Walter Cronkite died today.
It has hit me pretty hard, because Walter Cronkite was the reason I began a career in journalism. On television every evening, I saw someone who had earned the respect of my family and the world, not for an isolated accomplishment, but for being someone who tried to make me a better person so I and my fellow-viewers could make a better world. Every evening, he gave me the information that I needed to become a better citizen and a better human.
My strong attraction to Walter Cronkite did not begin with CBS News, but with his children’s program “You are There.” I was of the elementary school age he was talking to … the original series in the 1950’s. It was history, and he brought it all to life as my teacher. “July Fourth, 1776 — a day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our time. And you are there.” It made me feel important to see something important, and it made me feel that television was important because it was where history was being made.
It was also Walter Cronkite who brought me back into journalism many years later. Seeing him reporting on the Vietnam war and Watergate renewed those childhood dreams of wanting to watch history … and then to tell other people what I had seen.
That’s what journalism is: explaining, giving facts, details, talking to people. Letting people know what is important in your world and what should be important in their world. Only part of the excitement of journalism is in watching and asking questions. The rest of the excitement is in the telling of the story and hoping that you give people the information they need to share your interest.
It is difficult now to be proud of the profession, but today Walter Cronkite taught me the final lesson that I only hope will save it.
Back to Basics.
Don’t chase or celebrate the personality of someone. Don’t try to advance your own agenda by tearing down something. However, don’t take the other extreme of boring the audience with minute details of some useless piece of trivia.
That’s the lesson. The basic story, presented to an audience that knows you are interested in it, can be riveting. It can move them in one way or another. And the journalist doesn’t care what direction they take. He doesn’t sell a philosophy. He just needs to know that they have the facts before they jump.
Over many years, I have often thought of Walter Cronkite, This time, I am thinking about how I need to get back to what I first learned from him: you can make a better world by making better people. One story at a time.