CBS News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan got her journalism start working for local papers in Durban, South Africa, and later spent several years as a freelancer for numerous TV outlets, doing everything from assignment editing to reporting from Kosovo for CNN.
She caught CBS’ attention in Kabul in 2001, when she freelanced for CBS Radio while also a correspondent for the British morning show “GMTV.” CBS made her a contributor to “60 Minutes II” in 2002 and later a staffer.
In 2006, while based in Iraq, she was named CBS’ chief foreign correspondent and a “60 Minutes” correspondent. She returned to Washington, D.C., in June 2008, but continues to travel internationally for major stories. She recently discussed her career with NewsPro correspondent Elizabeth Jensen.
NewsPro: You have one of the more unusual resumes in the business. You jumped from print to TV to radio, producing to on-air; mixing staff and free-lance work. In 2001 you were virtually unknown to American viewers and now you have one of the most visible positions at CBS News. For foreign reporters, having the wherewithal to be on-scene often pays big dividends, but what gave you the confidence to forge your own path?
Lara Logan: I guess I never really considered there was an alternative to ‘forging my own path.’ I was raised to believe that you had to have a strong sense of self — who you are and what you stand for — and you had to be willing to stand up and be counted.
My mother used to say, ‘the world does not owe you a living.’ And we were taught not to expect anything from anyone. In our house, you earned respect and you made your life by working for it. You also had to take responsibility for yourself and your actions.
Those values, and the love that I had at home, propelled me into the world from a very young age. There were no barriers to anything in our home — and I never believed there was anything I couldn’t do if I wanted to.
And as a young woman, I was always being told I could never do this or do that — when I knew inside that I easily could. So I never took no for an answer.
And beyond all that is the fact that this was never about a job or a career for me, or ‘being on TV.’ It was what I believed in — it was who I am. I became a journalist because of what I saw or could not see in South Africa. Because we all believed something had to be done to make things right in my country, and letting the world know the truth was the way to do that.
NewsPro: What were the drawbacks of taking a less-than-traditional career route?
Logan: I don’t know what the drawbacks were because I don’t know what a traditional route entails. It was hard to overcome being a foreigner and wanting to be on American television. And it was definitely hard to be taken seriously as a very young woman at a time when foreign reporting, especially in war zones, was dominated by men. But the work always won in the end.
NewsPro: You worked part-time at local papers while in high school and college but you don’t have a college journalism degree. There are those who argue that J-school is overrated. Do you feel you missed out by studying commerce not journalism?
Logan: I don’t believe journalism needs to be studied — because the only qualification you really need is one you are born with: natural curiosity. If you are curious about the world and love poking your nose into other people’s business, then you’ll do just fine. Everything else you can learn on the job! I chose not to study journalism because I thought knowledge of the world and economics was more valuable to me. I had also been a working journalist for a year by the time I graduated high school so I knew I could do the job.
NewsPro: Today, you’re continuing your work, which takes you to occasionally dangerous places, while raising a son under a year old. Your fearlessness as a war reporter is what many admire, but what kind of challenges does that pose in this new phase of your life?
Logan: Well, first of all, having a baby makes you cry about everything. It’s ridiculous. So that’s a challenge. On my last trip to Baghdad I was fighting back the tears as I sat in an interview, listening to a father describe how his 8-year-old son was murdered by his kidnappers, even after he paid $30,000 ransom. He showed me photographs of his little body, stiff with rigor mortis. They had taken his jacket and hanged him with it from a hook. It would have taken some time for him to die. And all I could think about was the love and sacrifice that goes into raising a child. And how losing mine would destroy me.
It is a new world, that’s for sure. But I still believe as much in what I do and I only hope my son grows to understand that and love me for it — some day! (And not hate me for always being gone).
I keep a diary for him now so that if I am not around forever he will know how much I love him and what it’s been like trying to be good mom and still do justice to my job, which I take very seriously.
NewsPro: There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the business about the future of foreign reporting, and how much longer networks are going to be able and willing to pick up the considerable expenses. Do you foresee a future for young journalists who aspire to a similar career as yours?
Logan: It’s hard to know where the industry is going and I understand the uncertainty. I am useless at this type of question because I can’t imagine that people will not demand credible information and that as a society we would accept the death of reliable reporting. I have to believe this will work itself out to where people still go to the ‘trusted brands’ and that is what I would target as a young reporter.