Where Are You, Walter Cronkite?

Is the news the new reality?

Posted Feb 28, 2014

When I was a young girl in the 1950s I’d watch the news with John Cameron Swayze. I was always amused by his Timex commercials where a watch was dunked in a tank of water to demonstrate that it could “take a licking but keep on ticking.” He’d end his broadcasts with, “That’s the story folks, glad we could get together.” Edward R. Murrow, Huntley and Brinkley, and Douglas Edwards were also on the scene. And then there was Walter, “the most trusted man in America.”

Walter Cronkite epitomized all that was noble in journalism and news broadcasting. He reported the news as it unfolded in a straight-forward, down to earth way for decades. You could rely on what he had to say. He ended every broadcast with the words, “and that’s the way it is.” I miss him very much.

Technology is a constantly changing force in our lives, providing access to an unfathomable amount of information. Few of us could have comprehended the rapidity of change we all experience on a minute-to-minute basis, or the effects this barrage of information and unfiltered stimulation has upon us. We are simultaneously empowered and overwhelmed by the easy access and availability of information. Now we rarely have to wait more than a few seconds for the news to unfold. In fact, people are on the ground wherever news is happening to report it in that instant. But unfortunately, sometimes news is created or manipulated out of a situation just to make news.

It seems that often these days the news is more like, “and that’s the way we want it to be.” The pressure is brought to bear by dozens of news channels vying for our attention, 24/7. There’s a news station for everyone, each catering to a specific perspective, ideology, and political persuasion. Sometimes news seems more like entertainment and sadly, many of those reporting the news would rather be a celebrity than a journalist. As a result, we’re no longer dealing with just hearing the news reported. News is now emotionalized and sensationalized in order to pull us in, to hook us so that we’ll want to come back for more.

What seems to concern me most about this is that the boundaries of what is okay and what is not okay, and ultimately, what is decent to report are blurred. I find myself wincing at what may be the good intentions of a reporter to cover the whole story by attempting to include the personal side. All too often, these are awkwardly handled, insensitive encounters.

Many people had strong opinions about the Bode Miller “interview” at the recent Olympics. The insensitive and inappropriate line of questioning concerning his brother’s death caused Miller to be visibly shaken and upset. Yet, the microphone remained close by as did the camera in order to catch whatever it could of his tragedy and grief. This was clearly not a moment he wished to share with anyone and yet we were all given a front row seat.

This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this. Far from it. I’ve seen many interviews where the dumbest, most insensitive, inane questions have been asked or where the reporter/journalist assumes to know what the person must be feeling and tells them so. These interviews are painful to watch. And really, these are not news.

So what am I hoping for here? Well, for starters, I would hope, no insist, that part of the education of a journalist/newscaster—a position of great importance given the responsibility and privilege imparted to those individuals who bring us the news—should include at least a few required basic courses in psychology and interviewing techniques. I’m tired of interviewers coming with their own four minute agenda, often not really listening to the person they’re interviewing, and often ending up “interviewing” themselves with what they feel the viewer is interested in seeing and hearing. It’s the responsibility of the media in large part to bring us back to a place where respect for the individual and human decency is restored.