Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings, RIP

Peter Jennings succumbed to lung cancer yesterday.

Jennings may well have been the last of the Great Anchormen; a final gasp of a legacy exemplified by such men as Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. In today's world of unceasing news coverage, the news has been explicitly redefined to be a type of entertainment. Indeed, the CNN website's story on Jennings death, gruesomely enough, is found in that very section of the site. Jennings, however, was from an older school of thought that considered journalism to be a kind of civic duty with an associated list of responsibilities that journalists had with respect to the public.

Jennings own journalistic career had a number of remarkable highlights, including coverage of the slaying of Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. What I will remember, however, is his coverage of 9/11. During the four days that followed the attack, Jennings worked what was, essentially, a 96 hour work shift, taking a handful of catnaps between segments and shaving during his rare moments off camera. As much as the sheer dedication to reporting the event, what was just as remarkable was the tone of his coverage. He didn't pander to sensationalism or panic and he refused to engage in wild acts of speculation. He simply reported what was happening in a calm (and calming), rational tone of voice.

I will miss him. Televised news coverage has reached a nadir. These days, most people get the bulk of their news from the internet with some supplementation from radio and the (fairly unreliable) blogs that are trying to become the "new journalism". I do believe that there are still principled journalists out there, but I doubt that we'll be seeing another of that breed in the anchor seat anytime soon. Those days are gone I mourn their passing even as I mourn the passing of one such man.

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