Scott Pelley, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News and a correspondent for 60 Minutes, was honored at Texas Tech University’s 46th Annual Distinguished Alumni Awards March 22. The honor is the highest given to alumni, according to the university’s alumni association website.
Members of Amarillo College’s student media were invited to meet with Pelley before the ceremony, along with students from Texas Tech and South Plains College, to ask questions about his life as a journalist.
Pelley was born in San Antonio but grew up in Lubbock, where he graduated from Coronado High School. When Bailie Myers, editor of The Ranger, asked him when he knew journalism was right for him, Pelley’s answer was quick and simple.
His career in journalism began then as a copyboy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Pelley recounted an amusing anecdote about getting the position by saying he was 16. He said he originally wanted to be a photographer, but after a year working at the paper,he was approached about becoming a reporter and soon left photography behind.
“It was the most exciting place I’ve ever been,” Pelley said of the newspaper office.
He went on to attend Texas Tech and began working as a broadcast journalist first in Lubbock and then in Fort Worth and Dallas. He said his “overnight success” securing a position as a CBS correspondent in New York actually was the result of several years’ effort. He told students they should learn from his story to never take “no” for answer.
“Never give up; never give in,” he said.
Pelley also had plenty of tips for students about reporting – from interviewing to being objective to finding great characters to interview. But all his advice revolved around one main point: writing.
“It’s such an elementary thing, but something so few people get right,” he said. “It’s not enough to have the story; you have to be able to tell the story.”
Pelley said a good story includes a little bit of style and is written smoothly enough so that the reader or viewer cannot see the effort behind it. But he stressed that it takes enormous effort to make is seem effortless.
“There’s no such thing as good writing; there’s only good re-writing,” he said, adding that stories on 60 Minutes can go through eight or nine revisions before being used.
Pelley said being a correspondent for CBS was all he ever wanted, and while the hours are long and the work often can be hard, tedious and sometimes dangerous, he can’t think of a better way to spend his life.
“Journalism is hard work if you do it right, but very rewarding,” he said.
Robert J. Salem, M.D., FACS, and Rear Adm. (Select) John D. Alexander also were honored Friday night as Distinguished Alumni. Alexander, a 1982 Tech graduate, is assistant commander of Navy Personnel Command for Career Management (PERS-4). Salem, a 1950 Tech graduate, is chief medical officer emeritus of Covenant Health and a clinical professor of surgery at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock.