The Passing of a News Media Giant Who Changed Broadcasting Forever

    Walter Cronkite  1916 - 2009

1968 National Poll - Cronkite "The Most Trusted Man In America"
 

Historic Videos:       1963 Zapruder Film          Cronkite Nov. 22,1963          Conquest of Space/Moon Landing

  Vietnam War Commentary            Watergate/Nixon Resigns 1974        Cronkite Last Broadcast 1981



            

Every news medium reported the death of this broadcast journalism legend. July 17, 2009

Read obituaries:     NY Times              CBS News            CNN          Newsweek

 


An American Hero For Our Future:
"And That's The Way It Is..."

Commentary by SJSU Prof. Bob Rucker
 

On July 17th, 2009, I first heard the news of Walter Cronkite's death by way of a text message
from a good friend and former student out in Las Vegas. My friend knew, from our classroom
experience years ago at San Jose State University, when this day came
all of America would reflect and mourn profoundly.

So soon after the death of world icon Michael Jackson,
we face in this nation yet another great loss of another incredibly powerful figure whose
contribution is now deeply rooted in the lives and history of the baby boomer generation.
 Like with the King of Pop, we grew up with this man too, but with our beloved "Uncle Walter,"
as so many of us respectfully called him in our youth, we would wise up and face some
of the most unthinking realities of any lifetime with the kind and steady hand of the
"The Most Trusted Man In America."
 
Cronkite's insightful journalistic efforts left footprints of wisdom inspiring thousands, like me,
to follow in his path, seeing the field of broadcast journalism
as a special public service and a noble endeavor in our society.
 
Walter Cronkite's gentle, every man,
say-it-like-it-is style would help all of us face and understand so much of our troubled world,...
help us to wake up and hold accountable our most ambitious and sometimes foolish leaders,
...and Cronkite, a rare newspaper man who would be comfortable on TV from the start,
would ignite, with the showcase of his own honest emotions, a national
excitement of pride on many occasions, most memorable on July 20, 1969
 when man first landed on the moon. TV's unflappable anchorman was noticeably giddy
that day, I recall, when mankind's impossible dream of touching our closest neighbor
in the cosmos would finally be realized after thousands of years of romantic fantasizing.

Walter Cronkite was more than a great journalist. He was a genuine man
who instinctively seemed to know what Americans wanted and needed in terms of news
in our free society. From flickering and unstable film reels of racial unrest and injustice
during the civil rights movement, and the horror and deep sadness from a presidential assassination,
 to the first time color jolting images of war in Vietnam or a president's resignation in disgrace,
Walter Cronkite was welcomed into our homes as our chief neutral source of truth.
He walked us through them all and much more, working insanely long hours
pushing others to prioritize getting it right first
before rushing to get it out to the public,
a lesson seeming lost in today's internet news & information craze.

Instead of evolving into one of those ego maniac, all-about-me obsessed personality,
Cronkite avoided most inquiries about what he thought about the news
believing sharing his opinions on the news would jeopardize his credibility. As a result he
influenced American thinking with a much clearer filter than we have today
from most network operations.
That advantage helped him find ways to calm and console millions during times of
triumph and tragedy. He helped viewers sort through and make sense of the powerful
or historic moments without imposing his analysis or bias.

 That's why, a few years ago, even at his advanced age, Uncle Walter traveled
to San Jose to be the guest of honor at a Chamber of Commerce function. I encouraged
several SJSU print and broadcast journalism students to go, hear and cover his remarks.
What better teacher or field experience could there be for these students, although I do recall
great disappointment in hearing most of these would-be journalists
weren't interested, were too busy or couldn't find the time. Sad.

The few who did walked into that event  were uncertain about this old man knowing only a few tidbits
of info from their parents. These students had not been born
when he was anchoring the CBS Evening News. They had very low expectations.

By watching the crowd that packed into that ballroom room, and seeing people from all
cultures and walks of life hanging on every word Walter Cronkite, slowly these
student wordsmiths became dumbfounded by the command of this sage of world current events.
They warmed up to Cronkite sensing the feeling of privilege others
in the room were showcasing. These students had stumbled upon greatness and
to their credit, they began to listen intently and want to ask him questions.

Eventually everyone with a recording device wanted a quick interview or taking a photo
with THE MAN. Although noticeably frail and slowed by age, Mr. Cronkite enthusiastically obliged everyone who asked...even me.

During the general Q & A session, I nervously raised my hand to ask my professional hero how
focus today's students on the importance and value of news writing for TV versus technology.
The room quieted and Walter Cronkite looked directly at me and said...

"Teach them that every word counts, so be precise. Know what you are talking
about first. Do your homework. Be prepared. Don't let anyone snow you.
And as a teacher, make them understand the importance of journalism, be tough on them.
People are counting on you and them to get it right."

I just had to shake this man's hand before I departed his presence.
Sure I had met mayors, governors, presidents, even Pope John Paul II as a reporter,
but this man's strong handshake and eager smile meant SO MUCH more.

My hero, Walter Cronkite,
the greatest broadcast journalist of them all
knew it was never about the new technology or being an "anchor person star."
For that's a faulty dream, rooted in impatience and fluff.

Real success has always come by earning people's trust
through consistent hard and creative thinking, then having the guts to
tell people the truths they need to know....and not just the junk they crave.

After all this is a constitutional right and a noble public service in America,
one, this greatly admired and honored broadcaster said often gave him so much pleasure.
Certainly his efforts earned him lasting universal respect across the most powerful nation on earth.

Walter Cronkite's shining examples will live on forever, his life's work to viewed and studied
 by countless generations to come, all looking for ways to separate
their work as quality journalists from the torrent of short term, splash videos and other
distractions we now see flooding the internet, cell phones, television ( and no doubt
mediums yet to be discovered.)

In a world always so mesmerized by new techno toys, money and fleeting fame,
The most respected TV journalist of all time
 showed good writers how to truly stand out and make a huge, memorable
and meaningful difference.

As he put it...And that's the way it is.

Thank you 'Uncle Walter.'
 

 

Prof. Bob Rucker 
Director
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
San Jose State University

 

 

 

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