Posts Tagged ‘television news’

Walter Cronkite and Me

July 18, 2009

I learned of the death of Walter Cronkite when Phil Scoggins called me to ask if I would give him an interview to run on the 11p.m. news on WRBL.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  I was honored to do the interview.

As I told Phil in the interview, my television news career and Walter Cronkite’s started about the same time. He took Douglas Edwards’ place on CBS-TV and I took Glenn Broughman’s place on WRBL-TV, the station that carried the CBS Evening News. 

At that time,  television news reporting was not entertainment oriented.  Dignity and style prevailed.  News was, and still should be, a serious business.  He built a tremendous amount of trust over the years nationally, and I did my best to do the same thing locally. 

I only saw him in person once.  All of the network big guns converged on the Radio and Television News Director’s Association Convention at Miami in the early 1970’s.   I was WRBL Radio and Television news director, as well as anchor of the evening news, at the time.   The network news anchors came to rally America’s news directors in the fight to show President Nixon and Vice President Agnew that they could not harness and intimidate the media.  Their attacks failed as both of them were forced to resign for other reasons.

I was actually on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite only once. A Fort Benning soldier refused to wear his uniform as a protest against the Vietnam War.  I interviewed him and CBS ran that interview.  The CBS News Southern Bureau chief told me Cronkite said he liked the interview.  Coming from Walter Cronkite, that meant a lot.  

People are saying that he was the “gold standard of broadcast journalism,” and that he was “the most trusted man in America.”  They are also saying that no one today can match the credibility he achieved.  I agree. He was not flashy. He was not Hollywood handsome. He was avuncular, and apparently that’s what America wanted because many millions of them watched him for 19 years on CBS.  When he said, “And that’s the way it is, ” they believed him

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Wayne Bennett’s First Retirement Party

May 10, 2009
(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien,  Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black,  Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald,  Columbus, GA TV personalities

(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien, Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black, Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald, Columbus, GA TV personalities

It was like a family reunion at the Borden Black and Cheryl Morgan Myers “oldtimers” retirement party for WTVM anchorman Wayne Bennett . Wayne’s last night on WTVM will be Friday,  May 15, 2009.  Just as it did for me when I retired in 2000,  the station will give Wayne a few minutes at the end of the 6 p.m. newscast to say goodbye. 
Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor,  Jason Dennis, Fox 54 anchor and Fox 54/WTVM reporter

Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor, Jason Dennis, WXTX Fox 54 anchor and WXTX/WTVM reporter

Jason Dennis,  who anchors the 10 p.m. news on WXTX, Fox 54 and also does some reporting that airs on both WTVM and WXTX,  has been preparing reports on Wayne’s broadcasting career.  Wayne is happy with that.  “I requested that he be the one to do it,” he said.  “I asked him to keep it light,  not make it into an obituary.  I’m not dead.”  That could be a clue that Wayne will keep his goodbye light Friday evening. 

“How would you sum up your 20 years at WTVM?” I asked him.

“That’s a loaded question, Dick.  I have to be careful because you’ll put it on your website,” he quipped.

I smiled and suggested, “Just tell the truth.”

“Well,  the truth is that television has been good to me.  I have enjoyed it,  but,  I don’t like the direction television [news] is taking so I am glad to be getting out at this time.  That’s the truth”

The sentiment that TV news has been and continues to go downhill was prevelent among the oldtimers who are no longer in the business. 

But, the serious stuff didn’t dominate the party.  There were plenty of laughs, and folks had a good time remembering stories they had covered over the years.  Though there is concern about the future direction of TV news,  it was clear that the oldtimers love the business.  Like I have always said,  one thing is for sure,  you won’t be bored if you work in television news.  It does, indeed, get very exciting.

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's  "oldtimers" retirement party

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's "oldtimers" retirement party

Now, like me,  and Dee,  Wayne gets to kiss the crushing deadlines goodbye  and to relax a little.  And that’s what he plans to do.  He and wife Betty, after a brief stay in Florida, are heading for Panama, where they plan to live. The cost of living there is a third less than in the United States, Wayne told me.  How long?  “Well, that depends on how well we like it.  If we don’t like it, we’ll go somewhere else,”  Betty  said. 

“Sounds like you are going on an adventure.”

“That’s right,” she said. “We are going on adventure and we look forward to it.”

Sounds like a fine plan to me.  After all, life is for living, as the cliche’ goes.  Bon voyage to both of you.    

For years, Wayne sported a mustache, but shaved it off a few years ago.    I asked him, “Are you going to grow a mustache now?”

“I’m probably going to grow a full beard,” he said.

He gets one more retirement party.  WTVM is having one for him Saturday.

Answer the Phone, Darn It!

March 26, 2009

I couldn’t beleive my ears when I called the Ledger-Enquirer, WTVM and WRBL  newsrooms and got an answering machine.  An answering machine in a newsroom for crying out loud!  I could have been calling in a hot tip about a disaster that was happening at that moment, and by the time someone got around to listening to the call, the action could have been over.

Crystal Johnston,  who served as a receptionist at WTVM for more than 18 years,  wrote in a comment on the post about Dee Armstrong’s take on the state of local news about the time she called in a hot tip: 

“I will give you a prime example of an experience of mine. That is, when the two homeless guys fought under the bridge in Phenix City about a year and half ago. One of them was killed. I tried to call the station several times, but no one answered. All I got was a voice mail. Yes, voice mail. That is what is taking over these days. I remember that an assignment editor used to always be at the desk all the time. It wasn’t until after the fact that they did a blurb on the story. If someone had answered my phone call, the station would of been on top of it as it was going on. I placed that call around 7:45 p.m. that night.”

I realize  it’s all about economics.  Answering machines are a lot cheaper than a real live human being, but using one to anwser calls to a newsroom seems penny wise and pound foolish to me.

At least you get a real live person at the TV stations if you call the main number during business hours,  but not the Ledger-Enquirer.  I called the other day on a subscription matter and I got a person in the Philippines.  When I told that person what I wanted,  she said she couldn’t handle it, but gave me another number for someone who could.

“Is that person actually in Columbus, or am I going to get another person in the Phillipines?”

“Oh, it’ll be in Columbus.”

I called the number. You guessed it,  a Philpino answered the phone.  However, she did take my message, and I did get get a call today, two days later, from someone actually in Columbus.  It took a little while to get to the right person, but once I did she took care of the problem.  

Oh for the days when people just answered the darn phone!

My answering machine

My answering machine

Dee Armstrong on the State of Local Television News

March 23, 2009

Speaking, at my invitation, to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus,  former Columbus TV news anchor Dee  Armstrong drew sharp contrast to the way news was reported in years past and the way it is reported now.

She doesn’t think experience counts for much any more,  decrying the way young reporters,  she believes,  have no respect for veterans who have decades of experience, veterans who could help them become  effective, mature  reporters.  

She said that when she was a young reporter she revered the veterans who had proven themselves in the business,  citing her formative years working for Ed Wilson and me.  Ed,  who was news director at WDAK at one time,  taught her how to be a radio reporter when she was still in Columbus High School.  She learned how to think in terms of telling stories with pictures when I hired her away from Ed – sorry Ed – to report for WRBL-TV.  I was news director at WRBL-TV at the time.

That background and her talent enabled her to become a very successful anchor at WTVM.  She and I co-anhored the news on WTVM from about 1987 to 2000 when I retired.  We had impressive ratings.  After I retired she continued at WTVM, co-anchoring with Wayne Bennett,  who will retire in May.  They also had good ratings. 

She pointed out that in years past news departments came up with enterprise reports,  digging into issues that affect people.  I can remember those days.  In Columbus, it appears that they are gone.

Dee’s leaving television news,  and Wayne’s leaving,  as well as mine,  represents, I beleive,  the end of an era.  The torch has been passed,  but it could be that it has been rejected.