Aug 31, 2020

"The goal is really to create a level of consistency as we report on race and culture, in a timely, accurate, informative and dynamic way."

Eye On is a Q&A series that spotlights CBS television executives and creatives.

Executive Producer Alvin Patrick has been preparing for his new role almost all his life. As the head of the newly formed CBS News Race and Culture Unit, he is taking what he has learned from over three decades in journalism, working at ABC, HBO, MTV, ESPN and for the last eight years CBS, and he's applying his critical eye to news stories about race, culture and injustice, ensuring they have the proper context and tone. Soon, his team will be developing stories of their own, with a focus on accurate reporting and more expansive coverage in the News division and elsewhere at the network.

ViacomCBS spoke with Patrick about this important new unit, his goals for the team, and how he sees the future at CBS.

Can you describe how you started in your career? What brought you up to this point today?

I'm one of the few people, I think, who actually has known what he wanted to do since high school. In my junior year, I took a course on media, an elective course, and studied the impact media had, specifically  in the 1960 presidential election. The conventional wisdom was that John F. Kennedy won because he was more telegenic than Richard Nixon; I remember thinking how powerful, at the time, that was. So I went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and received a degree in broadcast journalism. Then I went to Brooklyn College and got my Master of Fine Arts in television production. And from there, I embarked on what has now been a 32-year career.

I've been a producer, a senior producer, an executive producer and vice president—all of that experience has prepared me to manage a synergistic team. And more importantly, for the last eight years, I've been a senior producer working exclusively with CBS News special correspondent James Brown, across all CBS platforms. That work has really demonstrated the impact of thoughtful journalism when it comes to race and culture, and what effect it can have on audiences.

What led CBS News to develop this unit?

I sent a note to Susan Zirinsky and Kim Godwin, a detailed proposal for a unit devoted to race and culture. I gave them my ideas on how I thought it could help CBS News be proactive and make a cultural change within the division, as well as in our on-air product. So not only would it help us as journalists, to think in a smart way about race and culture, but it would show up positively in our programming. Now, the good news is that Z and Kim were already mulling over the idea of the unit for some time, and I think I helped crystallize it a bit. The other good news is that they focused on me as the person who should lead this effort.



As you get started, how do you see your team working with the broader CBS News team?

The Race and Culture Unit will serve as both an incubator and a facilitator. So that means that on a daily basis, we are serving, just like CBS Standards and Practices, as an extra pair of fresh eyes on stories that may need guidance on context, tone and intention for every show and platform in the division. I'm looking at scripts and screeners, and pointing out the different things that we should pay attention to, so that we're not stereotyping, so that we're giving the proper context, so that the audience is walking away with an informed and truthful understanding of a particular subject. Also, on a regular basis, we will be a place where ideas for stories, specials and shows are welcomed, generated and executed across the news division and sometimes by other CBS properties. The goal is really to create a level of consistency as we report on race and culture, in a timely, accurate, informative and dynamic way.



What excites you about the first projects or stories that your team is working on?

Well, right now I'm functioning as a one-man band, and I will be coming out with the names of my first hires very shortly. That will help me with my bandwidth—I’m not getting a lot of sleep right now. But the ability to see scripts and screeners of the shows and make suggestions has been great, and the impact has already been felt. And I know it's going to be felt even more in the future. I oversaw the BET CBS News Special on John Lewis they aired a couple of Sundays ago that was anchored by Jericka Duncan. And I'm also one of the executive producers of the John Lewis entertainment special that aired on August 4. All of that's been exciting. It's been quite a ride.


Where do you want to see this unit go in the future?

I see us growing, and having more of an impact within and outside of the news division. My longer-term goal is to create partnerships with outside organizations that can give us even better perspective on issues of race and culture. I want the unit to not only deliver important journalism at this important time, but also do so on an ongoing and consistent basis. And in the process, we will change the culture of the division in a positive way, while still maintaining the great storytelling tradition of CBS News. That’s really important to me.

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