Much has been written and spoken about Walter Cronkite in the wake of his death late last week, including his long and successful journalism career (which included a 50-plus year association with CBS News, nineteen of them spent anchoring the network’s evening news broadcast) in which he not only covered some of the greatest news stories of the 20th Century, but also occassionally commented on some of them (like the slow and painful progress of the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War in early-1968). Frankly, I’m not the best person to reflect on Cronkite’s career and legacy, especially since there are those who can explain it better than me — and already have. Rather, it’s more or less a personal look at how Cronkite impacted my family’s life as I was growing up.
While my father was still alive, one TV ritual that was sacred was watching the CBS Evening News every day of the week — I don’t know when that ritual began, but I’m sure it began several years before I was born. In 1962, Walter Cronkite began to helm the CBS Evening News — it was a slow start, at least in the ratings. But by decade’s end, Cronkite was not only the face of CBS News, but also in many respects the network TV news industry — an extraordinary feat during the period in which there were just three major TV networks dominating the American TV industry (not counting PBS and the independent TV stations). It’s no wonder why my father and several generations of viewers turned to Cronkite to deliver the news every weeknight for nineteen years — his style of reporting was straight-forward and honest, the kind of traits that truly mattered then, and should matter in today’s TV news industry, if not for the fact that certain would-be journalists and political pundits are already damaging the very foundations of journalism. Cronkite was an important constant in my father’s life — as well as those of just about everyone who watched him on TV for over a half-century (and probably listened to him on the radio before that).
I’ll end this by saying that Walter Cronkite was a true original in the profession that he chose — and that we’ll probably never see anyone like him again. But then, it’s probably not a bad thing — and perhaps today’s generation of TV journalists can learn from him, simply by finding their own voices, instead of imitating and/or duplicating both the man and his method. Let’s hope so.
July 21, 2009
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