It’s a crazy thought, right? To think that one of the pioneers of broadcast journalism would embrace this relatively new and sometimes under fire medium? After all, the critics claim bloggers aren’t real journalists. They don’t check their facts, they enflame their audience with partisan political spin, or just give us worthless, mean-spirited gossip. But is that the whole truth?
I had the pleasure this weekend of attending Not So Wild a Dream: The Legacy of Eric Sevareid. The symposium in Bismarck was put on by the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, The Dakota Institute and the North Dakota Humanities Council. The symposium was a chance to learn more about this North Dakota native and broadcast giant. It serves as a precursor to a documentary being released in 2012, the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The men behind the documentary are Clay Jenkinson of The Dakota Institute and David Borlaug, Executive Director of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. The pair has already given us documentaries on North Dakota Governors Arthur Link and Bill Guy. Sevareid is their next undertaking. I was lucky enough to assist them in conducting a few interviews about this remarkable man. We interviewed broadcast professionals such as Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, Bob Edwards and Nick Clooney just to name a few. They painted a picture of a man few of us had the opportunity to meet. Even those of us who grew up listening to Sevareid on the radio or watching him on television didn’t necessarily know or appreciate the extent of his greatness. A little background for those unfamiliar with him.
Eric Sevareid was born in Velva, North Dakota in 1912. After graduating from the University of Minnesota and working as a newspaperman in the Twin Cities, he took a job in Paris. In 1937, he was recruited by Edward R. Murrow of CBS news to help cover World War II to Americans not yet drawn into the conflict. Murrow’s boys, most in their 20’s, created broadcast journalism the way we know it. Following the war, Sevareid worked in television news, best known for his commentaries at the end of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite from 1963 to 1977.
During our interviews this weekend, common themes emerged about Sevareid: His great intellect, superior writing skills and his demeanor. A demeanor someone described as “A dour Norwegian air.” Many agreed Sevareid’s brooding quality stemmed from his serious committment to news. To him it wasn’t enough to hear the news. One must THINK about the news. He knew that by putting a current problem into some kind of historical context a solution might present itself that otherwise would not have been evident. The interviewees agreed on a lot and even disagreed about a little but one comment stood out to me above all others. I suppose because of my new career trying to attract new bloggers to areavoices.
From broadcast veteran Nick Clooney: “IF ERIC SEVAREID WERE AROUND TODAY HE’D HAVE A BLOG.”
If I wasn’t already grateful to Nick Clooney for giving the world his son, George, I would be now. Did he really mean it? Would Eric Sevareid really join us in blog world?
Clooney explained. To Sevareid, it wasn’t enough for the news to wash over you. To passively sit and take it all in. To Eric Sevareid, it was the responsibility of everyone in a democracy to participate, to think about the news, to get involved. His commentaries weren’t really commentaries at all. They were analyses of ongoing news events. He would dissect a problem and by thinking through it, would help us to better understand it. He seldom told us what he thought or what we should do. It was about the information and making sure Americans were informed.
Certainly, most in the blog world are not writing about the fall of France or the Battle of Britain. But that makes Sevareid’s core values no less relevant.
In this haphazard media world, where being first seems to matter most and fact-checking falls by the wayside, blogging is the perfect platform. Certainly, you can type out a couple of quick lines and post immediately. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about blogging the way Sevareid might. A form for deeper reflection. In today’s television world, would the major networks or cable news channels allow Sevareid 2-3 minutes to sit and read his thoughts. No fancy graphics or video, just one man reading his words? Doubtful. And if they did allow him on air wouldn’t he face pressure to change? Wouldn’t he be asked to conform to the angry rhetoric of the other experts and talking heads? Each shouting their opinion louder than the next guy? It seems blogging would be the better platform for this man called “the great news philosopher.” It’s a platform where he could do his research, get the facts, and present data he thought the mass media just might be missing. You can do this too. What you write is more important than you know. Whether you’re writing about current events, telling us about your travels or sharing one of your favorite new recipes. You’re putting it out there. Enlightening and informing the world. Helping others learn and grow. I think Eric Sevareid would find that pretty cool.