The news and the news business itself have always been a major part of my life. I was, to a degree, born into the broadcast news business, thanks to my second cousin, Cecil Brown, who was a significant part of what news used to be.
Cousin Cecil was one of Edward R. Murrow's "boys" as a war correspondent in London during World War Two, hired by Murrow shortly after a British ship, the HMS Repulse, was torpedoed in the South China Sea, aboard which Cecil was reporting for radio and newspapers during the torpedo attack, ten days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Murrow heard about cousin Cecil's near life-ending experience and offered him the London-based job with Murrow's CBS News operation there. Among the other "boys" with whom Cecil worked were Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid.
When I was a teenager in the 1950s in New York, Cecil, his wife Martha, my mother (raised with Cecil in Pittsburgh) and I would spend many private times together discussing the news and also listening to Cecil's commentaries on the ABC radio network. He was also ABC-TV’s first anchorman, in 1953. Cecil, now long-deceased, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He concluded his professional years as Professor of Communication Arts at Cal Poly Pomona in southern California. In sum, he was a consummate and highly respected professional in the news business. I was blessed to have his tutelage, which would serve me well when I anchored news on both radio and television as part of my broadcast career.
News reported in the earliest days of radio and television was spoken and “delivered” with dignity, quality and importance by the newscasters and reporters, but also not sounding “holier than thou”. When they spoke, people listened. They were an inspiration to me and many others who became full-time news broadcasters. That was then, this is, sadly, now.
I write "sadly" because, in the late 1940s and early-to-mid 1950s, when CBS started its evening television newscasts with Douglas Edwards and NBC had John Cameron Swayze anchoring each program for 15 minutes, the entire nation stopped to watch and listen. It's not only because television was relatively new (debuting in 1948, nationally), but also because, once again, they were reporting the stories with importance and dignity in their voices. They were followed in the 1960s, through even the 1990s, by similar quality news people who included, in addition to the aforementioned Cronkite and Sevareid, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and Sam Donaldson. I was honored to have the late Huntley’s and Jennings’ personal friendships, in addition to the still living Koppel’s and Donaldson’s, with whom I still keep in touch. Today, in my opinion, more television newscasts, including network and cable, don’t seem to reflect that dignity nor evidence the newscasters do their "homework" deeply enough, nor seem to care how they deliver the information. The mispronunciation of words and place-names, plus poorly constructed sentences and disregard for dignity is rampant. Again in my opinion, audiences deserve much more quality to return to news presentations.
How did news reporting evolve from dignified to appearing unimportant, why has it been allowed to happen and should it matter? In my opinion, the primary answer to the question includes hiring many anchors/reporters with insufficient life and public communication experience by those currently leading the newsrooms of television and radio. Those leaders and reporters/anchors weren't part of "the greatest generation" who were raised on news delivered importantly by those who knew how to do so. Again, all the preceding are only my opinions, but I think valid. Do any television anchors currently come close to matching the quality of yesteryear's news reporting? In my opinion, NBC-TV's Lester Holt is the only one of whom I can think. There's still hope!
Thank you, as always, for reading.