IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Walter Cronkite lays down his pen

Veteran newsman laments lack of depth in television news
/ Source: Reuters

Lamenting the lack of depth in television news, the man considered the most trusted person on TV, Walter Cronkite, ends his current job this Wednesday right back where he started, as a newspaperman.

In his final column in a year-long stint writing for the King Features Syndicate, Cronkite, 87, calls his decades as the nightly news anchor for broadcast network CBS “rewarding,” but ”not entirely satisfactory” due to time limitations that prevented deep reporting of any one story.

“We’re talking about covering one of the most complicated and important nations of the world...and it’s patently impossible to do an adequate job of covering the major stories of the day, around the world, in 17 minutes,” Cronkite recently told Reuters, alluding to the on-air time in any half-hour news telecast.

The veteran reporter, who has covered presidential elections and and armed conflicts from World War Two to the Vietnam War, said he would like to see the numerous news “magazines” on TV devote more time to “instant documentaries” of current topics instead of “so much coverage of sex and Hollywood and crime.”

In his farewell passage for King Features, Cronkite writes that because newspapers can provide depth and breadth, they can become a “custodian of our history.”

“The decent newspapers try to be fair and present both sides of a disputed story in the community and our nation, and that is the essential of our history,” he said. “It is where historians go to do their research. This is an absolutely vital link in the chain of culture that we call our democracy.”

Broadcast vs. printThere are some things that each medium — television and newspapers — does distinctively. Television, of course, gives viewers a better sense of how people look and act, but newspapers provide a record that can be stored for people to read and study events for years to come.

In the case of presidential elections, Cronkite said the TV industry should be forced to give away air time to candidates to avoid multi-million dollar TV ad campaigns and keep offices from being up-for-sale to the candidate who raised the most money.

The newsman said he values the Internet as a research tool, but he finds some stories published on the Web — scandals especially — play too fast and loose with the facts.

“I am dumbfounded that there hasn’t been a crackdown with the libel and slander laws on some of these would-be writers and reporters on the Internet. I expect that to develop in the fairly near future,” he said.

In the past year, Cronkite’s columns have been printed in 180 newspapers around the world through King Features Syndicates, which supplies some 5,000 newspapers worldwide with material. King Features is part of Hearst Corp.

Columns have varied from humanist topics to political comment. But, he said, it was time for him to put up his pen and shut down his computer.

Cronkite got his start as a newspaper reporter in Austin, Texas, some 68 years ago, and moved into television broadcasting in 1950. He said he has always considered writing for newspapers as being his “real home.”

He said he is ending his yearlong stint writing for King Features to devote more time to working on television documentaries and speaking to conventions, sales meetings and college students.