Old Media Days Weren’t All That

I returned home today in time to hear NPR’s Robert Siegel obituary of Reuven Frank, the former president of NBC News. Siegel played a 1992 interview with Frank in which he reminisces on his days with NBC’s “Camel Carvan of News” in 1950s. With Siegel chortling away, Frank recalls that Camel set rules for the TV journalists it sponsored: “I was not allowed to use any picture that had a no smoking sign,” or to show anyone smoking a cigar, including notable figures like Winston Churchill. NBC was not eager to buck Camel since its sponsorship “paid enough to run the entire news department.”The insouciance with which the story was told, and received by Siegel, stuck in my craw, especially in light of the pining for TV journalism’s days of yore that’s been making the rounds. These “dinosaurs” (as Jarvis tagged them) are sweating the masses of bloggers– masses who may now be storming Capitol Hill, laptops in hand, if Paul Mirengoff’s (of Powerline and Pajamas Media) questioning of Dick Durbin starts a trend, as I suspect it might.

Amazingly, Frank, who died at 85, was writing a column for TV Week until December. In his last column, he addressed blogs’ assault on the sacred temple of TV news. The challenge he issues– the Cass Sunsteian Republic.com argument– brings to mind the “Reinstitutionalize Serendipity” notion that Dan Gillmor raised– and Ethan Zuckerman embraced— last month.

There are those who proclaim that this is the age of the blog, that the blog is the news of tomorrow, that the revolutions in communication have put in the consumer’s hand all the tools to be his own reporter, editor and publisher, that news as we knew it is dead, forgotten, history, toast.

The inquiring mind wants to know what happened to the price of oil in Mexico and the Grand Prix in France. He sits before his little keyboard, types in three words for each topic, and learns what happened to the price of oil in Mexico and the Grand Prix in France, and only that. Up to the minute, without waiting for somebody’s arbitrary newscast time, and untrammeled by a lot of other stuff he doesn’t care about.

What he does not find out is what he does not ask to find out, like Congress has just reinstated the draft and his number was drawn first. Of course, he would be interested if he knew about it. But he didn’t, so he didn’t type in the right three words. Being your own reporter, editor and publisher has its drawbacks. If only he had waited until 9:45 and punched up “NBC Nightly News .”


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