Friday, July 17, 2009

Death of a legend

Walter Cronkite's death today at the age of 92 gives most in the industry reason to reflect on where it is going. Here's three ways Cronkite had influence on journalism and what the sports world can learn from him.

1. Cronkite was big, but never bigger than the story.
Here's where many in today's media industry get it wrong, in a day and age where you have to market yourself to the point where you are the story just to sell more ads. Cronkite covered all the biggest stories and I'd argue he never cast a bigger shadow that the story. Yet Cronkite's influence can't be questioned.
What do you see in sports now? Dick Vitale screaming his had off, grabbing as much attention as he can while building "a brand" so he can scream his head off some more.
Vitale is far from the only one guilty of this. There's plenty of others (Hello Pierre McGuire and Doug McLean), but they make me appreciate those who can do their jobs without all of that hyperbole and use their influence to tell the story in a spellbinding way. Like Vin Scully, Dan Schulman, Jim Hughson, and Dave Van Horn.
I've always wondered if you had to scream that much to get your point across, were you were worth listening to? Cronkite's death makes it clear.
The answer is no.

2. Cronkite didn't bend ethical rules to get access.
He didn't need to. We shouldn't need to either. He would speak out if there were issues regarding access, such as the routine roadblocks the Winnipeg Blue Bombers put in the way of Winnipeg beat reporters (save for the radio rights holder). Like the Winnipeg reporters now do with the Bombers, Cronkite would simply find another way in. Athletes, coaches and sports adminisrators often think of themselves as god-like figures and can shove their weight around. Those walls deserve to be torn down as those walls don't just block our access, but that of the fans that pay the freight so the athletes can play.

3. Cronkite was allowed to cover those stories the way they should be covered, and made the most of it.
Far too often, media organizations have cut staff and budgets and take the view that one story spread across a country is better than many viewpoints. Those of us who like to consider other points of view certainly disagree with that, but as sports budgets shrink, that's not possible anymore unless you look to the world of blogs. This is one of the better ones, which is why I agreed to write for it. However, not all are created equal.

That's the way it is.


Greg said...

Very well said, Keith. I entirely agree with your points.

It's hard to believe he's gone. I never had the opportunity to see him do a newscast, but I have seen past clips of his work online and have enjoyed his post-anchor coverage for CBS.

R.I.P., Walter Cronkite.

Anonymous said...

Walter Cronkite had integrity, class and humility.
Unfortunately those qualities seem in scarce supply today, especially among the ilk of Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher....self aggrandizing pooh-bahs more interested in pushing their own political ideology than seeking truth in journalism.
The person that came closest to his standard was the late Tim Russert, but really Cronkite was in a league unto himself.
The likes of him, I am afraid to say, shall not be seen again.

Dave said...

Ideology alters judgement more than anything, we all have it, and need to be aware of it. No foolin' on the death of reporting, I remember a decade or more ago, the print and radio media in Belleville Ont. simply regurgitating the CP wire on the finding of an Avro Arrow test model at the bottom of the lake near the Sandbanks, 20 minute drive away. There was no local story or angle. That and the death of the night-time DJ drove home the point to me of the mediocrity we were headed for....