Syracuse University Magazine

Licht.jpg

Chris Licht '93 and his wife, Jenny Blanco Licht, at the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner.



Chris Licht ’93

News Matters

Before America wakes up, Chris Licht already knows what’s going on in the world. Every morning at 5:30, the executive producer of CBS This Morning meets with colleagues and decides what will be news that day. After supervising the network’s morning show, Licht tends to his responsibilities as vice president of programming for CBS News until he returns home to his family by dinnertime. “One of the things that attracted me to go into CBS is that I can be an executive, but also still have a show—getting your hands dirty every day,” he says.

Despite his highly demanding work life, Licht isn’t the obsessively competitive producer he used to be. At age 38, Licht suffered from a brain hemorrhage that threatened his existence, enabling him to understand what really is important to him. “Any kind of baggage you have or anything that you’re worried about, if you’re not worried about it when you’re lying on a hospital bed, then it doesn’t matter,” says Licht, who chronicled the experience in his book What I Learned When I Almost Died: How a Maniac TV Producer Put Down His Blackberry and Started to Live His Life (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Along with his family, journalism was one of the few things that came to mind when he was hospitalized. “I really love what I do, and it’s a part of who I am,” he says.

Licht has wanted to work in news as early as he can recall. “My desk in school was in front of a world map, and I thought that’d be a perfect set,” he says. “I remember pretending to be Tom Brokaw.” Growing up in Connecticut, Licht had his first experience with radio when he was a high school student. He interned for the newscast at WINE and then became a disc jockey at WRKI, a rock-music station. As a radio intern, Licht met two Newhouse alumni who encouraged him to apply to Syracuse. “They got me really excited about it, and they wrote me recommendation letters,” he says. 

A broadcast journalism graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Licht says studying at the University was a transformative experience for him. While at SU, he served as president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, worked at local radio stations 570 WSYR and 95X, and was a bartender on Marshall Street. “Syracuse gave me the opportunity to just try everything,” he says. “You walked out of here with a pretty good microcosm of the country.” In February, Licht returned to Newhouse to share his views with students on the importance of network news. “When people need real, reliable news, it’s where the public turns,” he says.  

Licht began his ascent to the summit of the journalism industry from the ground level, producing syndicated medical television news for a company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. There he learned the craft of deadline-driven television and realized he needed to take risks to grow in his career. “You should never follow a defined path to get what you want,” he says. “You have to find your own way.” Determined to succeed, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked at KNBC, and then relocated to San Francisco to continue working for the network. In 2007, Licht entered the national stage, helping to create MSNBC’s Morning Joe with television host Joe Scarborough and becoming the show’s executive producer. 

Now at CBS, Licht puts into practice the knowledge he’s gained throughout his career. “That’s been the most gratifying thing,” he says. “I feel that CBS This Morning is the evolution of everything I’ve learned.” But Licht says his self-actualization experience is far from over and cites CBS News president David Rhodes and CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager for introducing him to the traditional reporting values of the network. “I’ve been here for three years, and it’s been an incredible learning experience,” he says. “Our slogan is ‘Original Reporting,’ and that’s more than a slogan—that’s actually how we operate.” —Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro