The Spirit of Walter Cronkite

When I was growing up, the big three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — had news anchors who were among the most respected and trusted individuals in the country. Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor, David Brinkley — all were names you associated with responsible, unbiased and fair reporting.

Vintage Television
Honey, quick, warm up the TV! It’s almost time for the news!

That was the standard of the day, in part because that was good journalism, and in part because there was (and still is, although many of the laws have changed) FCC oversight of network news. That’s due to the limited airwaves, which limits the number of broadcast (as opposed to cable, satellite and similar) networks. There was a fear the networks could unduly influence, for example, the outcome of an election by the way they presented the news.

The networks were required to present opposing sides of controversial issues, as well as offer political candidates equal time on the air. If the candidates declined the offer, that was their choice, but the networks still generally attempted to provide balanced coverage.

ReporterJournalists believed in their responsibility to provide the public with accurate information. Yes, there were those who gave biased reports, and frankly, it’s virtually impossible not to let your own beliefs creep into your writing in sometimes subtle ways. Still, the standard was high, and the networks, for the most part, met it.

Of all the anchors on the three major networks, Walter Cronkite was the most revered, having been named the “most trusted man in America” in numerous polls. He earned that title. Rarely would he let his own feelings show in even the most emotional, or for that matter, mundane stories, always maintaining a professional distance, yet fully recognizing and respecting the impact his stories would have on his audience.

Yes, he choked up when he told the world President Kennedy had died, and his efforts to maintain his composure were visible. The world was a different place then, and it changed when the President of the United States was assassinated. Today, it is hard to imagine such a loss transforming the country in the same way.

His almost child-like excitement when a man first walked on the moon was one of the only other times he stepped away from his professional demeanor. We’ll forgive him for that.

Today’s blatant partisanship by so many of the news outlets weakens their credibility and contributes to the divisiveness between those of differing political beliefs. It’s hardly the only factor, but it’s a significant one.

Gossip
Don’t mistake much of what you read on social media today for anything other than gossip.

The increase in communication outlets via cable television and the Internet (particularly social media) has also helped to erode a sense of unity. It’s now acceptable, and profitable, to be outrageous as a journalist or self-proclaimed expert in any area of law or politics.

Freedom of speech, in particular freedom of the press, was designed to benefit the American public. Any such freedom stands the chance of being abused, and that’s the price we pay. Yet we all have a responsibility to respect each other and treat these freedoms in a mature, equitable manner, remembering their purpose.

I’m not suggesting legal action be taken against those who behave like fools in the name of First Amendment freedom. Rather, I believe, as citizens and the audiences of the various news outlets, we use discretion in our selection of news sources, and by changing the channel, cast our vote for honorable journalism.

Image Credits: (television) © Gino Santa Maria — Fotolia; (Reporter Gear) © James Steidl — Adobe Stock; (woman gossiping) © alessia.malatini — Fotolia

Who, What, Where, When — and Why Should I Care?

Know your audience. The first rule of communication, whether it’s newspapers, entertainment, preaching, or whatever. Makes it difficult for me to find an uninteresting news item, because as a journalism major, I know how reporters think. What’s more, I worked as both a reporter and a public relations media specialist, and I can find something interesting about dirt. You just need to know how to work it.

girl-with-newspaper-smThat’s not to say every news item is going to hold a high level of interest for every reader of a local newspaper. That would be impossible. It’s why most people have a section or three they typically skip, or perhaps have only one section they’ll read on a regular basis. Newspapers, as a rule, aren’t particularly expensive, so most readers can afford the luxury of throwing away something of which they read less than 10 percent.

Still, it’s impossible for me to call any story uninteresting, because I can almost immediately identify its audience and understand their concern about the issue. What I’m better at doing is calling out the reporter on how they covered the story, and I’m sympathetic even there — sometimes time constraints, poor direction from editors, unwilling witnesses & experts and always, always, those pesky deadlines get in the way. Add the final insult to injury, that is, sloppy late-night editing and headline writing and you may have a story you cringe at seeing the next day.

Of course there’s always the story that comes together beautifully, and you pray everyone you love and everyone you hate reads it with jaw-dropping admiration. The story that’s so compelling people who don’t generally care about the topic can’t put it down and post the online version to their Facebook pages. The one that makes them say, now I get it.

What’s more likely to happen if a story is truly uninteresting is that it’s poorly written, sadly researched and half-heartedly pulled together because the reporter doesn’t care or isn’t experienced enough to consider their audience.

Media Signpost Showing Internet Television Newspapers Magazines And RadioThere are major news organizations who’ve created a niche market — sometimes an exceptionally large and influential one — because they’re savvy about the audience they’re catering to and have talented, experienced editors & reporters who target that audiences’ wants & needs, hopes & fears. They exist for all forms of media.

Their stories are less likely to be uninteresting to anybody and more likely to be divisive because of the skill of those developing & writing the material. Local news has a far greater risk of being boring than national news, by its very nature.

Still, anything published likely has its readers, and anything on the air has its viewers, or it will soon disappear. So if you wonder why that terrible magazine or godawful news program is still around, it’s because they know their audience.


Image Credits: © GraphicStock.com

Education for Education’s Sake

I have what some would call one of the most outdated degrees available today: news journalism, formerly called print journalism. We were groomed to work for newspapers.

I’m gueNews text on typewriterssing current journalism majors get a good dousing of social media education as well, but the reality is, by the time today’s graduates with any sort of journalism degree are my age, their degree will also be outdated.

Which leads to this question: why do we go to college if everything we learn, all the knowledge we gain, becomes yesterday’s news in light of greater innovation, broader (or narrower) thinking, changes in what the workplace values?

Because education in and of itself has value.
book and background Graduation
I went to college twice. The first time I dropped out before graduating, something, quite frankly, I’ve never really regretted. I got what I wanted out of that experience, and if I had graduated, I never would have gone back and completed my education in a field for which I was far better suited.

It wasn’t easy, however, to go back, and when I dropped out, I had to explain my decision to several people in my life who knew that would be the case. Some understood, some did not. One friend was more upset than most, and when I told him I simply couldn’t pursue a degree in something I had no interest in vocationally, he asked me this: “what about education for the sake of education?”

The fact was, it wasn’t a well rounded learning experience at that college to start with, at least, not for me. Turns out that’s true at many colleges and universities. But he was right about the inherent value of education.

Today I no longer work in any field remotely related to my degree, yet having an education is an essential part of my success. You can tell the college graduates from the rest. Even those self-taught individuals, those who know lots of facts and can win any game of Trivial Pursuit, don’t have the polish that comes from the college experience. It is education; it is the process of learning, of deeper thinking, of using logic and research to reach your own conclusions that changes you.

Education for education’s sake.


Newspaper


Photo Credits: (typewriter) © GraphicStock; (Graduation Day) © carballo — Fotolia