Don Hewitt, father of modern TV news

What do Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Mike Wallace, and Andy Rooney, have in common?  The answer, Don Hewitt, who died on Wednesday, August 19,  after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He touched them all, with his brilliance as an innovator in broadcast journalism. His decades of excellence in the TV media he embraced and helped shape, were proceeded by his experience in print media both as a reporter and also as an editor for the photo division of United Press wire service, the early years serving him well as he translated in his own inimitable way the lessons he learned along the way to create something new, as he experimented and visualized the possibilities of  a nascent medium, television.

In the process he gave us Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now and Person to Person; The Kennedy/Nixon Presidential Debates, the first of its kind; The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,  and what he himself considered his crowning achievement, 60 Minutes, which has featured  among  many noted correspondents and commentators Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney to name just two.

The accolades and honors Don Hewitt has received are multitudinous from Emmys to Peabodys. Last year he most fittingly received the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award.

Charlie Rose, who was associated with 60 Minutes himself,  has said that what mattered most to Don Hewitt was “how to best tell a story”.  It may be added, how best to tell a story using the medium of television. Hewitt told the best stories on TV, which is one reason why he most certainly must be considered a father of modern television itself.

Marshall Mcluhan (see previous post – http://bit.ly/aRoQG) promulgated the concept that the medium is the message. Don Hewitt intuitively understood the meaning of this fundamental concept underlying all effective communication.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/20/don-hewitt-father-of-modern-tv-news/

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Robert Novak, 1931-2009

I can’t remember ever agreeing with anything Robert Novak said or wrote about, but I thoroughly enjoyed his style of communicating his ideas. He took on a public persona which “earned” him the nickname the “Prince of Darkness” which he embraced to the extent of using the moniker in the title of his memoir: The Prince of Darkness, 50 Years  Reporting in Washington.

Novak held the distinction of having the longest running syndicated political column (edging out William F. Buckley Jr. due to Buckley’s own death in 2008).  His rich history in journalism and broadcasting included stints as a political correspondent with AP, chief congressional correspondent for the Wall St. Journal, and of course his involvement with “The Capital Gang”, “Crossfire”, and “Evans, Novak, Hunt, & Shields”. He even had a go at teaching as the Radford Visiting Professor of Journalism at Baylor University. For all of this and more in 2001 the National Press Club bestowed on Novak its Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement in journalism. His verve and personality will sorely be missed.

Maybe it was his penchant for digging deep (think – “deep throat” deep) to get a story, but Novak did “dig” up some controversy over the years, not the least of which involved the CIA leak case.

Nevertheless, whichever side of the aisle you may be on, Robert Novak deserves the epithet, “noted communicator” which this blog grants with great discretion to those persons who have made a name for themselves through their endeavors relating to the field of communications.  Robert Novak,  a.k.a. the “Prince of Darkness”, made such a name for himself.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/19/robert-novak-1931-2009/

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Walter Cronkite – the icon dies

He reported the exact time of John F. Kennedy’s death – 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern time. He took off his dark rimmed glasses, looked up at the clock in the studio and reported “38 minutes ago”; then in one of the rare instances on record, he choked up a little for a second or so – then gathered his composure and continued with the fact that vice-president Lyndon Johnson had left the hospital, that it was not known where he was “proceeding”, and that he would presumably be taking the oath of office.

Later, in his administration, Johnson would react to Cronkite’s suggestion that the Vietnam war would end in a “stalemate” by saying “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost Middle America.” Upon his return from a fact finding mission to Vietnam Cronkite felt compelled to voice his opinion on the war on the air; since he never rendered an opinion in his on-air role, considering it his journalistic obligation to be objective and report the facts, the weight of this statement influenced a nation.

 Last night Walter Cronkite, exact time unknown, died. His is the voice many of us still hear in our heads reporting most of the major events during  just about all of the 20th century.

With uncanny coincidence his death coincides with the 40th anniversary of the space mission that put men on the moon; a mission he famously reported. It was another of those few occasions when he was overwhelmed momentarily by the magnitude of the event he was reporting – rubbing his hands together, smiling with glee – and in this way, accurately representing the feeling of all America – and of much of the world – at that moment of human achievement.

Why is Cronkite a communications icon?  For many reasons and in particular, because his work represents one of the standards by which broadcast journalism should be judged. It is said of Cronkite that he was trusted by all America. That trust was earned. It was cultivated through insistence on digging for the facts, getting it right, reporting it plainly, and without bias – telling the people what they needed to know, not necessarily what they wanted to know: Integrity is the word that comes to mind, reporting with integrity.

Now we are plied with an orgy of celebrity “news” ad nauseam; we are committed to a 24/7 news cycle that brings us a repetition of news which can actually numb our sensitivity to what is happening in the world around us; we are bombarded with opinion journalism – take your choice, and indeed that is what we invariably do, instead of demanding the truth, we tune in our favorite news slant, to confirm our perspective and tune out all else.

The Anchorman has died.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/18/walter-cronkite-the-icon-dies/

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Aaron Brown is back

I am ecstatic. I have just realized that Aaron Brown will be back hosting the PBS “Wide Angle” series starting in July! Wait, let me calm myself, take a deep breath and then I’ll explain why I am so thrilled to be the bearer of this good news. (taking breath…).

OK, first of all here’s some important background. In a nutshell, Aaron Brown, for whom an argument can be made that he compares favorably with such master communicators in broadcasting (each in their respective specialties mind you) as Walter Winchell, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, anchored CNN’s primetime news show and will always be remembered for his 9/11 coverage.

There are a number of versions of the CNN story I grant. However, to make a long story short, my assessment was and remains that the format and the anchor were thought to be to un-hip for the audience CNN was going after (read younger). So he was summarily dismissed. Subsequently, Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism (named so in honor of Walter Cronkite) decided Brown was good enough to become the inaugural Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at the school. At the time Cronkite, who had gone after Brown for the position, stated that “His passion for our profession and his commitment to its highest standards of objectivity and fairness has been the hallmark of his work, and will be a source of great inspiration for our students.”

Enter PBS, with the foresight to recognize a professional when they see and hear one.  “Wide Angle” was started in 2001 and PBS considers it “the only program exclusively dedicated to international current affairs documentaries.” Anyway they tapped Brown for the hosting assignment last April, so this will be his second season with the program.

Aaron Brown is a model for what makes a noted communicator, which is why I call him to your attention. His background, his public demeanor, his presentation skills, all are exemplary in this regard. But you can see for yourself. Watch the series to air starting in July, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations. In the meantime, watch and listen to a brief Brown video promo for the series and I think you’ll be convinced as am I that this is no ordinary broadcast journalist. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/about-the-series/introduction/31/wnet/wideangle/episodes/conversations-with-aaron-brown/introducing-wide-angle-host-aaron-brown/1808/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/12/aaron-brown-is-back/

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