By John Ensslin, 2011-12 SPJ President | October 25th, 2011
Recently I had the pleasure of attending the annual Edward R. Murrow Awards banquet that our friends at the Radio Television Digital News Association held in New York City.
My friend and SPJ colleague Barbara Reed took me along on the tickets she won this year at our Legal Defense Fund auction.
It was a glittering event at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, right next to Grand Central Station on 42nd Street.
I caught up with some old friends who were broadcasters in Colorado, and there were a lot of bold-faced names in the audience, people you’d recognize the minute you saw or heard them. It was a great night. Our colleagues at RTDNA are not only excellent convention partners, but they know how to put on a good show when it comes to their awards banquet.
I mentioned to my counterpart, RTDNA chairman Kevin Benz, what a great logo they have for their awards program. It’s a poster of Murrow in a white shirt, sitting at an angle, his tie a bit loose, staring intently into the camera.
I’ve been a huge fan of Murrow all my professional life. I’m not old enough to remember any of his broadcasts, but I’ve read a biography, listened to the old audiotapes and seen excerpts of his CBS Reports and See It Now programs. He’s one of my heroes.
So it was interesting when I read a post last month on the RTDNA website by a University of Delaware journalism professor, who wrote about her experience playing some of Murrow’s WWII broadcasts from London to her introductory journalism class.
What she discovered to her dismay was that many of her students were unimpressed. He was monotonous, they said. Why didn’t he show any emotion? Why didn’t he seem to care?
OK. So a journalist risked his life standing on a London rooftop to bring the sound of the Battle for Britain into radios and living rooms across the Atlantic in a way that had never been done and he’s not EMOTING ENOUGH for you? C’mon. Get real!
However, the students’ reaction did make me realize how much our profession has changed between generations — and in ways that are not always for the best.
Call me old-school, but the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, fact and opinion, observation and emotion, are not helpful trends in our business.
I say that mindful of the fact that Murrow basically re-invented and pioneered much of what we take for granted today in broadcast journalism. He smashed a lot of the old stodgy ways of doing news and radio commentary.
If he were around today as a 20-something journalism graduate, I suspect he would be on the cutting edge of re-inventing our business again for a digital era, much as those journalism students will do, I hope.
I just hope they don’t feel the need to choke up or cry on camera, and that they remember bearing witness to history still trumps expressing one’s emotional life.