Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite: And That's the Way He Was

Broadcast news is much different now than it was when I was a child. Rather than having parents flip to one of the three big networks to watch their evening coverage, we now have access to dozens of 24-hour cable channels filled to the brim with crawlers, split screens, cutaways, and just about every other gimmick and gizmo imaginable. News broadcasts are no longer something that you plan as part of your day - you're surrounded by them, and they're accessible no matter what time of day or night you grab the remote and flip on the set.

News broadcasters are no longer the same, either. Rather than the hardened journalists of decades ago, many of those on television today are entertainers - folks picked because of their humor or their good looks. Yes, many of them cut their teeth working at any of the thousands of local affiliates around the country, but the end result is something much different than I think Edward R. Murrow and his generation would have expected.

With last night's passing of Walter Cronkite, we've lost another link to the era when news was something serious and when journalists were literally tested on the battlefield. Cronkite came up through the Depression and was on the front lines with the troops in North Africa and in Vietnam and was someone who seemed to feel a genuine, emotional investment in the news he was reporting. In watching the old clips, he fought hard to control the overwhelming grief the nation was feeling following the assassination of President Kennedy, and watching his reaction to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon was like watching a kid on Christmas morning.

I don't remember much first-hand of Cronkite's reporting when I was young, but I remember the voice, and I remember the way that everything seemed to come to a stop while people listened - my father sitting in his chair in front of the television, and my grandparents making sure that dinner was finished and everything was cleaned up in time to catch the news. It just doesn't seem that way anymore with the news, and for that I think the passing of Cronkite is a loss for everyone.

I hope that broadcast journalists everywhere will take time over the next few days to remember his impact on their profession and to express a bit of gratitude for his hard work and efforts to build trustworthiness with the viewers. He was a pioneer, and they would do well to remember all he did and all he meant to the viewers.

News has changed, yes, but everyone should recall Walter Cronkite and his style of news and remember how that's the way it was.


Kansas Bob said...

Loved the video Matt.. nice journey down memory lane. I think that Walter reported the news in a no-spin-zone.. things have sure changed in broadcast journalism.

Nancy said...

Beautifully written, Matt. For a short time I had hopes that Aaron Brown was going to be the man to trust, but CNN put a stop to that.

rdl said...

He was an icon! Great post!