Bob Dotson, the NBC News national correspondent who for 40 years traveled the back roads of the country in search of what he called “ordinary people who did extraordinary things,” retired from the network Friday.
Dotson’s “American Story” segments have been a part of NBC “Today” since the 1980s. His stories often focused on people known in their communities for performing generous acts -- long before everyone could be instantly celebrated on social media. He was among the few TV news correspondents known for showing up in small towns where there had not been a tragedy or natural disaster.
After starting his TV news career in Oklahoma City, Dotson joined WKYC-TV in Cleveland in 1975, when NBC-owned stations worked in tandem with the news division.
He moved to Atlanta when “Today” made him part of a group of correspondents that included Mike Leonard in Chicago and Boyd Matson in Los Angeles, who were assigned to a regular segment called “Cross Country.” It was developed in response to viewer perception that the news media focused too much attention on New York and Washington.
“They found humanity in their stories no matter what the topic or selection,” said veteran TV news producer Steve Friedman, who ran “Today” at the time.
Dotson used a gentle approach in profiling such subjects as the boss who came out of retirement to start a new company for former employees who could not find work and the doctor who invented the whooping cough vaccine and kept seeing patients at age 104. He recently did a segment on a Montgomery, Ala., family in which six children were home-schooled and all entered college by the time they were 12 years old.
While his fellow “Cross Country” correspondents moved on, Dotson kept turning out such stories, connecting “Today” viewers to the American heartland while much of TV news devoted more attention and resources to celebrity culture.
On Friday’s “Today,” Dotson told his own story, recalling his grandmother’s reaction to his first segment on the program. She recommended that he find a “trade” to fall back on.
“They’re not going to keep paying you for four minutes of work a day,” she told him.
Dotson, who is also an author and lecturer, said when people ask him what his favorite story is, his reply is always “the next one.”