Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Vanishing Newsmen

So far this year, we've lost two of the greats from broadcast journalism when I was growing up — Irving R. Levine in March and now Walter Cronkite.

When Levine died, I noted that "He was finicky about his sign–off." That was a reference to his insistence upon including his middle initial when he completed a report, saying "This is Irving R. Levine." The folks at NBC asked him if he would mind dropping that middle initial. They wanted to save a little time. Levine replied that he would rather leave out the B in NBC.

I guess being finicky about sign–offs was a trait among the old school broadcasters because, apparently, Cronkite had some problems with his sign–off.

At least, that is what Tom Watkins is reporting at

Today, the day after Cronkite's death, his memorable sign–off, "And that's the way it is," is being remembered as classic. But it didn't get off to a great start, Watkins writes.

Sandy Socolow, who was Cronkite's producer for four years, told Watkins the story.

On Cronkite's first night as CBS' anchorman, Socolow said, "he ended the show by saying, I'm paraphrasing, 'That's the news. Be sure to check your local newspapers tomorrow to get all the details on the headlines we are delivering to you.'

"The suits,"
Socolow said, "went crazy. From their perspective, Cronkite was sending people to read newspapers instead of watching the news."

So Cronkite changed his sign–off.

"In the absence of anything else, he came up with 'That's the way it is,' " Socolow said.

But that, too, caused some problems for Cronkite.

"(CBS News President Richard) Salant's attitude was, 'We're not telling them that's the way it is. We can't do that in 15 minutes,' which was the length of the show in those days. 'That's not the way it is.' "

But Cronkite wasn't going to come up with a third sign–off so he kept the one that is now being regarded as iconic.

Those old school broadcasters had their standards.

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