Friday, July 17, 2009

Tune it to Walter

I have to confess that any reminisces I might have of Walter Cronkite anchoring the news would be manufactured. I mean I've seen him anchoring the news, reporting the news, in the context of videos presented in other forms from what we see in Apollo 13 to newsreels of his World War II reportage to his reporting of the JFK assassination. I may very well have witnessed some of his reports on the television as a kid, but as a kid -- or at least as this kid -- the only relevant things you remember from the news the adults in your life consumed were the Sunday funnies and that one glorious day when it was revealed to you that there were black-and-white funnies in the paper on the weekdays.

But still, I get that feeling that with Cronkite's passing today that we've seen the last light turn off in an era when television news was, for the lack of a better word, better.

Did they still opine on the news then? Yes. But back then, news was an event, a distillation of a day's news into a scant half-hour, an hour if there was something really big. If there were something extremely big, we got that delicious moment when your shows were suddenly interrupted with a cheesy cardboard graphic warning us of a special news bulletin.

Today, news is not an event. It's a given. It's not trickled out to us. It's on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, on several channels where they opine and opine and opine and report and report and report until we're so numb to the news that it takes the overspectacular -- the Michael Jacksons, the OJ Simpsons, the airplane crashes, even to get us to realize that news isn't background noise, it's news. To me, Walter Cronkite is one of the last symbols of the era when news was news, not a 24-hour expectation or bloviation fest.

Time's headline declares that Cronkite owned the word 'trust.' I have to agree with that. Who in the news owns that word today? I don't know. But there are certainly a legion of newsies attempting to own the word 'jackass' today.

The little screen was bigger back then. If we wanted news, we had to tune in at those specific times, and when we did we knew the likes of Cronkite would be there, goofy windblown white-man hair and all, not the polished mannequins we have these days. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather may be the last of the breed, but even they saw the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and were swept into the maw.

Is too much news a bad thing? Absolutely.

I'd rather give up 24-hour news. I'd rather just tune it to Walter.

1 comment:

carl g said...

Could not have said it better.