Broadcast TV legend Bob Dotson returns to SU to talk storytelling with Newhouse students

Seniors Cheyenne Woods and Hunter Saenz hosted a Q&A session with Dotson, where he shared details of some of his stories during his career.

A crowd of over 100 students filled the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium on Tuesday night to hear legendary broadcaster Bob Dotson speak. Dotson, an alumnus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, retired from NBC News in October after working for the Today Show for 25 years.

The 40-year veteran of TV news graduated from Newhouse with a masters degree in television and film in 1969 and went on to win hundreds of awards including eight National Emmys and six Edward R. Murrow Awards for writing – a record among Murrow recipients. He hosted “American Story with Bob Dotson” and filed more than 4,000 stories for NBC News.

The Q&A was hosted by seniors Cheyenne Cheathem and Hunter Saenz, who probed Dotson for professional advice as well as personal information. When asked about the changing media landscape, Dotson focused on the importance of good storytelling.

“It does not matter how we deliver the info, as long as we deliver it as a story,” Dotson said.

Dotson explained to the crowd that the traditional rubric for storytelling – who, what, where, when and why – is great for gathering information, but not for telling a great story.

“In the digital age, you won’t be the first to report anymore. So you need to connect the seemingly unconnected,” Dotson explained. He introduced to the crowd his own mantra for storytelling: “hey you, see, so.”

“Tell the viewers, ‘this is what you get if you stick it out with me.’”

The Q&A was interspersed with some of Dotson’s favorite packages – a man who lived on Park Avenue by selling potato peelers six days a week, a boy with no legs being coached in wrestling by a man with the same affliction, a veteran with terrible injuries turning his tragedy into standup comedy – and Dotson shared a lesson on storytelling with each one.

“The most underreported sector of our world is us. Not Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump, but the people behind the celebrity mirror, in the shadows, who have found some way to make a significant impact on life and the way we live it,” said Dotson, whose stories were always about “a seemingly ordinary person who is doing something extraordinary.”

He also told students to “write to the corners of your pictures” – not just tell the audience what they are seeing but connecting the story to the details they may not notice.

“He was captivating,” said television, radio & film sophomore Grace Hildreth, who found Dotson’s approach to storytelling refreshing. “Staying curious and always looking for the delightful surprise that’s around you is such a great motivator for anyone in media, not just broadcast journalists.”

Dotson also entreated the students not to buy into the idea that journalism is a dying industry.

“When you start your career, everyone will tell you that golden age ended three weeks before you started.”

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