By Mary Kenney
The Working Press
Edward R. Murrow mastered two emerging media of his time: radio and television.
Murrow, a longtime reporter for CBS, is considered a pioneer of broadcast journalism for his coverage of World War II, the Red Scare and Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The demands of emerging media faced by Murrow challenge many journalists today, and his example resonates more now than it did in the past, said Dean Baquet, managing editor of The New York Times.
Five panelists, including Baquet and host Marvin Kalb, discussed why Murrow matters to journalists of today.
Murrow was fair, but he was not concerned with balance, said biographer and radio host Bob Edwards. He said Murrow would not give all arguments equal weight because he refused to listen to liars.
Kalb discussed Murrow’s 1958 speech in which he said television can inspire and educate, but only if people use it that way. He asked CBS News correspondent Erin Moriarty if CBS would hire Murrow today.
“He would probably have to be good-looking,” she answered. She said he would probably work for “60 Minutes” because the show is devoted to thorough analysis of major issues, similar to Murrow’s broadcasts.
The panelists also had a broader discussion about the field of journalism and issues such as budget cuts, political polarization and changes in curricula at journalism schools across the country.
Kalb asked Murrow’s son, Casey Murrow, who also spoke on the panel, whether he thinks his father would use Twitter and other social media. Casey Murrow said absolutely yes, because his father was fascinated by technology as a tool for journalism.
Kalb asked Baquet how journalists can maintain a high standard while balancing financial constraints.
“It’s really difficult now to put out a quality news report that does what the Web demands,” Baquet said.
Twenty years ago, he said, journalists could cover a 10 a.m. press conference and take the rest of the day to report and analyze. Today, a journalist would have to file such coverage at 10:10 a.m., update at 11:30 a.m. and throughout the day, and later consider fresh analytical angles that would be interesting for readers who pick up the paper the next day, Baquet said.
Staff cuts and demands on newsrooms by the public for 24-hour, instant coverage have made print journalism significantly weaker than it was five or six years ago, Baquet said.
A recent poll showed that six in 10 Americans have little to no trust in the media, Moriarty said, adding that this is due, in part, to political polarization both in the public and in media outlets.
Baquet said he has faith, though, that readers and viewers know online content is not as sophisticated as print, since it is updated more often and much more quickly.
Kalb said despite, or perhaps due to, many changes in media, 72 percent of Americans go to local rather than national sources when they want to read a story. He said this could reflect poorly on national outlets.
“I don’t think it says anything about the national source,” she said.
Many people in the Midwest, South and other regions do not want to see news broadcast from New York, where many national media outlets are headquartered, Moriarty suggested.
Kalb said he worries that journalists forget technology is only a tool. He said it should never be considered more important than the content.
“Are there any Murrows in this audience?” Kalb asked. The crowd murmured. “We need you to help sustain our democracy and efforts all around the world to establish democracy.”
Again referencing Edward Murrow’s 1958 speech, Kalb cautioned journalists about focusing too much on the technology aspect.
“This is your time,” Kalb said. “Use your tools, and use them well, because otherwise they’re just lights and wires in a box.”
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