Minnesotans had the privilege of watching Ben Tracy work during the run-up to his current stature as a CBS News correspondent.
The St. Paul boy was doing excellent work on WCCO-TV’s “Good Question” feature, which he created during the three years he was at Channel 4. CBS producers recognized his work was network caliber because his “Good Question” segments often were used on the Saturday edition of “CBS This Morning.”
When the Interstate 35W bridge collapse brought then-“CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric here, that helped seal Tracy’s rise to a network correspondent post. Seeing his work up close impressed Couric, even though she slipped once and addressed him as “Ben Casey.” (Google “Dr. Ben Casey” to find out why that was so funny.)
“My colleagues had a good time with that when I got back to the WCCO newsroom that night,” Tracy said. “Some folks at the network said, ‘Oh, so he can do hard news as well.’ I hate to think of that event being a catalyst in my career, but it is a fact.”
His stellar work has again been noticed. He’s about to become CBS’ Asia correspondent. We did this Q&A, part 1 of 2, via e-mail because he wasn’t going to have time to see me Thursday when he’s scheduled to visit his parents, Pat and Barb, before heading to China.
Q: Do you speak any of the Chinese languages?
A: I have a Mandarin Rosetta Stone in my Amazon cart. Does that count?
Q: To win an assignment to China, is there a chopsticks-usage test?
A: I would fail that test. My chopsticks skills are similar to how I type on a computer (two fingers).
Q: Are you replacing my onetime Twitter follower @adrianadiaz?
A: I am. She has done great work over there. Also, she speaks fluent Mandarin so I really need to get that language software delivered. She’s been lovely about giving me advice on living in Beijing. I may take over her apartment lease ... mainly so I can snag her two air purifiers!
Q: What Minnesota influences have contributed to you being such a great broadcaster?
A: Well, “great” is your word. I think whatever success I have had has been in large part because of how I was raised. Work hard, treat people well, and be humble. A big part of this job is getting people to open up to you and tell their story. Being a normal person certainly helps. I learned so much at WCCO, especially from Don Shelby, who really helped me improve my writing. He was such a great example of someone who could have just read the news and collected a big fat check, but didn’t. He reported stories, he mentored us, he stressed the importance of actually doing the work you get credit for on TV.
Q: How often do you see Paul Magers?
A: We work in the same building just down the hallway from each other. I ran into him once in the bathroom. That’s always weird. I grew up watching him, so it made L.A. feel like home when I first got there and could watch him on the news.
Q: Minnesotans travel, so you know you’ll be running into some in China.
A: I expect to see someone with a Vikings hat on the Great Wall. I run into Minnesotans everywhere. They all want to talk about “Good Question.” I love that more than a decade after photojournalist Joe Berglove and I started that ... it is still a thing.
Q: What are you taking to China that you know won’t be available there?
A: My deodorant, dark chocolate, and a bottle of tequila. My partner is bringing a suitcase full of Old Bay seasoning. He’s from Maryland.
Q: Is that “CBS This Morning” set as chill as it seems?
A: It is chill in that there is no drama, but the energy is fantastic. Charlie [Rose], Gayle [King] and Norah [O’Donnell] are all first-rate journalists as well as people. They bring their A game every day. So, if you fill in or are doing a piece on set, you better bring yours, too. That show has changed my entire experience at CBS. I am so grateful we do actual news in the morning. I would move to New York simply to try to make Gayle King my best friend (although I hear that position has already been taken).
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.