by Kevin Allman
Mediabistro reports that longtime CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite is gravely ill, and that the network began updating Cronkite's obituary a few days ago.
In 1987, Cronkite came to New Orleans to accept the Edward R. Murrow award for CBS News. His remarks that day are more timely than ever ... and eerily prescient:
No other profession spends as much time examining its navel as we do--and we do it far more publicly than any of the others.
We rush to print with every morsel of self-criticism to the point that you would think we were dedicated to destroying the free press instead of preserving it.
Of course there are things wrong, with probably the most obvious manifestation being the tabloidization of too much of our work. Mainline journalism seems to have accepted the standards of what once was known as the penny press. It is to worry.
And, of course, the bottom line of our discomfort is the bottom line itself.
With almost total unanimity, our big, corporate owners, infected with the greed that marks the end of the 20th Century, stretch constantly for ever-increasing profit, condemning quality to take the hindmost. If there is any solution to this problem it might be found in educating the share-holding public to their responsibility in owning this business which is fundamental to the preservation of our democracy.
If they understood the nature of this public service and treated their investment in it accordingly, we would be saved from compromising journalistic integrity in the mad scramble for ratings and circulation. In other words, if they did not expect the constantly increasing, unconscionable profits now expected from most investments but accepted a rational and steady return on their investment in this essential public service of newspapers and broadcast news.
You might give some thought to this organization promoting this idea. Utopian? Oh, I suppose so. But besides serving democracy it has its practical side of direct benefit to you. By making this case, you'll get the monkey off your backs and direct the public's dissatisfaction with our broadcasts and press where it belongs.
But we all know what is wrong--and as professionals, we all know how to fix it if given the mandate from our bosses, or if we can wrest control from the bottom liners. Let our battle cry be: Editors, not auditors.
A clip likely to be played over and over again in days to come Cronkite announcing the death of John F. Kennedy on live television: