Where is Walter now that we need him?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I write occasionally about the media, about its role in making the news instead of just reporting it. It is a time, especially in television news, marked by an hysteria for ratings in which what they choose not to report can be more important, more influential by its omission, than what they do. It is an age of communications technology in which everything counts. It’s way too easy, even inadvertently, not to mention on purpose, to affect public opinion beyond what a fair and straightforward presentation of the facts would accomplish.

Walter Cronkite once said,

“It’s the journalists’ job, should be our motto, to tell people what they need to know. Scandal sheets tell them what they think they want to know. That’s not our job. It is our job to determine what’s important in the daily news and make sure it’s communicated so people understand its importance.”

The Devil, as usual, is in the details. It’s that part about determining what’s important that demands a level of integrity, an honesty and open mindedness which may be too much to expect from even the best nowadays. At the very least, Walter Cronkite leaves us with standards by which we can measure his successors.

Reporting should be about telling the people “what they need to know, not what they want to know,” as he put it even more succinctly in another interview.

I couldn’t agree more and wonder whether today’s news editors and media executives get the point.

-wf

Recent postings about the media…
“Preoccupation with Palin”, posted July 13, 2009.
“Michael Jackson: Is anybody really this popular?”, posted July 7, 2009.


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