The first time I met Dan Rather was in the lobby of the Pan Pacific Hotel. Two of my classmates and I were early for lunch, and we watched him as he rode up the escalator, marching off with a certainty in his stride.
We stood aside as he checked in, and waited to introduce ourselves, excited like kids outside a candy store. Here was the man at the centre of so many important stories and so many controversies. We approached him and introduced ourselves. He shook our hands and began interviewing us about our names, interests and backgrounds.
The rest of the class arrived, and we proceeded to have lunch with “Dan” — as we soon came to call him. He was in Vancouver to do a story with our Advanced TV class, invited by our professor Peter Klein, who worked with Dan at 60 Minutes.
After the obligatory pleasantries, Dan started grilling us on the story, and asked that we get moving on the day’s busy shoot schedule.
Professional to the core
Over the next two days, we got to be network producers and writers, bossing around one of the legendary names in journalism. We had spent the previous two months researching and reporting on the topic of harm reduction efforts in the Downtown Eastside, and we got many chances to show our “correspondent” we knew our stuff.
Walking the alleys with sex workers, Dan asked some tough questions based on our briefings. We introduced him to the neighbourhood, and prepared questions and notes for his interviews with a UN official and the city’s mayor.
At the end of the exhausting two days, it was my turn to play correspondent — interviewing him about his experience working with UBC students.
I had no script, but I looked at Dan Rather and asked myself: how would the revered journalist handle this challenge?
I braced myself in those couple of seconds and asked him the first question that came to mind: What it was like working with students on this project, instead experienced producers? He had his answer ready without hesitation, noting our willingness to learn.
“I am not sure I had all the eagerness when I was in college. That always makes me happy, and brightened the day right away for me,” he said.
Watch: Dan Rather’s visit to the Graduate School of Journalism