CBS News correspondent speaks to students about the importance of journalism

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Major Garrett recounts a personal story about how a mother, who’s child died in a car accident, thanked him for writing the article about the incident. (Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore)

This story won first place for “On-the-Spot News Writing” at the JACC 2021 conference.

By Jennipher Vasquez

CBS News correspondent Major Garrett sees a bright future in journalism for fledgling reporters. 

“You’re not in the content business, you’re a journalist,” Garret said. “I am proud to be with you, I’m eager upon your graduation, even at a distance, to call you colleagues.”

Garrett, who covers the White House and hosts the podcast “The Debrief,” delivered his “Journalism and Content are Antonyms” speech at the 2021 Spring National College Media Convention virtually March 16. 

His focus was aimed squarely on the next generation of journalists.

Garrett, 58, encouraged student journalists to take their ambition into what he called a “new place of possibility.” 

“Each step on that journey, take with yourself one question and ask it over and over,” he said. “Am I accurate, do these facts hold up to scrutiny?” 

A turning point early in Garrett’s career was reporting about a 7-year-old boy who was run over and killed by a drunk driver in his neighborhood.

Garrett’s editor asked him to speak to the parents of the victim the next day, but he was unsure how to approach the situation. He was young and apprehensive. 

“I had no feeling at all for how to talk to a mother who the day before, her child was run over by a car and killed in their own neighborhood where he was riding his bike,” Garrett said.

Six months after the incident, he ran into the mother of the victim at the police department in Amarillo, Texas. 

After hearing heels clicking down the hallway, he heard a voice call out asking if “that was Major Garrett.” 

He sat and waited nervously as she was ushered into the office, where he was waiting for the police spokesperson.

To his surprise, she thanked Garrett for writing the story, claiming it was one of the only sources of comfort for their family.

“I let out this enormous breath that had been stuffed in my lungs, and I said ‘Thank you for saying that ma’am,’ and she walked away,” he said.

That assignment taught him to push boundaries while sticking to the facts, even when driven beyond his comfort zone. 

“If you trust your instincts, and you deal with something that’s tough, with curiosity but also compassion, you’ll find a way if you really love this work,” Garrett said.

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