Special of the week; Issue 17-71 "TV News: Overexposed and Underdeveloped"
We are the national educational radio network presents special of the week on March 10th of this year. The Edward R. Murrow professor of journalism at Columbia University Fred W. friendly set forth his ideas on TV news in a speech at the University of Michigan. Mr. Friendly was the former president of CBS News. I am really a child of the broadcast age. I can teach now I want to hundred 14th Street and Broadway. I grew up on a Hundred and Tenth Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue for those of you who come from New York and in 1923 I first heard about. Radio because my father who was about as good with his hands as I am which is not very good came home one day and told us about a new invention called the radiator. It was the radio and that if you went to loo worth and bought enough parts you could put together a radio
radiator and we tried to do it we finally got it together in time for the first boat Dempsey fight and we sat there with earphones on listening to it never dreaming that one day it would be pictures and one day it would potentially be a great instrument of communication. In those days nobody ever dreamed it would make money nobody ever dreamed that it would do news. Nobody ever dreamed it would be serious and no one ever dreamed that it would make any money. The department stores and the communications company that put a big stick up in the air an antenna to connect to these cats whiskers radios really did it. Whether it was in Detroit or an opera or New York as a promotion gimmick and they would say This is W. Jr. the outlet company a department store in Providence. Or this is such and such a place an automobile dealer in Detroit. The first time that it became a vehicle for
commercialism was when a real estate developer in Queens him the bass end of Long Island overbuilt and he had some apartments that he couldn't rent in 125 or so and he called up General Sarnoff at WEF which was the RCA station there and he said would you sell me 15 minutes. And by that night all of his apartments were rented and that's really how the commercial end of broadcasting was born in England for example commercial radio doesn't even exist in most country of the world. There is a kind of dedicated tax kind of broadcasting that makes it all work. Now the reason all of this is so serious and the reason that it's interesting to get a little perspective on it is that. What we don't know can kill us as a people. The
old cliche what we don't know can hurt us. It doesn't happen to be true. What we don't know in Vietnam and in Harlem and Watts what we don't know about garbage collection in schools and air pollution and in Vietnam and particularly can kill us. We talk a lot in this country about democracy freedom Freedom of Information Communications and we really represent to ourselves in our early years the fact that democracy was invented here in these colonies between 1776 and eighteen hundred that really is a kind of oversimplification and nationalism and not very important and not completely true. Democracy freedom liberty our kind of government came about and burst into being because of a technological revolution as you know that began when Gutenberg in order to find a way to print
Bibles cheap enough for everyone to have came up with movable type before movable type only rich people could own books. You had to be original nuff to hire a scribe to sit down and copy whatever it was you want it Omar Khayyam or the bottle. Whatever it was it had to be copied for you and books and pamphlets were made one at a time. Then came the movable type and a revolution in France in England in parts of the Middle East. And certainly here and suddenly it was possible in 1775 when Tom Paine and John Peters Sanger and the Adams isn't Jefferson and Madison wanted to pamphleteer even if some people on college campuses want a pamphleteer today. It was possible for them to print a paper for a penny
and even before the Declaration of Independence there were laws that enabled any pamphlets to go up and down the river in the form of what became newspapers for less than what merchandise cost because the Founding Fathers believed it was important to get ideas around. And when Paine with common sense and Jefferson the other people had something to say it was possible to get it around if it weren't for that King George might still be. Emperor of the United States and none of the events that happened would have happened. And then as the country grew to move past the Mississippi moved up to the west needed to communicate needed to see itself in the mirror there was journalism not very good at the beginning. Often very bad highly competitive 10 20 newspapers but up
people who who could if they wanted to read about the decisions that were getting them into the Civil War and out of it into depressions into the Spanish-American War etc.. Right up until that period I told you about when the cat's whisker and radio came in. And suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of the 20th century when we need to know so much and when suddenly just being able to pamphleteer and run newspapers is not enough and that it is possible because of the radio in the image off a can too. To be able to transmit a man's face his voice the face of the move the face of a ghetto the face of battle a child on Sesame Street learning how to read. Jonas Salk Ed morrow.
And if picture did you want to transmit from here to there that's an awesome responsibility. When I was at CBS I used to think about what pain and Zanger and Jefferson and those early pamphleteers would have said if somebody had said it is possible to do that. You can transmit a human face an idea the excitement of or calm of communications that those early pamphleteers would have said what a responsibility what an opportunity. That's almost as important as who runs the government maybe more important who is going to have that responsibility who's going to use it and how do we know it's going to be used in any kind of a benevolent useful progressive constructive way.
Well we've been trying since that day that my father brought home that those parts for that radio we in this country have been trying to do it by a commercial method. And the proof of the success or failure of that is to be seen on your radio and on your television every night. Ten years ago Newton Minow spoke of the great wasteland and that seemed to be about as bad as broadcasting could be. And yet if you look back on where we were 10 years ago when there were broadcasts like Playhouse 90 and CBS reports on every week and other broadcasts that almost looks like the golden age. There is the promise of public television but still a promise because no viable kind of insulated funding is yet possible. And yet in 1971 with broadcasting at the nose level at least trying to do its best there is the problem of a vice president of the United
States who doesn't understand any of this. Using bullying tactics deploys in the atmosphere to make people really believe that this is some kind of a negative force out to get the government of the United States. We'll talk about that a little bit later when you can join the dialogue but I would like to read you this suggestion I have to make and I'd like very much to hear your comments on it if it's a little technical. I keep talking to my students at Columbia that what journalism is is the absorption and description and transmission of complicated ideas. When people come in and say I want to be a journalist and I say why they say I like to write I say that's not enough or they say I have a good voice or I look good on camera. That's not like not what a journalist is is an explainer of complicated ideas. And before you can explain a complicated
idea one has to be able to comprehend so permit me to read this to you and then we'll talk about it. Broadcast news in its frenetic drive to cut costs is in danger of cutting away vital bone structure rather than the fatty tissue to discharge. In 1971 veteran correspondents producers and cameraman to cut back on documentaries while lumbering along with outmoded and sluggish methods of news gathering is not only costly it ignores the experience of a decade. The television news suffers from overexposure and under development is certainly not due to any professional inadequacy at the network level and particularly the broadcast correspondent is quite good. It is due rather to an awkward and often archaic system of news gathering which favors bulk footage and costly duplication frequently at the expense of interpretive and
investigative reporting. Overkill in journalism as in war is counterproductive. The spectacle of a half dozen camera crews and a dozen microphones several from the same news organization standing tripod a tripod at Andrews Air Force Base to witness the secretary of defense's routine departure for another Natoma meeting. What a cover. S.I. Hayakawa Abby Hoffman or George Wallace's latest news conference often says more about the news gatherers than it does the newsmakers such events have news value 12 cameras tripod to Tripod looking for the sensational more because they illustrate the fact that the profession must repeatedly commit its best troops to the urgent rather than the important in order to avoid being scooped. The price for such overkill is often paid by missing truly significant stories. I do not believe that most news
directors are afflicted with an unquenchable thirst for violence or that they are addicted to what Vice President Agnew calls the irrational driving out the rational in pursuit of controversy. What haunts news directors in their decision making is the cruel reality that the editor who travels the high road risks being upstaged by the sensational lot of bizarre. There are just too many newsworthy events for the available news teams duplications of news stories coverage in the illusion of competitiveness is a luxury that is sapping the professional of its noblest efforts depriving the public of its right to know and deprive and providing broadcast critics with an easily exploitable issue. My purpose today is to stimulate a dialogue that may result in a serious study of a more effective use of manpower equipment and funds now available to broadcast news
organizations. Some of these ideas have been available for a while. The concept that I put before you is about as old as that first row boat which a pool of six New York newspapers sent out to Sandy Hook to intercept a steamer with news from Europe and which with the addition of pigeons ponies semi-feral and Morse code became the Associated Press. We tell you how that happened. The big news in eighteen hundred eight hundred forty was news from Europe and as the votes came in the steamers all the New York newspapers would rush out in row boats and skiffs to get the news. Then somebody got the idea that they would get fast rowers to come in faster than anybody else. And then somebody unloaded from a ship out of the harbor landed at Staten Island road with
Pony Express is across Staten Island to St. George had semaphores signals and pigeons and before the year was out there was a race in which so-called journalists were racing with pigeons wig wags Pony Express as in ships to get this news out. And they even began beating each other up to try to beat each other. It was ridiculous. So they got together and they said why do we do this. Why don't we all do it better. BUT WHO it. And why don't we save ourselves all of this agony so we can read reporters to do other things. And that's literally how the Associated Press was born. Look my idea is something like that. My proposal is also as new and as modern as the full coverage of Apollo 14. And one of the reason that that was so good is that the three major networks pool to do it. Such a new service would not
stifle competition any more than it did in the 90s in 1848 when the Associated Press week wags told its members the General Zachary Taylor had won the week nomination from Henry Clay but an electronic news service would provide broader and deeper coverage. Joint coverage of noncompetitive events would free the correspondent and cameraman for those enterprise assignments which are the very essence of comprehensive truly competitive journalism. It would free journalists to report news rather than just cover events whose agenda is often sat by press agents. It would make them explainers of complicated issues rather than what one Washington news hand calls journalistic stomach affairs. Let me take a moment and walk you through the news budget for Washington D.C. which is where I'd like to see this stuff. Washington D.C. has a daily news budget which provides a useful example of the problem and the opportunity the
nation's capital is also the prime candidate for a demonstration project. The day book of assignments two weeks ago today I looked it up wrote it down Wednesday February 24th in Washington shows an average of about thirty eight reasonable assignments that range all the way from 15 congressional hearings to White House briefings. John Mitchell news conference on drugs. A Melbourne lad news conference on Vietnam to one with Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The day book also included a news conference with the president of the National Farmers Union a speech guy Congressman Charles wrangle from Harlem in the opening session of the National Governors Conference. The three major networks with five to seven available film camera close plus UPI which serve some nine independent television stations as much each evening the night before determining which 10 to 12 stories they will cover.
That decision automatically eliminates some 20 or 25 or 30 stories. Correspondent often doubling as an arranger producer accompanies the crew although his assignment is every bit as challenging as that of his newspaper and magazine rivals his additional broadcast obligations are sometimes undertaken at the cost of content. How much more effective and efficient it would be if the major news organizations set up a common assignment desk utilizing a combined resource of 15 crews to cover 20 or 25 different events each news organization would be protected from the embarrassment of missing that routine story which suddenly becomes vital in the American public which is the truly important element would have the advantage of broader coverage of various kind of respondents would be free to cover those events which they and the news editors
considered newsworthy because they would be done who liberated from production look to just X they would be freer to dig to investigate to report. Of course they could and should be unilateral coverage just because the point of view of the camera lens is the same. That does not mean that the reporting must be uniform. The camera coverage of that John Mitchell news conference on drugs and Melvin lad's display of the pipeline pipeline liberated from the haute human trail the stems of Lee during the recent incursion was interpreted differently on all three networks. Even though the pictures were virtually the same how if you could do something like that in Washington and then every night at 4 o'clock and again at 9 o'clock by an electronic cable from the telephone company and someday a satellite and tech all of the best coverage from the Washington area and send that out to the three networks and I hope soon with
public television the fourth network and if you could send that out to the radio and television stations in Detroit in Los Angeles in San Francisco and conceivably all over the world you would make the coverage of Washington far more comprehensive and with far more journalism because you would be freeing more camera crews to do more stories and more correspondents to do more. And if it worked in Washington you could do it in New York. And if it worked in New York you could do it in Chicago for example. Although we are a nation of 50 states and 200 million people each of the three broadcasters have about four bureaus other than Washington York Chicago Los Angeles and DC has Cleveland CBS has St. Louis but basically there are bureaus with CBS NBC correspondent's ABC correspondents and only about four of five cities
and only about five capitals around the world. Now those five bureaus can cover together the same five national stories other than New York and Washington or those 15 camera crews can do 50 stories. Freeing up more correspondents to do would be more than stenographers and at the end of each day the product of all of that could be sent across the country by microwave. Not just to the networks but to stations at the regional and local level. Now there will be people who will say well this is going to hurt competition. Competition is the soul of what's good about American journalism. I agree with that but that competition should be the competition of how and why not the competition of lining up with Melvin Laird holding up that pipe and having 12 camera crews all doing the same thing.
H I hire a cock came to Columbia in an auditorium not unlike this. He was there to bring out the worst in the students the students where they had to bring out the worst in Dr. High Akala. Both were very successful. The front row. It was a cordon of cameras all making the same picture and every time that the conversation got a little bit volatile and visceral the camera crews were all up and every time that high a cop I was swearing at the students or they were tormenting him. The cameras were grinding him at the end of it. Nobody used any. They were just all there. That if it was some kind of an explosion everybody would be protected. And while all those 12 camera crews were there 11 other stories went unreported. How is there any precedent for all this. There is I'm I've written it all out rather than say it to you that way I'd rather tell you how that happened
and then those of you who want to can get of mimeographed copy of what I did for the record. It's another pretty good adjective in 1964 we were in the business of CBS as our competitors were of over kill in coverage of election and the worst night of my life. I'm not speaking politically was the night that Barry Goldwater won the primary from Nelson Rockefeller and California at that time CBS and NBC and ABC but mostly the first two were in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation to see who could count votes quicker. And in California where there were thirty thousand precincts we had twenty eight thousand people in twenty eight thousand different precincts counting votes. And NBC and ABC had practically the same thing. And that night with a very fancy computer system and BPA the polls closed at 9 o'clock. It's and we call the election. Eighteen minutes later
I got up an hour later we were in such trouble because in the counting of the votes Nelson Rockefeller began catching up and we called an election by Goldwater by three percentage points and by ten o'clock it was a neck and neck horse race according to the way the polls were being counted. And I had to be back in New York the next morning. So I decided I would go. And as I got on the airplane. The airport last sang was I said to the pilot. I told him who I was and I'd like to know how that race came out. We became airborne and as we circled Santa Monica Bedi he said Good evening this is the pilot. I know you're all interested in that election. CBS is continuing to say that Goldwater will win by 4 percentage voice. Folks have a good sleep see you in New York and I went to sleep and about 6 o'clock and I've never heard a pilot's voice again without remembering it.
Pilot said good morning. This is the pilot. You know that election Well we've just been listening to a Dayton Ohio radio station and we told you that Goldwater was ahead. Well it's just the opposite. Rockefeller has one. Well have a good day in New York. There I was in an airplane with no windows or I would have been out of it but I had I was in the unenviable position of having to poll the American people and I fought for that goal of what I had won and the plane finally landed. I didn't have a dime to make a phone call. So I asked the stewardess if she had a dime and I grabbed it and I called Los Angeles. And I talked to Bill Bennett our news editor there was running the election and he said there's no problem. And I said well all the radio stations here are saying that Goldwater has lost. We said he won and he said well that's just because the AP and the UPI can't count the votes as quickly as our computers counted the votes and by 5:00 o'clock this afternoon even the AP says
that Goldwater will win that primary. Well it was the longest 24 hours of our life for Walter Cronkite and Bill Leonard and Eric Sevareid and me especially with the New York newspapers coming out saying CBS lays an egg. Goldwater loses CBS said he won but at 5 o'clock we had the last laugh or so it said but the next. But it was an abominable this graceful performance. In the interest of overkill we had pushed too hard so had NBC and we had confused and bewildered the American electorate. So that afternoon we met in my office the next afternoon the head of NBC News who was then Bill McAndrew now deceased Omar Lauer of ABC. And we actually kept the president of the AP and the president of UPI which at once kept broadcasters from buying their service waiting outside until we decided we wanted them in. Then we called them him
and then the five of us decided that we would put an end to all that overkill and all that duplications and wasting of money. And we founded what was then called in 1064 the network collection service which is now the new selection service which operates every two years when there's a match and election presidential or byelection and all the networks and all the news services combine to do a much better job at quote counting the votes. And in literally hundreds of thousands of precincts. An army of very dedicated people working for NBC CBS ABC and the two wire services get together and count the election returns and that is my prime example of the kind of joint work that could be done to free people to do interpretive journalism and not all app overkill. Now what I propose is that there be a study made of this if you are invited to do with the Ford Foundation and others would help to support it and I hope that the broadcasters
commercial and public would get together and decide that this is something worth doing to get rid of some of the over competition and overkill so that they need to never again be mountains of magazines of duplicate film of the same event being made to free more reporters more camera crews to go out and do more reporting. The medium Mr McLuhan notwithstanding continues to be the message and as long as American journalism is in the business of scoop and overkill we will continue to be uninformed in the major problems that cause us to make mistakes. Of which Vietnam I would like to think. I don't like to think but I'm afraid I have to agree is the one great journalistic opportunity that we had six years ago and that we must part because we were unprepared to explain a very complicated issue. Fred W. friendly former president of CBS News now Edward R.
- Special of the week
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-SPWK-523 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 17-71 "TV News: Overexposed and Underdeveloped",” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2r3p0n4j.
- MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 17-71 "TV News: Overexposed and Underdeveloped".” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2r3p0n4j>.
- APA: Special of the week; Issue 17-71 "TV News: Overexposed and Underdeveloped". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2r3p0n4j