received numerous honors, including eight Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards, a duPont-Columbia Award, an Overseas Press Club Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, and a Gerald Loeb Award from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
Echoing the Post’s Baron again, Hartman said he thinks “you could argue that it’s a golden age for journalism and a dark age.”
There’s evidence, he said, for both.
“There’s plenty of promise and plenty of peril,” he said. “It’s changing fast. We all depend on institutions of journalism. We’re all fed either well or poorly by journalistic institutions.”