Hartman warms hearts

WARREN – When well-known CBS correspondent Steve Hartman began his journalism career in Toledo, he knew there was something that set him apart – he wasn’t angling for the breaking story at the beginning of a newscast, but for the feel-good endcap segment.

“I was competing – well, I wasn’t even competing – for the last story in the newscast that would leave people feeling something,” he said Wednesday morning during a Trumbull Town Hall lecture.

About 700 people in Packard Music Hall listened as Hartman shared his journey from journalism school at Bowling Green State University onto the national news scene.

Hartman is best known for his “Everybody Has a Story” series that aired from 1998 to 2005. In the segments, subjects were randomly chosen by throwing a dart at a map of America and then looking up their name in a local phone book. In 2010, the series was revived as a worldwide search with help from NASA.

His current segment on the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” each Friday is modeled after that of Charles Kuralt.

“When they brought back ‘On the Road,’ it was obviously a tremendous honor for me,” he said.

Hartman conjured laughs from the crowd, sharing some of his most memorable and heartwarming stories.

When his son was born six years ago with a head he described as an “orange construction cone,” he laughed as he said he somehow still determined that his baby was adorable – making him wonder why parents are predisposed to think their infants are cute when in reality they aren’t always.

Hartman played the resulting news segment for the audience, who laughed as, onscreen, Hartman showed images of his son to people on the street who still insisted that his son was cute despite a digitally misshapen head. It wasn’t until he took the photos to a child model scout that he was able to get someone to tell him that in fact his baby was only average in looks.

Hartman said when he began in the news industry, many of his pieces were humorous.

“As I’ve gotten older, the types of stories I’ve began to tell have changed into those of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he said.

Hartman shared several other sentimental segments and his views on how local newscasts can promote a fear of one’s neighbors.

“I believe people are inherently good … that’s the kind of bottom line I try to weave into my stories.”

The first “Everybody Has a Story” segment took him to tiny town in western Texas, where he was skeptical that the concept would turn over a compelling story. It did and continued to work for more than 100 additional shows.

“People often ask me, how do you find these stories? As if they are some rare gem. They’re not that rare. We just haven’t been looking.”

To prove his point, he chose a random member of the audience to be interviewed – an 85-year-old woman shared how she met her husband by writing letters to him while he was in the U.S. Navy. She said the hardest day of her life was signing papers at the hospital after his death.

Over time, the stories began to take a new importance to Hartman.

“It’s more than just to show the worth of other people; it was to show them their own worth,” he said, “Your life matters. It’s not only important, it’s newsworthy.”