I Was There: Watching the Great Cronkite at Work

Jul 17, 2009

It was the 1980s and the old guys were still around.

One of them, Walter Cronkite, had relinquished his CBS anchor chair to Dan Rather in 1981, but I got an opportunity to watch Cronkite work one day a couple of years later, in a small studio at New York’s public TV station, WNET, where Cronkite was videotaping some intros and other material called “wraparounds” for a PBS documentary.

I had been invited up to the station to see him and, standing a few feet away from him while he worked, I learned about the art and effort of broadcasting.

Cronkite, then in his 70s, sat in a chair a few feet away from a large television camera, and recited some copy. I don’t recall if he read from a TelePrompTer, but if he did, it didn’t seem to draw his eyes away and distract him from his keen concentration on that camera lens.

He leaned forward in his chair and peered so intently into that lens that he literally seemed to strain physically to do it. It was as if he wanted to dive into it bodily. I realized that this was the method Cronkite must have adopted as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” He must have believed that if he could focus his unwavering gaze directly through a point at the very center of the camera lens, then viewers at home could literally make eye contact with him.

The method evidently worked since it made him the most trusted man in America in his heyday as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” I learned that day that broadcasting – real broadcasting – takes effort and study and work. And I never forgot it.

4 Comments

  1. Here I am; a British man almost 40 years in Spain, only now getting interested in Walter Cronkite and what he had to say. – God bless the man’s soul and everyone who truly loves him.
    Here we have a posting concerning eye-to-eye contact; hitting the nail right on the head it seems to me! – Peculiar that, about direct visual contact with a person’s eyes … This man knew a thing or two! – I’m now reading his comments about 911, and it seems to me he knew rather more than TWO!

  2. I have missed Mr. Cronkite’s excellent standard of reporting since he retired from CBS News in 1981.
    I recommend the 1997 multi-video documentary [now on DVDs], “Cronkite Remembers.” Walter himself hosts a fascinating, eye-opening review of his life, his adventures, and the legacy he left as arguably the best journalist ever, in any medium. The documentaries include some of Cronkite’s professional and personal mistakes, to which he clearly, unabashedly, and courageously owns up.
    Check your video store, or go to Amazon.com or EBay. Well worth a look. Alongside his book “A Reporter’s Life,” it’s a welcome and proud addition to any library
    +++
    My high school’s motto is “Veritas” – Truth. Walter didn’t go to my high school, but he surely lived that motto – in his notepad on assignment, at his typewriter on deadline – and in all aspects of his dignified, joyful life, done as best he could.
    Farewell, Walter, and thanks for everything you did for us, and did so well, with skill, daring, passion, and compassion. Your life and work should be a template for every student of journalism, and at the very least an illuminating road map for those who endeavor at that craft daily, and hope to do half as well as you did.
    “Veritas,” always…
    -30-

  3. Speaking of “Cronkite Remembers:”
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090722/ap_en_tv/us_tv_cronkite_discovery
    With the state of journalism as it is, you may not rest easy, Mr. Cronkite, but at least you deserve to rest well, and eternally. And thanks again for everything.

  4. great topic, thanks for sharing this

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