Peter Greenberg travels the world, has homes in New York, Los Angeles, London and Bangkok, is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and appears regularly on “CBS This Morning” as the travel editor for CBS News.
But his 400,000 miles of travel each year includes regular stops to UW-Madison, where in September he was named a distinguished scholar at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
Greenberg’s resume includes stints with Newsweek, ABC, NBC and he hosts the weekly three-hour nationally syndicated “Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio,” broadcast each week from a different remote location around the world. While in college at UW-Madison, he also wrote at The Daily Cardinal.
Q: How did you get started in journalism?
A: Well, in order to answer that, we have to go right back to Madison, Wis. When I was an undergraduate there, Madison was probably the most active, violent anti-war college in America. I was working for The Daily Cardinal and the focus of the mainstream media in the U.S. was on the campuses that were erupting, revolting and blowing up. I got hired as a stringer by Newsweek and that translated very quickly into writing major stories, cover stories by the time I was a junior. I owe my entire career to UW-Madison, which is one of the reasons I come back and teach now.
Q: As a distinguished scholar, what is your role at UW-Madison?
A: It started last semester. I come in every two weeks and I teach a class with another professor and I also do special programs with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. We had a great program (recently) called the Art of Conversation. I also guest-lecture in other courses in journalism and mass (communications).
Q: What is the Art of Conversation?
A: I take the position that we’ve lost the art of conversation in America. It’s taken a different form of texting and tweeting. There’s an illusion of connectivity that leads to conversation which doesn’t. It almost leads to a dissolution of community. One of the things I was teaching at a number of workshops was to force people to have actual face-to-face personal dialogue and conversations with each other in which they can actually get their message across in under a minute. I’m one of those people who believes you really can’t get a lot done, of anything that’s meaningful, without a conversation. I’m a big fan of talking to a human being.
Q: What is the key to a successful conversation?
A: It’s not just talking, it’s listening. It’s not just listening, it’s establishing common ground and allowing the other person to feel comfortable in talking not just to you but with you.
Q: Do you have any favorite places in Wisconsin?
A: Wisconsin is one of those states that my friends in California look at as a flyover. And what a mistake that is. And so what I do, at least twice a year, I drag four of my friends back to Madison who have never been to Wisconsin. Of course I subject them to a Badgers game and then I take them out on Sunday to Mount Horeb and Stoughton and Sauk Prairie and then further north. It’s just too much fun. I love Wisconsin.
Q: What do you think of the Dane County Regional Airport?
A: I love that airport. It’s the most manageable airport. I come there so often I know half the counter agents. The time from getting off the plane to getting your bag, you can do it all in less than 20 minutes. It’s just wonderful. But I’m a fan of the Milwaukee airport as well. (Mitchell International) is the secret airport of Chicago.
Q: What issues are you tracking in the airline industry?
A: When you have so much consolidation in airlines the real fear is a loss, or in some cases an elimination, of airlift (airline capacity). You may see a number of U.S. cities with exponentially decreasing airlift or nonexistent airlift because the airlines are no longer fighting for traffic they didn’t want in the first place. It’s no longer about market share. It’s about the routes they want.
Q: What will be the impact on Madison?
A: Yes you have a state capitol, and yes you’ve got Epic out there and some big employers and the university system, but it needs more airlift. What’s happening to Madison is what’s happening to a number of cities in the United States in terms of how people are going to get around. On trips of under 400 miles, it’s going to be the bus. For the time being you do have airlift from Madison to O’Hare, but don’t count on it in the future. I’m serious.
Q: What has it been like working with broadcasting veteran Charlie Rose on the “CBS This Morning”?
A: The man is amazing. He’s the Energizer Bunny. Here’s a guy who’s not only up at 4 o’clock in the morning to do the morning show that I do with him but he then does his one hour show for Bloomberg (which airs on PBS). He’s amazing.
Q: How have things changed since Rose came on board at CBS a little over a year ago?
A: We made the decision at CBS news, and I think it was an excellent decision, that we were not going to try and mimic the “Today” show or “Good Morning America.” We were not going to go tabloid. We were going to do the unthinkable, we were going to give you two hours every morning. And you know what? The audience loves it.
Q: In our house, we can’t miss the 90-second roundup at the start of the broadcast.
A: We made a conscious decision to ban three words on our air. The three words are Kardashian, Lohan and Sheen. Because at that hour of the morning, those words aren’t relevant to how you need to run your life every day.