Wesley Lowery, a correspondent for the newly launched streaming version of CBS’ long-running newsmagazine program 60 Minutes, is at a point in his career where he’s making a conscious effort to slow down.
It’s not what it sounds like. Lowery, who now reports for 60 Minutes+, is barely in his 30s, but is still as hungry as ever — as driven to continue adding to the indispensable body of reportage he’s already produced at the intersection of race and criminal justice. This has included his authorship of They Can’t Kill Us All, as well as a stint at The Washington Post — where he was a lead on the “Fatal Force” project that earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2016.
The way Lowery prefers to approach big, impactful stories — like his new 60 Minutes+ report, available Sunday on the Paramount+ subscription video service — follows a much different journalistic rhythm than that of many of his peers. In Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes+, Lowery will take a closer look at the surge in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, inspired partly by the Atlanta spa shootings a few weeks ago but also the acts of violence and that have taken place sporadically across the country in recent weeks.
In a phone conversation with Forbes ahead of his new report being available to stream on Paramount+, Lowery talked about his motivation to tell this story while also offering something of a playbook that other reporters across the industry might do well to follow instead of the unsatisfying, sensationalized coverage that lurches from one crisis to the next. “The more complicated a story is, the more important it is to take time” and cover it right, he says, whether that story involves coronavirus vaccinations, gun violence, or attacks against Asian-Americans, as is the case here.
MORE FOR YOU
When you think about it, he continued, reporters tend to do most of their journalism “when we have the least amount of information.” Before documents are ready, before the dust has settled, and before all the critical facts have emerged in the fullness of time. “And then, two or three weeks later, we’re so far moved on that things we learn that would have been scoops before, we’re not even covering. There’s so much pressure to be first on a story, I’d much rather be the last on a story.”
The prevalence of attacks against Asian-Americans — such as a particularly vicious assault a few days ago on 65-year-old Vilma Kari in New York City, captured on extremely disturbing surveillance footage that’s shocked viewers across the country — is one of those kinds of stories. To a journalist like Lowery, the worst thing in the world would be to treat this as just another story, packaged in time for another deadline, before moving on to the next thing.
“I think this is a story about communities in the United States of America who are horrified,” he said. “Who are hurting. Every Asian-American that we spoke to, including the head of the Asian hate crime task force within the NYPD, these experts we were calling and talking to were all giving us personal anecdotes about these videos and how they’ve impacted them and caused fears in their own families.
“Because we live in a country that’s so siloed, the broader population doesn’t fully understand the way these stories can impact different groups among us.”
The urgency for reporting like this is also reflected in the American political landscape of the moment that goes beyond direct attacks and hate crimes themselves against Asian-Americans. Consider, for example, the rhetoric of a Republican congressional candidate in Texas, who blamed Chinese immigrants for spreading coronavirus, among other things, during remarks she made a few days ago.
“I don’t want them here at all,” said Sery Kim, who also worked in the Small Business Administration during the Trump administration, during a candidate forum. “They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don’t hold themselves accountable.”
“And quite frankly,” she added, per NBC News, “I can say that because I’m Korean.”
During the 60 Minutes+ episode, viewers will watch Lowrey follow a community-led patrol group in Queens as they monitor streets for any harassment or crimes against Asian-Americans; he’ll also talk to Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo, who leads the NYPD’s Asian hate crime task force, while riding along with him; and he’ll also speak with Sung Yeon Choimorrow, who directs the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum — in addition to interviewing two victims of possible hate crimes in New York City, one of whom was cut across the face by an attacker while on the subway and required 100 stitches.
“The Atlanta shooting was such a big, shocking moment, but also all these videos — it seems like every day, we’re seeing an Asian-American somewhere being attacked in public,” Lowery told me. “Our work (at 60 Minutes+) is not necessarily news cycle-driven, but stories like these have layers. And taking the time to sit down with everyone and walk though it can be useful for our viewers and the public conversation.
“There’s so much complexity here, from the way suspects are charged, to issues of race and ethnicity … we thought there’s such a strong, important story to be told here if we took the time to do it.”