Remember that catchy pop tune from twenty years ago, courtesy of Timbuk 3? You know, the one with the catchy chorus: "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades?"
The lyrics got stuck in my head recently at an unlikely venue: the normally staid Council on Foreign Relations and its 60th anniversary celebration of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship. The fellowship, established in 1949 but renamed in 1965 in honor of the late, great CBS News icon, offers journalists who cover international affairs an opportunity "to engage in sustained analysis and writing, free from the daily pressures that characterize journalistic life." The program's goal is to promote the quality of responsible and discerning journalism that exemplified Murrow's work.
Surprisingly, there was little mention of Murrow--but much of the recently late and also great CBS News icon Walter Cronkite -- at a session devoted to "Conversation with Network News Presidents: Meeting Industry Challenges." Ably moderated by New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta, the event featured four white men in dark suits -- three broadcast news chiefs - NBC News President Stephen A. Capus, ABC News President David Westin, Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports, and, for good measure, cable news honcho Jonathan Klein, once a top CBS News executive and now president of CNN/U.S.
Given their lack of diversity, it was perhaps unsurprising that all four newsmen expressed the unitary thought that mainstream news operations already are, as the session title phrased it, "meeting industry challenges" and, in general, are performing admirably. Denial was the order of the day. If ratings are down at the broadcast nets, they are still delivering "trusted news" to twenty five million viewers nightly. If international bureaus are being shuttered, the new "digital journalists" and "vjs" that have replaced them are more than picking up the slack. If there is less coverage of international news than ever, that's because these things move in cycles" and we can't program the news by a quota system" and so on, ad infinitum, and frankly ad nauseum! Even Auletta, a gracious and moderate moderator, but one still prone to asking tough questions, appeared at times bemused at best by the responses -- or should I say lack thereof.
Thus, they told the assembly, network news isn't dying -- and it will never go away.