Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Erma, Ed and Paul: losing journalism's giants

3/11/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

My mind is wandering down a meandering journalistic path today as I consider the predicted demise of my favorite print mode — the daily newspaper — and the loss of some of my favorite journalists.

The journey started a few years ago when the Internet prophets of doom began gleefully announcing the death of the entire newspaper industry. My apprehension heightened when I noticed that vacated positions in our local and regional newspapers were not being filled.

I got really worried last month when Time magazine’s lead article was “How to Save your Newspaper.” Its advice to publications was to stop primarily relying on advertising revenues. Instead, they suggested that they get their readers on a pay per article basis. This method would be similar to downloading ebooks to your iPhone or another preferred device.

“Well,” I thought, “isn’t that great? Then I could curl up on my desk chair with a computer screen subscription and read the news — NOT!” Much as I love my computer, the tactile satisfaction of turning the pages of a newspaper or magazine, has reading those products on a computer-style monitor beat all to heck.

And then we lost Paul Harvey, a radio journalist pioneer. At 90 years of age, his death was not unexpected but it did create a huge vacuum on the radio airwaves. Harvey’s standards were high. He was not mean spirited. He was not condescending and he did not spew disrespectful comments.

He was a giant amongst broadcasters. His style was straightforward. The news was labeled ‘news.’ His perspective was labeled ‘commentary.’ You did not have to cringe while you waited to hear what he had to say on any given subject. He may not have been perfect but he did his homework, spoke plainly and he sure loved his wife.

Harvey’s opinion was respected by a diverse audience of all ages across this land. His manners were in stark contrast to the current breed of journalists. These ‘wanna-be’s’ tend to pound their desks and shout down anyone with whom they disagree. They bombard the airways with spewed political hatred and personal attacks. They seldom see good and praise it. They just find dark holes and climb all over them.

Last Sunday night I switched on the television to watch “60 Minutes” and it washed over me that I really miss another quality journalist — Ed Bradley. I first became aware of Ed when students overran the American Embassy in Iran. I remember thinking, “Who is that guy?”

Like many others, I appreciated Ed’s ‘coolness’ factor. Unlike other big shot journalists his self-assured manner wasn’t arrogance. He was just a naturally cool and jazzy kind of guy. As a successful black man who was often held up as a role model to inner city youth, he was at home in his own skin.

He came from a working class background and was raised by a single mother. Growing up he became fascinated with radio. He once said, “I knew that God put me on this earth to be on the radio. I did anything to get on the air.” He didn’t know that airtime was going to include 26 years on “60 Minutes.”

As a very young man he had a fire in his belly and a passion for telling stories. With no television experience, he patterned himself after the people on the CBS news. Along the way, he taught school for three years and then moved to Paris where he was offered a job as a stringer for CBS.

I appreciated the effortless intensity Ed put into his stories without incorporating a self-righteous attitude or harsh accusations. He was a reporter with heart and a sense of humor when he was covering individuals like Lena Horne or Willie Nelson. And he was a reporter’s reporter with his hard hitting, award winning stories that covered the gamut of Africans dying of Aids, an investigation into psychiatric hospitals and a town battling toxic waste.

The world famous humorous Erma Bombeck was my journalism inspiration. As a child, Erma knew that she wanted to be a writer and she wrote professionally until her untimely death in 1996. She was successful beyond her wildest dreams.

Erma’s motto was “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”

30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada read her wise and witty newspaper columns. When my kids went away to college and I wanted to get some message of sanity to them, I would often send them her columns instead of my criticisms.

Erma’s newspaper columns encouraged me on days that I couldn’t quite cope. I always felt that she was not only real but she was living in my skin! On really difficult days, I wore a light blue tee shirt with her tongue-in-cheek statement: “Insanity is hereditary. You catch it from your kids.”

As a young woman who sometimes wondered what my life was all about, I took heart from her famous statement: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

Now, getting back to that path I’ve been meandering down, I can’t believe that the print media will die. A good newspaper is a one size fits all package for everyone in the family — business, news, sports, comics — it’s everything you want, delivered to your door.

Surely this vital industry can reinvent itself for a changing audience.
Paul, Ed and Erma’s timeless values can still be found in many venues. Truth, honesty and good humor are never out of style and newspapers are a great way to spread them around. Subscribe today!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail — bchatty@bettykaiser.com

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