A few weeks ago a writer friend of mine Jerry Barmash said he was preparing an article on television anchors getting younger and the use of social media on newscasts. He asked me if I had any thoughts on the subject.
I do think the news anchors are getting younger and in some cases too young. Many are inexperienced for the positions they hold and are not students of history. By definition youth lacks the experience of history, but many young anchors lack the knowledge of contemporary history or the interest to learn it and are sometimes faulty in their reporting that requires context to understand an event.
Local television news was in its infancy back in the 1960’s and even color television was new. Most of us young reporters back than were covering news events with black and white silent film and Polaroid pictures. It was rare to do a remote report unless you pushed the big cameras out the studio back door to do a story on the weather. We didn’t have the technology to go anywhere and everywhere live. In the bigger markets reporters went out with a camera and a crew and filmed their story and brought it back to the station to be developed, written, edited and aired. Lighter videotape cameras for field use were a few years in the future.
I was 28 when I was hired by WCBS-TV from WNEW-TV. There were some older colleagues, but many of us hard news street reporters were age contemporaries; some were not, like Gabe Pressman, Ralph Penza, and J.J. Gonzales and others whoses names I can’t remember. The anchors then were older. Jim Jensen was 15 years my senior. The specialists like science reporter Earl Ubell and the weather and sports guys were also older. When I first joined Channel two Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall and Jack Whittaker were all doing local sports. They were older and they eventually moved over to the network side of programming.
Three things are predominantly different in today’s news presentations: the number of woman who are anchors and reporters, the age of the anchors and the use of social media in covering and presenting the news. In 1969 Channel Two had two women street reporters, Gloria Rojas and Pia Lindstrum, more came later, but no women anchors that I can recall. Social media, at that time, was a note on a colleague’s desk or a phone call.
I watch with disdain the constant reference on the air by local anchors all over the country to “follow me” on Twitter or Facebook. I was trained not to waste the precious seconds of a 30-minute broadcast that could be used for additional information on an important story. Why waste collective minutes on frivolous chatter that does nothing to advance a story or inform the viewer? An old friend and global journalist Tarzie Vittachi once said to me, “if the information doesn’t transform, then maybe it’s gossip.” His statement has its truth.
The so-called citizen journalists of today are not trained to be responsible tellers of a story. A journalistic ethic is to be learned and cultured over time and when it’s seasoned with hard and fair reporting it’s called trust. Walter Cronkite didn’t get to be America’s most trusted person by promoting himself on twitter or Facebook. It came from hard work, solid reporting, checking facts and doing it daily.
Sending a cell phone picture or selfie or a hash tag sentence is enough to get notoriety these days and in some case celebrity status for the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, but it’s not journalism.
And while I’m on this rant, there is too much personal opinion masquerading as news and analysis. I am in favor of commentary, but only when it is labeled as such, and not tossed in as an aside in a newscast and delivered as fact. My other pet-peeve is asking a question and then interrupting the answer. Listening is a journalistic skill.
I think twitter and the other social media outlets have their place and are useful in our modern society and in the gathering of information and even as a tool to facilitate news coverage, but using them on newscasts to self-promote, gain followers, encourage comment, or raise ratings, is detrimental to the journalistic profession.