‘60 Minutes’ reporter Scott Pelley on giving ‘voices’ to those who are ‘voiceless’

Pelley shares his most memorable interview with high school journalists


Lisa Roskens

Giving his keynote speech Saturday, Oct. 16, Scott Pelley speaks to student journalists and their advisers from schools across Texas. Pelley attended the Texas Association of Journalism Educators Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas, from Oct. 16-18. Pelley is a “60 Minutes” correspondant, and is currently in his 17th season with the show.

This article received a “Superior” rating in the feature writing competition at the TAJE Fall Fiesta Annual Convention Oct. 16-18 in San Antonio, Texas.

Surgeons saving lives in hospitals bombed by the Syrian government.

Terrorist attacks launching in Paris.

Homeless children in America living in a car due to the Great Recession.

60 Minutes” correspondent, journalist and reporter Scott Pelley covered them all. But, he said one particular interview has stayed with him like “it happened yesterday.” That conversation occurred with parents of children who were shot and killed in the mass shooting of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in 2012.

“I did not feel worthy of being in their presence,” Pelley said. “Because of what happened to them, I just felt like I didn’t even belong in the room. They were somehow elevated in my mind.”

Pelley has been reporting stories for “60 Minutes” since 2004, with the 2020-’21 season being his 17th on the broadcast. In this time, Pelley has won a record 37 Emmys for fieldwork, including one for his story over the Sandy Hook shooting. But, in interviews, Pelley said that it is a “journalist’s job” to give a voice to those who “need to tell their story.”

I thought that Mr. Pelley’s speech was very eye opening, just because it showed how much power journalism really has anywhere it is used.

— Joey Kleen, Rock Hill High School sophomore

“When I was young, I was going to change the world,” Pelley said. “And that seemed like too big of a notion, so I thought I would scratch on it, and try to just make a dent in the world instead. That went into my interviewing.”

Reporting worldwide, Pelley said one thing he makes sure to do when conducting an interview is to listen to the person’s story, while also having a conversation.

During the Texas Association for Journalism Educators Fall Fiesta Annual Convention, senior journalists Amanda Hare and Gabriella Winans and sophomore journalist Lily Oxley stand with “60 Minutes” journalist and reporter Scott Pelley. Pelley spoke at the convention Saturday, Oct. 16. Pelley also declined a check for speaking at the event, giving it to the TAJE scholarship fund instead. (Margie Raper)

“Too many people make the mistake of not listening,” Pelley said. “You understand that they are there about whatever it is you’re covering. You know, you write all of your questions down before you go to an interview, number them one through 20. And I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about the questions that I’ve written so concisely, and when it comes down to the interview, I ask the first question, and never look at my other questions again, because it becomes a conversation.”

Taking what he’s learned from interviewing, Pelley said he puts his “past experiences” into his work, including when reporting on tragic situations.

“You formulate questions with humility and respect,” Pelley said. “Interviewing this way is an amazing thing that seems counterintuitive, but I’ve always found that people want to talk with these interactions.”

Pelley gave us so much insight on what it’s like to be a reporter, and he also talked about some of his experiences reporting serious world topics. He was also really open about his mental health and how reporting tragedies has affected it, and I really appreciated how he talked about it.

— Amanda Hare, senior

It was these interviews Pelley conducted that formed a belief that he said he tells “so many young journalists” today.

“It’s important to know that most people want to tell their stories,” Pelley said. “You might think a mother doesn’t want to talk about her lost child, but she does. Because asking about the child makes it come alive again. She didn’t want him to be erased from history. And she hated it when people would walk on eggshells around her, not talking and not mentioning his name. Anything like that she wants to talk about, because in that way she can introduce him to new people.”

Pelley said that “engaging” with these types of stories and interviews is part of the reason why he remembers this panel of parents from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting like “it was yesterday.”

“It makes people feel better to talk about these things,” Pelley said. “As a journalist, it’s about how can you simultaneously maintain a high level of empathy, while not letting the weight of the tragic situation impact your ability to perform your job.”

There is no democracy without journalism.

— Scott Pelley

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