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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Iran’s eyewitnesses not “citizen” journalists

I have been considering the issue of elevating eyewitness reports – on Twitter – or elsewhere, to the level of citizen journalism. In fact, I have been doing extensive evaluation of this matter as the “phenomenon” occurring during the recent protests of the election in Iran has been generally hailed as technology advancing democracy. Thanks to cell phones and Twitter, citizens can provide “information” to a waiting world, no matter how hard a particular regime tries to suppress what may be taking place.

In theory, this is a good thing. It would mean that no government is able to hide behind a technology “blackout” which it might try to impose; and indeed in Iran, such was and is being attempted by the powers that be. Internet access has been successfully curtailed to strangle the flow of information in and out of the country. But the Supreme Leader did not reckon with the ability of great numbers of tweets to reach eager readers throughout the world, or cell phone photos and videos either.

This is all justifiably to be recognized as a step forward for humankind to be sure.  But, to convert eyewitness reports – which is what we are truly dealing with – into what has been dubbed  “citizen journalism” is a leap not to be taken lightly.

First, the authenticity of any given set of data, whether transmitted in words or pictures, is not finally subject to thorough verification. There is no standard under which the “reporting” is undertaken; normal professional reporting dictates corroboration through at least two separate sources for any bit of information to be considered credible and accepted for public airing. There is no oversight, or editorial scrutiny; in point of fact, one can question the source and origin of many of the tweets represented to be from Iran.

So what we have are eyewitness reports – an element often used by police and journalists in helping to piece together an incident or event; while a truly remarkable outpouring of verbiage and pictorial documentation, which certainly by its sheer volume and commonality of content, renders a “picture” of a government using totally heinous means to subdue an uprising over a questionable election, to raise these sincerely heroic efforts to get the word out to the world to the level of journalism is to reach too far and in the process to lower the bar for fact.

I have previously called attention to related matters in  prior posts which addressed the important concept of “truthiness” (see tag cloud). Truth, is not just “true enough”. The measure must be the strictest yardstick.

So while not diminishing the accomplishment of “the people” in sweeping away the “veil” attempted to cover the atrocities committed in the name of civil obedience through the use of new media and new technology, let’s not overreach, that would be to diminish the work of journalists throughout history who have indeed often risked their very lives to report the facts!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/15/irans-eyewitnesses-not-citizen-journalists/

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Pulitzer Prize, what’s it all about anyway?

At 3:00 p.m. , Monday, April 20, at Columbia University the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners and nominated finalists were announced. In journalism, there are 14 separate categories of the award. They are: Public Service; Breaking News Reporting; Investigative Reporting; Explanatory Reporting; Local Reporting; National Reporting; International Reporting; Feature Writing; Commentary; Criticism; Editorial Writing; Editorial Cartooning; Breaking News Photography; and, Feature Photography.

The intent of the Pulitzer prize is to honor excellence in journalism and the arts. Besides the journalism awards there are prizes in Biography or Autobiography; Fiction; Drama; History; Poetry; General Non-Fiction; and a Pulitzer Prize for Music. Pulitzer originally specified only four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education, and four traveling scholarships.  the prizes now include 21 separate categories.

The awards were originated through the will of Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911). Pulitzer, who had come up through the journalistic ranks to prominence in newspaper publishing, and who, in his “newspaper wars” with the Hearst organization became associated with adding “yellow journalism” into the annals of journalism’s history must be otherwise regarded as a keystone figure in that history as well.

In a piece in The North American Review, written in 1904 in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism he wrote the following: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”

Starting in 2006 online content in all 14 journalism categories was allowed. For this year’s awards the competition was expanded to include online-only news organizations. Both of these steps, granting the background of the Pulitzers, are not to be taken lightly. More than 2400 entries are submitted each year.

A word should be mentioned about the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal awarded each year to the American newspaper that wins the Public Service category. On one side of the medal is the profile of Benjamin Franklin, and on the other side, a printer hard at work at his press. The sculptor, Daniel Chester French later did the seated Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The images used have much to say about what and who we ought to value in terms of our journalistic heritage.

There is an  on-going discussion and debate about the place of traditional journalism in a 21st century society. There can be no debate about the merit of those who have been granted this award.

For complete information about this year’s awards go to: http://www.pulitzer.org/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/20/pulitzer-prize-whats-it-all-about-anyway/

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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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