Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hari Sreenivasan and Walter Cronkite . . .

NPR and PBS share some resources and audience. Among them are the Woodroofs.

Night-before-last, Charlie came in to my home office to announce that another chunk of the world, as we knew it, had ended. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer had become the PBS NewsHour. It had also changed formats. And, this new guy was reading the news summary.

"It's all got a much more network news look," said Charlie. Which I don't think he meant as a compliment.

Naturally, I ran to check out the new guy.

Hari Sreenivasan, the new guy, is the pleasant-looking fellow shown left. Until recently, the Bombay-born Mr. Sreenivasan was the Dallas-based correspondent for CBS News. Before that he was with ABC News, as a reporter and anchor. Mr. Sreenivasan does have a network lilt to his reading of the news, but I know from personal experience that it takes a while to pick up the public media cadence.

From what I can find out, the move was made for two reasons: Jim Lehrer's age (75); and a decision to merge the show's broadcast and digital platforms. Mr. Sreenivasan will work cross-platform, reading the broadcast program's nightly news summary while also reporting and anchoring for PBS NewsHour online. Indeed, he closes the on-air NewsHour with a summary of the additional news and features viewers can find on-line.

Which, in my opinion, is very cool.

All news organizations are scrambling to figure out how to use the net to disseminate more detailed information, without diminishing the quality of their reporting; and my initial reaction to the PBS NewsHour is that they've done just that.

As to what gave me my Walter Cronkite flashback. . .

Hari Sreenivasan reads the PBS NewHour news to us in front of a bunch of diligent reporters working away at their computers, giving his stories that fresh-off-the computer feel.

That's just what Walter Cronkite used to do in the early, early days of CBS Evening News. Except that the reporters in the room with him were working away on papers fed into hulking, upright typewriters. At the end of the show, one of those reporters would walk up to Mr. Cronkite, hand him a bunch of papers, and the last shot of the Evening News would be of Mr. Cronkite going to work on his next newscast.

Until the melee, that is.

An old friend of mine was watching the night the reporter didn't simply hand the papers to Walter Cronkite, he threw them at him. At which point the legendary news anchor leaped up and punched the reporter. At which point the screen went black.

The next night Walter Cronkite was back, reading the news from the same room, in front of the same typewriters and desks. There was, however, not another person in sight.

I would give almost anything to have seen Uncle Walter (my daughter's name for Walter Cronkite) throw that punch. My friend did say it was a pretty good one.

Of course, the reporters working away behind Mr. Sreenivasan work in a mostly paper-free world, so he's insulated from the particular insult of thrown papers. Might history repeat itself because of a perfectly timed tweet?

1 comment:

  1. Another Great Television Event: the wonderful mess Robert McNeil and Lehrer made of the 1976 White House dinner for Queen Elizabeth. One example from Salon:

    "The most priceless PBS moment ever came in the summer of 1976 when the network covered Queen Elizabeth's visit to the White House for a state dinner. The camera showed the Queen and President... See More Ford in the receiving line while the anchors did their best to explain who Her Majesty was greeting. Last in line were a young woman and her escort and Robert MacNeil said, "Finally, a young couple meeting the queen, looking very thrilled indeed." Except that the young woman was Dorothy Hamill, who had taken the Olympic gold medal in figure skating a few months before and become America's latest sweetheart. Here was a woman whom millions of Americans had watched in Innsbruck, Austria, just a few months before, whose haircut young girls were aping all over the country, and PBS's news anchor had no idea who she was."

    There was much more and worse.