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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Timing isn’t everything

Posts on this blog often deal with the news of the day, but not necessarily on the day it’s news. First, a reminder as to why a blog devoted to all things related to effective communication would spend time – at any time – addressing current events. It is because “culture” and “communication” are inextricably connected as I wrote in a previous post –https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/22/culture-and-communications/.

I stated there, “I endeavor to address the matter undertaken from a communications perspective.” So, most of the time, I take the time to analyze the news story involved to ferret out its implications and meaning from this point of view.

For example, since my intent was to consider the communications aspects  beyond the storyline itself relating to the comments of President Obama in connection with the Gates arrest incident, (see previous post titled: “President Obama and language used stupidly”) the post I finally issued was days after the nationally televised press conference at which the comments were made. Time needed to pass to let the public and media reaction occur and to assess the consequential happenings.

I am not looking to be first, I am looking to be insightful, to help shed some light on what is happening, by trying to interpret what has occurred focusing particularly on that area – communication “effect-iveness” – which constitutes the reason this blog exists.

Now this approach is not popular in today’s frenzied 24/7 cable news cycle. Our “news” must be New, with a capital “N”; we have been encouraged to automatically conclude that the more timely a published item – whether in the blogosphere or the traditional media –  the better it must be; we identify the actual number of minutes since a post, a comment, a news item has been issued, assuming that if it’s “old” it must be stale (what about fine wine?) – and we do indeed measure “old news” in minutes nowadays. There is no allowance for or acceptance of  time for reflection, and so much of what starts out as thoughtful often turns out to be shooting from the hip, and later gets recanted or revised. There is definitely a call for quick assessment, but there is most definitely an urgent call for some careful consideration.

This post is a statement of position on the matter of timeliness. I pledge that this blog will treat many of the important issues occurring in our midst as they arise in a manner befitting the portfolio of this blog and therefore, by definition, not necessarily when they arise, the better to see the forest in spite of the trees.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/29/timing-isnt-everything/

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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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Boy do we need a Chief Technology Officer!

I have been absorbing the news for the past few days. It’s really true. President Obama, in his weekly radio and internet address on Saturday, April 18, announced that Aneesh Chopra will be the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Chopra currently holds the CTO position in the state of Virginia. Why is this appointment meaningful?

First, a little background. The Obama administration’s agenda as regards technology is summarized this way: “President Obama and Vice President Biden understand the immense transformative power of technology and innovation and how they can improve the lives of Americans. They will work to ensure the full and free exchange of information through an open Internet and use technology to create a more transparent and connected democracy. They will encourage the deployment of modern communications infrastructure to improve America’s competitiveness and employ technology to solve our nation’s most pressing problems — ” http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/technology/

This nation has a lot of work to do to bring technology, particularly information and communication technology (ICT) into balance with societal needs. Yes we’re tweeting away, and faithfully updating our Facebook profiles, but we have no where near harnessed existing technology to make a difference in the lives of many in meaningful ways, or organized our public functions, governmental and otherwise to take optimal advantage of what technology can do.

This is only part of the task ahead. The nation’s first Chief  Technology Officer will need to be forward thinking about what the future demands. This is an important part of the job description.

There are many parts to this puzzle. The Obama technology agenda document identifies a number of  areas of interest, I will note just a few: “preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.” – “Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.” -” Use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks.” – “America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access.”  For the complete document detail go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/technology/

The CTO position will officially be that of associate director for technology under the administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy office. Hardly a cabinet level position. But it’s a step in the right direction. A step into the future.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/23/boy-do-we-need-a-chief-technology-officer/

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John Madden quits the game

I cannot let the retirement announcement by John Madden yesterday pass without mention.

This blog has a category for “noted communicators” for a reason, and Madden is in that category. For those that may not consider the name a household word (and many would) John Madden has been the face of pro football in broadcasting for some thirty -wait numbers matter in sports, let’s make that “30” years, maybe even put it on a jersey.

Even non-sports fans recognize the guy from his shall we say dabbling in commercial endorsements such as for Ace Hardware – for those who can’t understand why Madden is a perfect spokesman for Ace, I’ll explain: for the same reason he was a perfect game analyst with all four networks, CBS(1979-94), Fox (1994-2002), ABC (2002-05), NBC (2005-09); he was as they say in sports “a natural”, down to earth everyman who just happened to know how to communicate about the game in such a way that it made sense, or in some cases nonsense. He did indeed have a unique way with words, and his enthusiasm for his sport was apparent and infectious. He knew the game started in the mud and dirt and that’s what he caught, the essence of it all.

Sports broadcasting will not be the same without him.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/17/john-madden-quits-the-game/

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Irving R. Levine, consummate newsman

I cannot ignore the passing of Irving R. Levine, who among other journalistic accomplishments, for nearly a quarter century handled the intricacies of economics and business news with aplomb for NBC. When he retired from reporting, he became dean of the College of International Communication at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, a city near my own. Mr. Levine, among a number of “trademarks” including his ever present bow tie, was quite committed to the use of his and middle initials in general. I at least have that in common with this distinguished communicator.  For a complete obituary (Mr. Levine started his career writing obituaries for The Providence Journal  interestingly enough) go to:

http://www.legacy.com/Obituaries.asp?page=LifeStory&personId=125506395

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/28/irving-r-levine-consummate-newsman/

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