Friday, July 24, 2009

Walter Cronkite

Most of my posts this week have been on the silly side, so I haven't gotten around to mentioning the death of Walter Cronkite. This is obviously a sad time for journalism, but it's prompted a lot of interesting reflection in various media about how journalism has changed and the state of journalism today.

One NY1 report noted that at its peak, the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite drew 20 million viewers a night. 20 million! That is more than all of the big three combined get nowadays.

Also in that above-linked report, NY1 interviewed NYU Professor Mitchell Stephens for his commentary on Cronkite's position in society when he was still the evening news anchor. Full disclosure: I worked with Stephens at NYU, where I am/was an adjunct professor (I haven't done it in awhile but hope to again). I was a TA for his class. He's a great professor and has done a lot of interesting work examining the history of news and the changes over time in how people get their news. So I was psyched to see him on NY1.

There was also a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about journalism in the Cronkite era vs today. The author argues that journalists like Cronkite and Ernie Pyle -- arguably the greatest wartime reporter who ever lived; if you haven't read his WWII reporting, do so at once -- would draw a line between covering a story and getting in the way of national security when they were covering wars. Today's journos, as evidenced by a Mike Wallace comment during a PBS interview, are so obsessed with staying objective and being removed from the situations they are covering that they would be willing to compromise national security, or so the writer argues. I'm not 100% sure that I agree -- I think the journos I know have more common sense than that -- but it's an interesting and provocative argument.

Anyway, RIP, Walter.

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