Monday, August 08, 2005

News or Entertainment:Both But

Today with the passing of news journalist Peter Jennings, I was musing over the changes I've seen in this field. When I was a child I grew up with Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley. These men were very much in the image of Edward R. Murrow who pioneered the field. They gave the facts and as much information as they had. Sometime they were sentimental, but always hard nosed about the facts. They maintained a balance between information and not being too intrusive into personal issues.

Then came the next round of national journalists including Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather. They had a much tougher battle to fight. The "Information Age" - information coming quicker, wider audience, more educated audience, less devoted audience, and much more competition in both the forms of information delivery and demand for attention of the audience. How to balance it all? Not easy by any mean. Journalism has always had an element of entertainment, the problem is how to not let that element overwhelm the job of getting the information out in an as unbiased way as possible. Peter Jennings did remarkable well even when the pressure of making the news more mainsteam and more thrilling became intense.

I had the great good fortune of being present at a Fred Friendly Seminar. It was a special one done on first amendment issues with a local panel. For those not familiar with Fred Friendly, he was a partner of Edward R. Murrow in creating See It Now. He was a believer in looking deep into topics of our personal freedoms and all the various things that affect it. He was Executive Producer at CBS of CBS Reports and President when 60 Minutes was introduced. In 1974 he became a Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and started a series of seminars on Media and Society. Out of this came a couple PBS series including Ethics in America. The last in this series was on Privacy and Journalism and Peter Jennings was one of the panelists. These are all worth watching time and again, but this last one on the "limits of the public's right to know" was, I thought, exceptional.

Looking for programs that make you think - check out the website for the Fred Friendly Seminars on TV.

In case you were wondering - I currently like Ted Koppel and Cokie Roberts. Charlie Rose when he is at his most intense with questions is also well worth tuning in. Otherwise, I think there is a real void out there for good reporting of world news (versus business news).