Saturday, July 18, 2009

... and that's the way it was

The death of former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite marks the end of an era in journalism. At a time when the main , if not only, news sources were morning papers and evening news on three television stations, Cronkite became one of the most trusted men in America, the gatekeeper of all the public needed to know on each particular day. Each newscast ended with the iconic words: "And that's the way it is."

It was a simpler time in journalism, an era that might be difficult to explain to a wired generation accustomed to a 24 hour news cycle, available from thousands of outlets at any given time, and with no definitive voice of authority.

Shortly after Cronkite's death was announced, The NYTimes Brian Stetler interviewed CBS News President Sean McManus:

“It’s really hard,” [Mcmanus] acknowledged, “to remember just how influential and important he was.” He cited Mr. Cronkite’s famous declaration that the Vietnam war would end in a stalemate.

Viewers and Web readers now, he said, “are so used to being assaulted by so many streams of media that it’s hard for them to imagine that there were only three or four ways to get news and information on TV.”

On an evening when Mr. Cronkite was on the minds of the television industry, Mr. McManus sounded a sad note about the splintered media environment. TV executives are always looking for the next Cronkite, he said, “but I don’t think anybody will be in that position of prominence again.”
Cronkite took his responsibility seriously, breaking from his role as dispassionate anchor only a handful of times: when he announced that President Kennedy had died; when, after a trip to Vietnam, he pronounced the war there unwinnable, which turned the tide of public opinion; and when American astronauts first walked on the moon.

Former Merc television writer Charlie McCollum called the legendary Cronkite "television's wise man":

In a sense, he was a Mr. Rogers for adults, a man who could make sense out of things when things didn't seem to make sense.

"A good journalist doesn't just know the public, he is the public. He feels the same things they do," he once said. But no TV journalist ever empathized with America quite like Cronkite.

Read Cronkite's New York Times obit here.

photo credit: New York Times, Bettman/Corbis

1 comment:

tk said...

I cannot imagine another newsman, save perhaps, Edward R Murrow, whom I trusted or would trust more. You did not listen to him because you agreed with him---listening Foxnews and MSNBC?---but because you knew what he was telling you was the truth.
We are smart enough and strong enough to stand the truth, please give it to us.
We have already missed his journalistic integrity since his retirement, and we will miss it so much more now that he has died. And that's the way it is.