Today, I had the chance to sit in the front row of a Question and Answer session with respected news correspondent Anderson Cooper. The Q & A was part of a preview event Anderson was invited to participate in at Portland State University Native American Student and Community Center before he was to be whisked off to give the keynote speech at PSU's Simon Benson awards banquet that honors PSU alumni and philanthropists.
During the Q & A session, which I was invited to because of my connections as a grad student in the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications multi-media program, Anderson shared the story of his long hours and hard work and late nights and then eventual rise from fledgling, solo reporter to where he is today, one of the most respected television news correspondents and anchors in our country. He anchors Anderson Cooper 360, http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/ reports for CBS's 60 Minutes, and has been an ABC News correspondent and has reported for World News Tonight and 20/20. Over the years, he has reported from war-ravaged villages risking his life for the story he believes needs to be shared.
Anderson Cooper is one of those genuine, warm, sincere, trusted, natural story tellers who asks the tough questions without being arrogant as some television personalities can appear to be. In his conversational style, he's like family, someone who is "sympathisch," the German word I think of, which is hard to translate but means something like "nice, exudes warmth." Anderson's passion is for story and sharing the stories that matter, stories that make people think and feel and especially move to action.
He says he will always share these kinds of stories. He will not just report a story in order to beat the ratings race. He's been reporting from forgotten places, or places that people have never even heard about, for years. He's not about the ratings or the popularity or the number of twitter followers, though he's got those -- over four million, to be exact.
Anderson said people often ask to pose with him to get their picture taken, and he usually happily obliges. "Ninety-nine percent of the time. I am honored that someone cares and wants to get a photo with me," he said.
One time, though, it was 2 a.m. at a bar when someone approached him for that "photo-op," and he thought, "Oh, it's really late and if we start this, everyone in the bar will want photos." So, instead he said something like, "Hey, how about if we forgo the photo and just have a conversation? You can tell me about yourself, I'd love to hear about your family."
The person, though, who asked to pose in a photo with Anderson, was not interested in talking or sharing a conversation with Anderson. He just wanted a photograph of them together. Perhaps he wanted to post it on his Facebook page and Twitter feed or Instagram site. Bragging rights. It was sure to garner a bunch of "likes" and "wow" and "jealous" comments.
"People today replace the image with real life," Anderson Cooper reflected as he shared that story. Indeed, people want to "tweet it" or "post it" or show it to their friends on some other social media outlet, even if they have not really lived it.
As I wrote his quote down, the one about replacing real life with the image, Anderson Cooper looked directly at me, in the front row about 20 feet from him, and said to me, "See, what you're doing, and have been doing this entire time," and he smiled.
I mumbled something, half apologetically laughing, about how I just didn't want to forget his quote, and that I was getting some video for my grad course in Oral History, and yes, OK, I did tweet and post a photo of Anderson Cooper on Facebook so I could, I confess, garner a bunch of "likes" and "oohs" and "aahs" and "wows."
When I had found out that I was one of the eight students in my graduate program to get a seat for this invite-only event to see Anderson Cooper in person, I had emailed the organizer, asking in as much of my "I'm not a brown-noser" voice as possible, if there would be an opportunity for photos with Anderson after the event. The organizer replied in a rather encouraging way that it was a possibility.
However, after Anderson Cooper made that comment regarding people wanting the image rather than real life, I was not about to ask him to pose for a photo with me. I felt shallow for even thinking of it.
Though I am a big social media person, Anderson Cooper's statement got me musing on the value and importance being present, rather than just preserving the moment for later. Presence! In this day of technology and instant posting, I am constantly needing this reminder. We all are. We need to ask ourselves is it about the image or living? This is something I try to remind my children of as well.
The way the event with Anderson Cooper turned out, there were no opportunities for photos with him anyway, as he had to leave right away for the charity/awards night.
But, given the opportunity, I'd like to say, that if I had to choose, I'd rather spend time with him -- or any other person -- rather than needing a photograph of the moment.
I'll take the real-life over the image any day.
Oh, OK I like my photos with people as well. I'll take both, if I can have them, but I know that real-life is the most important. Being present with whom you are present. Now.
- Cornelia Becker Seigneur is an author, educator and the mother of five children. Her blog can be found at http://www.corneliaseigneur.com/