When you tune into election coverage Tuesday along with most of the country, do me a favor and watch NBC.
Even if NBC and its reporting crew aren’t your favorites, do it for the nostalgia, do it for the over-the-top NBC setup in “democracy square,” and do it for Tom.
Tom Brokaw has always been my favorite news anchor. When I was younger, I even had a little crush on him. After all, he used to be very good looking (and still kind of is) in a “Sean Connery” older man sort of way. And he was always calm and collected, a compassionate authority figure beamed into my living room for a half-hour every night.
Barring any major national or global events in November, this Tuesday will be Tom Brokaw’s last big night in the spotlight as lead anchor for NBC news. Brokaw will continue his nightly news duties through Dec. 1, when he will say goodbye to viewers for good. This marks the first big shift in network news anchors since the early 1980s.
Brokaw may well be followed out the door within the upcoming months and surely the next few years by the other two members of the “Big Three:” network anchors Dan Rather (CBS) and Peter Jennings (ABC).
Rather will probably say his goodbyes before Jennings, due in part to his senior age of 73 and perhaps expedited by the recent controversy over false memos on the National Guard service of President Bush. The 66-year-old Jennings undoubtedly sees retirement on the horizon as well.
Along with the “Big Three,” Americans still look toward the pilgrims of broadcast journalism as the faces and voices of the early television generation. Cronkite. Chancellor. Huntley. Brinkley. They brought the nightly news to millions of American homes. They were in living rooms in times of war, peace, triumph, tragedy and controversy. And they left their mark: an ideal of news reporting and an ideal of trust that is fast fading from the collective American memory.
Television news definitely is not the same as it was in the 1950s, when Walter Cronkite, often called “the most trusted man in America,” ruled over the evening news at CBS. The novelty of television was still high, and Americans were transfixed by this new mode of getting information.
Nor is it the same as in the early 1980s, when Brokaw, Rather and Jennings were just starting their lead anchor tenures at their respective stations. Skepticism was high. Blind trust in the government had been shaken by Watergate and the Vietnam War, among a host of other lies and deceptions. Despite all these changes from earlier decades, however, the main sources of news in America remained the network broadcasts and newspapers.
I would bet that I’m in the minority with my (almost) daily network news-watching habit. There are so many other mediums available to increasingly time-starved Americans: online newspapers, updates and breaking stories via e-mail or cell phone, cable news broadcasts, 24-hour news channels, satire broadcasts and international news channels to name a few.
The news industry is fracturing due to the increasing demand for convenience. With this fracture comes a flood of plagiarism, false information and outright lies in attempt to gain a larger share of an increasingly fickle and disloyal news consumer base.
We’ve seen it too often recently. The CBS National Guard debacle. The plagiarism in such esteemed publications as The New York Times. Thanks in part to these unfortunate events, trust in the news and those who report it has sunk lower and lower in the past few years.
Sadly, these current trends show no sign of slowing. The growth of technology spawns new mediums for news coverage, new alternatives to “traditional” sources of news. Technology also pushes Americans, with too many demands on their time already, to move at an even faster pace.
The era of the trusted news anchor may well walk out the door with the last of the “Big Three.” And maybe that’s OK for most of us. We’re not nearly as naíve or star-struck as the American people were in the early days of Cronkite. We want to know where our news is coming from. We want to decide for ourselves what the issues are. And if that means looking to other sources of information, well, we’re already doing just that.
But keep in mind as you watch Tom Brokaw report the election statistics Tuesday in front of a backdrop of red, white and blue, we’re not just saying goodbye to a broadcast news icon or a respected man or my dinner partner.
We’re saying goodbye to a period of trust in the big players of mainstream media that we may never see again.
Laura Rego ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in marketing and management; she is the former advertising director of the Badger Herald.