Her work this year for the CBS newsmagazine has taken her from an investigation of the death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to a profile of beloved comedian Adam Sandler. The Sandler feature, which aired late last year, proved to be a “palette cleanser” of sorts, after Alfonsi spent time interviewing El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele and gaining access to the cell in which Epstein was held.
Alfonsi is being awarded a Columbia University-du Pont Silver Baton this week for her reporting on the migration crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, a sign that her work at the newsmagazine, where she serves as a contributor, is gaining a wider profile. “I’m kind of trying to pick up the number of stories I’m doing, but with the idea that [executive producer] Bill Owens gave me: ‘Don’t do a story because you have to do it, do it because it’s a great story and you can’t not do it.’” Alfonsi says in an interview.
She is part of a rising generation of correspondents and contributors at “60 Minutes” that is ganing broader notice in recent seasons (This is Alfonsi’s sixth with the program). Bill Whitaker, who has been with CBS News since 1984, has anchored several must-see stories since joining “60” in 2014, and sports journalist Jon Wertheim has also expanded his presence at the show.
But Alfonsi’s range in recent weeks has raised eyebrows. “Sharyn is a generalist. She has covered immigration issues at the border. She has covered the opioid epidemic and has done a profile of Paul McCartney,” says Owens. “You really hope you can have a reporter who can do anything you need them do and she has proven she can do that.”
Alfonsi’s journey to “60 Minutes” took her to many stops along the way. She had previously worked at ABC News for five years, reporting for “World News Tonight” and “Nightline.” Among her stories was one exposing a “puppy mill” in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Prior to that she served as a CBS News correspondent, covering everything from the war in Iraq to the damage Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans.
She says she’s still making her way at the show. “You get to ’60 Minutes,” and it’s not like your’re given a crown, and you’ve made it,” Alfonsi explains. “You are dropped by a helicopter on to a top of a mountain and you have to kind of find your way down. There are some paths and moguls and jumps. You are sort of kicking your way out. I’ve been pushed out of the helicopter. I’m on the mountain. I feel like I’m just taking speed.”
Even her softer stories require a degree of tenacity. Sandler, for example, doesn’t really do interviews, but his recent work in the film “Uncut Gems,” in which he plays an unlikable character, offered an interesting entry point for viewers. “Whenever we do a profile, it’s kind of like the person has to be all in, or we aren’t going to do it,” Alfonsi says. “We need access, You have to let us see things. You have to take us places. You can’t be guarded about it.” Alfonsi says she met up with Sandler and his agent and the actor “came into the office in his basketball shorts and his cup from Dunkin’ Donuts with coffee spilled over the edges.”
There is more to come. Alfonsi says she has a story in the works about criminal justice reform in the United States, as well as a feature about a blind musical prodigy who ‘sees music,” she explains. “When it plays, part of his brain just lights up.” The story is dear to many people at “60 Minutes” because it has been in process for quite some time and is the last piece worked on by Katy Textor, a longtime producer for Morley Safer who passed away in June after a long fight with cancer.
After spending a lot of time working for local stations and more traditional news programs, Alfonsi says she’s enjoying her run at the newsmagazine. “The process is so different,” she says. “You use a different part of the brain.”