Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Farewell Walter -- Journalism then and now, a commentary

The passing of Walter Cronkite like the passing of Edward R. Morrow marks the end of the journalist as "individual conscience of the country and a people" here in the United States. Where Morrow marked the transition from radio to TV reporting in the mid-2oth Century, Cronkite marked the transition from network reporting to network TV anchor/managing editor.

Walter Cronkite represents a period in our history when America and Americans were proud of their country and their leaders. When many of the foolish ideals made sense and were worth standing up for, even as we knew things in reality were different (very different). Cronkite exuded a sense of fairness and straight forwardness that those of us growing up with the emerging media of the 60s and 70s appreciated. His excitement about and for life came through in a personal unscripted way that one no longer finds in this overly marketed and packaged culture.

Can an individual replace him today? I doubt it. The times and the environment have changed. The individual no longer counts, only the demographic. The middle has been replaced by the trashing from the extremes. And the shared values of the earlier era have been displaced by the chaos and dynamic of multiple media sources and outlets.

When choice was limited, an individual, such as Walter Cronkite, could raise to the top. But today -- today no one evens knows who all the players are, much less can propose a set of criteria to select the best that everyone or most people would accept.

Today's TV "journalism" is fluff, soft, viciously biased, and factually unchecked. Today the networks, the newspapers, the print media as whole struggle with out dated business models and poorer quality product. The expansion of outlets and sources and the ease of getting YOUR story out, reduces the power, control and quality of editing and end product. The demands of the 24 hour news cycle are well documented and commented upon by those both within and outside the media.The media and the Crowd that create and feed on it demand immediate satisfaction and gratification regardless of the importance or development of the story. Or else they will turn elsewhere.

Everyone and anyone with a cell phone, video recording device, and an link to the internet can be a reporter. Just check out this video.

So where are do we go from here?? The Superorganism that is the Crowd now rules and we find ourselves in the middle of Network, the movie.

Watching the HBO film "John Adams" the other night, I came to realize, as Adams did, the unique qualities of George Washington and how lucky we were to have had him at that particular moment in our history. In some way, I feel the same is true for Walter Cronkite and TV journalism in the mid 20th Century.

No comments: