I’ve had quite a bit of fun lately reading a few biographies of some of the most interesting people of the last few decades, but my favorite so far has been Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley. Granted, I’m a nut about journalism and the news business, but the lengthy read was interesting to me on several levels. I thought I’d share some of them with you.
- I continue to be struck by just how powerful and influential news anchors were a couple of decades ago – and how much their influence has waned over time. There are a few main factors that drive this, of course: there were far fewer networks in the old days, so there was far less competition and noise; today’s 24-hour news cycle and electronic communications channels have rendered network newscasts as irrelevant and insignificant as ever; what makes for good television today is different than it used to be; etc. Television is still a powerful medium, but it seems these days the people who grab most of the headlines are the ones who yell the loudest and party the hardest.
- Walter Cronkite earned the title of Most Trusted Person in America during his career, but I don’t think it was just because of his delivery, easygoing voice, Midwestern charm and gentle personality. Back in college, when I did my summa cum laude honors research project and dissertation, I found a correlation between major news events – particularly crises – and spikes in the public’s trust of broadcast news. There’s something to be said about the ability of television to convey emotion and create a shared, real-time experience of an event. It galvanizes and unites the viewing public, and rallies people in visceral ways. During his time, it was Cronkite who was there to lead us through those big events, and the events of his time were some of the biggest in American history. From the moon landing to the Vietnam War, and the Kennedy assassination to Watergate, it was Cronkite who told us the news, eased our nerves, shared our sadness, led the cheers and more. As such, Cronkite united his viewing public – and we became loyal to him for it.
- The term “anchorman” was created first for Cronkite. Interesting, huh!
- Cronkite apparently negotiated one of the sweetest deals of all time. At the peak of his influence, he negotiated summers off from the network so he could relax on Martha’s Vineyard and sail his boat. That’s about as good as it gets…sure beats the stress of covering D-Day from a warplane above Omaha Beach, like he did earlier in his career.
I think it would be nice to see a news anchor, practicing the craft the right way like Cronkite did, attract such a following and exude such a charisma that network news became cool again. But then again, I’m a little bit old school.
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