Wow! Lesley Stahl’s Online Surprise?: ‘That We’re a Success’

By Gail Shister 

When will “60 Minutes” get another full-time female correspondent, Lesley Stahl?

“Good question,” says Stahl, who joined “60” in 1991. “I have no idea. They [my bosses] know I think we should have more women. I think it would be wonderful. It would be great for the audience.”

Over 40 seasons, Stahl is only the third full-time woman correspondent to have broken into “60’s” boys club, along with Diane Sawyer and Meredith Vieira. At 67, she is the second-youngest member of the crew, behind Steve Kroft, 64.

With face time already at a premium, it may be a while before executive producer Jeff Fager adds a full-timer of either gender.

Still, Stahl says she frequently suggests names of “accomplished women,” not all of them correspondents. “This is kind of a running subject – who’s out there? It’s something that’s tossed around all the time.”

Stahl knows from tossing. Her demanding travel schedule limits her time for, the Web site she co-founded and co-owns.

Launched in March 2008 and aimed at upscale women over 40, the site features such heavyweight contributors as Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Liz Smith, Peggy Noonan and Candice Bergen. CEO Joni Evans says it should start making money in January.

“I care about it a lot, and I really feel guilt-ridden because I don’t write for them as often as I should,” says Stahl. “But my job, particularly now, is unrelenting. I’m on the road almost non-stop. I give it as much time, energy and effort as I possibly can.”

During the season, she blogs at least once a week, often previewing her “60” pieces. Stahl’s biggest surprise, she says, “is that we’re a success. When I got into it, we argued a lot and went back and forth. I can remember walking out many times thinking, ‘Oh, no, that’s just not going to work.'”

CBS has been “positive, from the beginning” about her entrepreneurial venture, she says. In the beginning, about 2 1/2 years ago, it was a contractual issue – she was prohibited from contributing original content to another outlet.

Serendipitously, Stahl was negotiating a new contract at the time, so wowowow became part of the deal. “They’ve been extremely generous in allowing me to do this,” she says. “I’ve been very careful about not trying to antagonize my bosses about it.”

Stahl acknowledges potential conflicts, most notably with pieces involving the site’s sponsors. “It’s understood by me and everybody, obviously, that I couldn’t do the story,” she says.

Stahl has no plans to leave “60.” “Have you noticed that no one walks away? There’s a reason people don’t leave. It’s the most wonderful job in maybe all of journalism. We get to pick our own stories. We never work on anything we don’t love.”

As for what’s cooking this season, Stahl has “two real biggies – one involving a politician and another someone in finance. I can’t say any more because they’re surprises.”

Some of the founders of Peggy Noonan, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith and Joni Evans.