Once upon a time when the world was young and had hope, and global warming, the one per cent and social media hadn’t yet been invented, there truly was a golden age for TV news in North America.
For me, it was in the sixties when I left the Congo after three years of wars and joined ABC News in New York. But no, ABC News (known at the time as the Almost Broadcasting Company) wasn’t part of the golden age.
That was all happening a few blocks away on West 57th Street at CBS (much admired as “The Tiffany Network”). It’s where the great Edward R. Murrow set up and ran a news organization dedicated to “courage, integrity, social responsibility, and journalistic excellence, emblematic of the highest ideals of both broadcast news and the television industry in general.”
Today, there’s a plaque in the CBS lobby with an image of the dour, unsmiling Morrow and the inscription:
“He set standards of excellence that remain unsurpassed.”
He also hired excellence, including Walter Cronkite who anchored the CBS Evening News for 19 years and was anointed “the most trusted man in America.”
I met Cronkite once when I was part of a group protesting the pale face of American TV news. We needed famous newspeople to sign our petition which, in essence, called the three big TV networks (including his own CBS) racist. He signed, and for a raw young journalist like me, it was like getting God’s autograph.
Of course, even God’s autograph didn’t noticeably change the colour of TV news.
Since then, CBS has been taken over by Westinghouse Electric, then Viacom, now it’s controlled by something called National Amusements and, understandably, is no longer referred to as the “Tiffany Network.”
I tell you all this because I truly believe that if a golden age for TV news happened once on this continent, it can happen again.
And what sparks this happy thought is the news that Microsoft, the world’s largest software corporation with assets valued at $41 billion, is cutting its conjugal ties with the US online news site MSNBC.com. It’s starting a brand new news service with its own newsroom, its own journalists and a blank page to fill.
Now, Microsoft isn’t likely your first choice as the sort of company that should own a newsroom. Certainly not if you believe the many accusations of illegal monopolistic and anti-competitive business practices and violation of antitrust laws which haunt Microsoft. But that’s exactly my point.
Microsoft has sinned. It’s abused its huge power and obscene wealth. What if it now seeks redemption at a time when the ancient and honourable craft of journalism is having grave doubts about both its purpose and its future? And public respect for the craft is at an all-time low?
What better way to earn redemption than deliberately setting out to become the new “Tiffany Network?”
To that end, I offer my very own Microsoft Request for Applicants form:
Microsoft World News
Brand new information organization with ample resources seeks journalists interested in working for the world’s newest and greatest newsroom.
You should know:
- Your first loyalty will not be to your employer, nor any union, or nation, or cause. Your first and only loyalty will be to the people — and to the people’s democratic right to know.
You’re the sort of person we need if you believe:
- It’s the place of the journalist to be outside, looking in.
- It’s the duty of the journalist to be skeptical, but not cynical.
- It’s the right of the journalist to be disinterested, but not uninterested.
- It’s the privilege of the journalist to be the servant and surrogate of the people.
- It’s the responsibility of the journalist to support, strengthen and defend the free marketplace of ideas.
- It’s the prerogative of the journalist to cherish and feed the fragile flower of participatory democracy.
You’re the sort of person we need if you believe:
- Free and ethical journalism is the watchdog of the public interest.
- Free and ethical journalism is a public trust, the truly essential cornerstone of a free society.
- Free and ethical journalism is the shining jewel in the crown of democracy.
- Without free and ethical journalism no other freedoms can be protected or guaranteed.
- That the parents of free and ethical journalism are responsibility and accountability. And it is at the peril of our immortal souls that journalists betray that responsibility and accountability.
- That journalists are the servants, the surrogates, of the people. And our duty is to serve the people as honourably, as honestly and as fairly as we possibly can.
You’re the sort of person we need if you have:
- First class writing skills and a love of good writing.
- A strong commitment to the ancient art of storytelling.
- Read anything about everything and everything about anything.
- A liberal arts, English, psychology or political science degree along with a graduate degree in journalism. Or all of these. Or — if your other attributes are strong enough — none of these.
- Traveled widely.
- At least two world languages.
- A specialty — geopolitical, socioeconomic, scientific or cultural.
- A passion for learning and a genuinely inquiring mind.
- An overdose of honesty, integrity and decency.
- A need to challenge conventional mores and accepted wisdom.
- A strong regard for individual liberty and social justice.
- A need to improve the world and the people in it.
- A high opinion of democracy along with a low opinion of patriotism and nationalism, those twin sanctuaries of the scoundrel.
- Courage without recklessness. Confidence without arrogance. Humility without subservience.
- An ability to see and reflect powerful institutions and individuals as they actually are, rather than as the powerful would have them seen and reflected.
- The ability to be a nowhere person. You’re a journalist. You have no nationality, gender, color, religion, class or cause. You’re the disinterested outside observer.
- Maturity enough to be both a rugged individualist and a committed team player.
- Interesting looks, but not beauty. TV journalism isn’t a profession for narcissists who are more in love with themselves than the story.
- A reasonably good voice. TV journalists with great voices spend their time listening to themselves. It’s not communication, it’s masturbation.
- Maturity enough to take full responsibility for everything that happens on an assignment while subordinating every personal interest to the service of honest journalism and the welfare of story participants and crew.
- The ability and courage to think independently. To bravely stand up for those things you believe to be right. To carry (metaphorically speaking) an undated letter of resignation in your back pocket.
Remuneration and Benefits: Extremely Generous.
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post on July 20, 2012: Will Microsoft Produce the Next Walter Cronkite?