Encouragement From Walter Cronkite

Friday, February 9, 2007

At a speech at the Columbia Journalism School Walter Cronkite--who is not the larger than life figure I always imagined, but at 90 years old is an old man who struggled to climb onto the stage, stumbled when reading (but could make it into a joke) and has recently had minor surgery on his throat--bemoaned the profit-driven world of media today, pointing a finger at today's broadcasts and its "soundbite culture" for "turning a political race into political theater."

Despite his self described "doom and gloom" he still believes in the importance of news and his comments are worth mulling over.

"Even as we gather here today to do some critical thinking about the news business, let's please be very careful about where we lay the blame. From my perspective, the major problem these days is not the individual journalist by any means or the standards of the profession by any means. Young people I see entering into the field of journalism are no less intelligent or dedicated than in my generation some several years ago. They are indeed quite, I would say brave, to be entering our profession with far less job security... than the one I did. They do so I believe out of the deep sense of commitment to the public service. ...Today...they are assailed with inflated public expectations from Wall Street. They are faced with round after round of job cuts and cost cuts that require them to do evermore with ever less. In this information, age, in the very complicated world in which we live today, the need for high-quality reporting is greater than ever and we have had examples of that over these last several years in Washington. It's not just the journalist's job at risk here, it's American democracy, and it's freedom."

And some bonus nuggets:

"If I do have to drink something, it usually isn't water...that's [a drinking budget] not the sort of calculation a publisher makes when deciding to fund newspaper."

"You may be surprised to learn that I have never felt that TV news was a good substitute for a good newspaper. The number of words spoken in a standard TV broadcast barely equals the number of words on two thirds of a page of a standard newspaper."

And that's the way it is.

Photo of Cronkite on the set of the CBS Evening News by Irving Haberman via wikipedia.com

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

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