Do You Remember Walter?

What can contemporary journalists learn from Walter Cronkite?

In the days since Walter Cronkite’s recent death, the media have been awash with eulogies for and remembrances of the longtime CBS Evening News anchor, who was perhaps the twentieth century’s most iconic newsman. While many of these are no more than predictably pro forma tributes to a famous person who has died, many others seem legitimately and substantially mournful. Wistful, even; as if their authors realize that they’re not eulogizing Cronkite himself so much as what he both personally and journalistically represented—assurance, competence, empathy, authority. For better or for worse, he shaped a generation’s notion of what the news should be.

Here’s what Megan Garber had to say on this point yesterday:

He made the news an event rather than merely a business, a ritual joined in by a community connected not merely by the day’s doings, but also by the shared conviction that keeping informed of those doings is the duty we pay to democracy….

Cronkite’s audience was large not merely because it was captive. We responded not merely to “the news,” but to Cronkite himself as its deliverer—to his seriousness, to his integrity, to his unabashed love of the world and the human events that shape it.

As we advance further into these malleable times where nobody is quite sure what the news should be, it is perhaps worth learning from a man who often seemed as if he had no doubt—if only so that our plans for the future might benefit from a renewed appreciation of where we’ve been. What can modern journalists—professional, amateur, or otherwise—learn from Cronkite? Which contemporary journalists best exemplify ‘the Cronkite tradition’?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.