It’s all about finding a good story, CBS Sunday Morning producer tells New York Chapter

By Linda Bloom

Dustin Stephens speaking at the May New York Chapter meeting.

CBS Sunday Morning is always looking for a good story that will appeal to their average audience of 6 million viewers.

The Harmony Project,” says Dustin Stephens, a CBS Sunday Morning producer, was one of those stories and all it took was a telephone conversation with David Brown – the “inspirational and charismatic” leader of the Columbus, Ohio, community choir – to convince him of that.

Stephens, who accepted a Wilbur Award for the story on behalf of his team during the 2017 Religion Communicators Council Convention in Chicago, spoke about the Harmony Project and CBS Sunday Morning at the New York chapter’s May 16 lunch meeting.

Jane Pauley was the correspondent for the piece. Rand Morrison served as executive producer and Lauren Barnello and Carol A. Ross were the editors.

At the beginning, Stephens expected the Harmony Project story would be a secular one, but, he explained, “the spiritual themes were so obvious that we could not ignore them as we put the story together.”

Beyond that, The Harmony Project worked as a story because of a combination of elements: the volunteer choir that is helping unite a community; the choir’s founder, who has a compelling personal story and the outreach at a women’s prison, where a smaller choir is formed.

“What we look for in Sunday Morning, and this is true for most newsmagazine shows, is not a particular event or a particular person but layers of complexity to a story,” Stephens said.

Of course, in today’s multi-platform media world, the full video story is just one piece of the puzzle. On story like this, he explained, they would provide an excerpt for the Columbus, Ohio, CBS affiliate to air; create an item for the CBS website to tease in advance and prepare some “web extras” for parts that did not make the final cut to post the day of or day after the broadcast.

Sometimes, the correspondent will do a brief live promo with the local affiliate. An article must be written for the website and if there was an impact, a follow-up piece is needed.

In this case, there was an impact. Since the story’s debut on CBS Sunday Morning, the Harmony Project has received more than $100,000 in grants and donations, Stephens said. With a waiting list of 800 potential choir members, there are plans to start a second choir and the group has moved to a larger space, a local stadium, for performances.

“David Brown writes to me that since the story aired, about 30 other cities have reached out to him about starting their own version of the Harmony Project, so he’s consulting with them,” Stephens added.

 
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