On Cronkite

I’ve written — twice — about Walter Cronkite in the last month or so. You can click the “icons” category over there on the right and find them. So I won’t go into his death too much. But I left out a couple of obvious videos that marked his career:

The death of Martin Luther King Jr.

And the moon landing:

A lot of people this weekend will lament that Cronkite was the last vestige of the “just the facts” newscast. And it’s true, each story he introduced may have appeared to have no underlying message. But the dirty little secret of journalism — one of them — is that why a story is chosen to air is every bit as important as what a story says, and you can’t make that decision without having an opinion about why a story matters enough to be told.

At the National Scholastic Press Association workshop at the University of Minnesota on Friday, a high school journalism teacher asked me how she could get her students to understand “objectivity” (a word I don’t use, I prefer “fairness”). “Don’t explain it to them” I suggested. “When they turn in a story, just ask them ‘why?’.” Why they pursued the story? Why they took a particular angle? Why one sentence appeared before another? Why they talked to the people they talked to? As they answer each question, the part of us — the personal us — that is part of the process, will be more clear.

Cronkite, it is said, influenced thousands of people to get into journalism. That’s probably accurate. But I didn’t find Cronkite to be the most inspiring journalist on the show. I found the person who was always at the end of his broadcast to be the most compelling:

News is supposed to be a snapshot of our world. He knew that a single note from a piano, for example, can still make us cry. And that 90 seconds of video of the world just being the world, can lead us to contemplate it far more than a babbling head. His stories were consistently the most memorable and I always wondered what it was — and still is — about journalism that kept them from leading the news.

I often wondered whether anyone asked Cronkite that question.

The part about us that’s good, is every bit as newsworthy as the part about us that isn’t.

  • Cheryl Collins

    Kuralt was great too….I love the nature videos of North Carolina but grimaced when the deer ate those rhododendron blossoms. …..more emotion than when they landed on the moon…..guess that’s life.