The Desk

July 18, 2009

Losing Icons and Stretching Boundaries

Late yesterday we learned that another television news icon passed away from us to another realm. Walter Cronkite, that stalwart who delivered the news with stern professionalism, with the detachment that is expected of one who is supposed to deliver unbiased, balanced reportage.

It isn’t so much that we’re losing celebrities at a faster rate (as some have argued) as much as it’s a function of the fact that we demarcate our entry into the world of Television at approximately the same time — 1950. Until then, we had relied on radio to convey our messages. That took a different set of listening and attention skills. It required using the imagination more so that the details could be filled in. And it required a unique vocabulary of both the speaker as well as the listener so that subtle nuances could be absorbed. It also took a different set of skills for delivery. This new medium came with new challenges, protocols, boundaries, and more.

The medium of television has given way to many avenues to deliver information and keep the public aware. Look around at the new branches that are shooting out before our eyes and try to absorb the rich future they can provide us. The Internet is now used by politicians to announce their candidacy. YouTube competes with CNN to bring up-to-the-minute coverage of great public events such as debates, town hall meetings, and more.

The standards that were created for the more accepted delivery were set by those who started in radio. And it is those who carved the paths for us to follow are the leaders and hallmarks. Those people, like protocols, wear out and die. Life and progress are founded on change and adaptation. They thrive on innovation and improvement of the art in order to make the content more meaningful and drive the reach to farther places so that more can avail themselves of the message and the knowledge.

We have a responsibility to learn from those icons and replicate the standards they set for us. We also have a responsibility, as with the Olympics, to push the standard a little higher in order to deliver the best possible product. That means we need to not only pay attention but also ask questions about how and why things are done so that we can provide the answers to our audiences as they watch what we produce.

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