Nicole Young Uncovers Truth In Sarin Gas Attacks, Speaks To Students

Nicole Young (center) surrounded by several journalism students after her “My Life As…” presentation. Photo by Kevin Matyi.

By Kevin Matyi

Nicole Young, senior producer of the CBS Evening News, producer of “60 Minutes” and a nine-time Emmy winner, spoke to students at Tuesday night’s “My Life As…” event hosted by the Stony Brook University School of Journalism and implored them to seek journalistic truth that would otherwise not be uncovered.

“You’ll never be the smartest person in the room,” Young said. “That’s why we’re journalists — we’re supposed to find out more.”

After initially working at CBS logging hours of video footage, Young became Scott Pelley’s assistant, skipping most formalities during an interview with him and asking how he liked his coffee. With over 10 years working with Pelley, one of the stories she and Pelley worked on involved the sarin gas attacks in Syria.

According to Young, Pelley thought that the topic needed more coverage and told her to dig deeper and find a story. Young thought that other journalists had covered the story already, but did as Pelley requested.

As a result, she reported on the horrors of what sarin gas does to people and how it affects survivors of the attacks.

“It was probably the best story I had ever done,” Young said. “I assumed that I knew everything, and when you assume you know anything when you’re a journalist, you’ve already failed. Because the whole point is that you know nothing.”

However, Young made the decision to use very graphic video footage in the “60 Minutes” piece. Though difficult to watch at times, she pointed out the necessity behind the imagery, as well as the evocative language that accompanied it.

“Sometimes, the truth is hard to look at,” Young said. “If you don’t see it, then it didn’t happen.”

Young, who is only one of two guest lecturers asked to return for a second “My Life As…” speech, also spoke about other stories besides the sarin gas attacks that had had a more “human” feel to them, like covering Hurricane Katrina.

She spoke of her own experiences in different parts of the world, the mind-numbing process of looking at graphic content repeatedly when creating a video package and her own feelings as a journalist covering these stories.

Young also encouraged students to pursue stories and overcome adversities they may encounter as journalists.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, then no one’s going to believe in you,” Young told one of the students. “Now go kick ass, go change the world.”

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