The End Of An Era

The sad passing of longtime ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings signals the end of an era in American journalism. The days when the Big Three networks and their superstar anchors were the nation’s source for news have passed into history – the replacements for Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings now face an environment where news is no longer held tightly by a few power players – cable networks eroded the marketshare of the major networks, then the Internet further distributed the dissemination of news, and now blogs are further exacerbating the problems of the three major news networks.

It’s now no longer sufficient for a few brahmins to collect the news for us and digest it down into a half an hour. We’ve become voracious consumers of information in a 24-hour all you can eat buffet. If we want to know what the status of those Russians who were trapped at the bottom of the Pacific was, we’d go directly to the Internet or a cable news network while the big three were still running soaps. The anchors no longer control what’s news and what’s not – we do. Stories that would normally go buried now get a chance to have their time in the harsh light of public scrutiny.

Part of the failure of the Big Three comes from their own hubris. Dan Rather’s Quixotic embrace of the faked Bush memos burned much of the credibility of the old order. Walter Cronkite used to be the voice of the country, a grandfatherly authority figure who told it the way it was – now he’s just another partisan hack. We’ve lost faith in the ability for the Big Three to provide unbiased and accurate information, and the ratings are showing the long decline of that old order.

The passing of Jennings marks the passing of the age of the Super Anchors. Jennings smooth voice and imperturbable demeanor made him the classic anchor’s anchor. He covered everything from the Munich killing by Black September to the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Jennings found himself greatly disturbed by the events of September 11, and afterwards he decided to become an American citizen:

The Toronto-born journalist, who was raised in Ottawa and still retreats from fame every summer to a farm in the nearby Gatineau Hills, said yesterday the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and his recent travels throughout the country have made him feel “much more connected to the Founding Fathers’ dreams and ideas for the future.”

Mr. Jennings, who turns 65 later this month, has been working in the U.S. since 1964 and has been anchoring the ABC network’s nightly newscast since 1983.

“It’s been on my mind for many years, obviously, I’ve been here such a long time,” he told CanWest News Service from his office in New York. “As a Canadian friend said to me today, I’ve always made clear my love for America. And it was a good time to formally declare that affection, along with a sense of debt and gratitude to the country that’s made it possible for me to have a wonderful life both professionally and personally.”

Peter Jennings became an American citizen on May 30, 2003. It was always refreshing to see someone in the media openly express their appreciation for this country – yet Jennings clearly did love the United States. While I certainly didn’t agree with him all the time, there could be no doubt that his heart was in the right place. He was a living embodiment of the spirit of patriotism that makes this country great.

Peter Jennings may have been born in Canada, and been an American citizen for only two years, but he was an American icon long before that. He was more than just a talking head, he served his time in the field and was unafraid of serving his time in the trenches. His passing marks the end of a major chapter in the history of American journalism.


One thought on “The End Of An Era

  1. Jennings was my least favorite of the three network anchors, but he still had his moments of clarity. Elizabeth Vargas may be better to look at (alot better!), but she’s in the new era of “candy-coated news” reported to us by models with headsets.

    You are correct that the era of big-name anchors is likely over in the multimedia age where everybody gets their own version of reality from sources that already concur with their worldviews. As a result, real journalism is largely a thing of the past, replaced by a combination of Hannity and Colmes-style propaganda news and network anchors agreeing to only report the news the Pentagon wishes them to report in exchange for a “way cool ride” in a tank with American soldiers in Iraq.

    The kind of journalism practiced in a previous era may that could have pre-emptively challenged fictitious WMD claims and exposed Enron and World Com’s internal abuses will most likely be lowered into the ground along with Jennings. A prime example…..a great deal of future turmoil is likely to come from the same politically incorrect source that most likely led to Jennings’ demise. Perhaps the most disturbing yet underreported phenomenon in the world today is terrorist cells funding their operations through cigarette smuggling, made possible by the wide disparity in tobacco prices from state-to-state in America, and from nation-to-nation in Europe. The gluttony of government bodies trying to fill budget holes with artificially high tobacco taxes, and the apathy of the masses who are simply happy that others are paying the taxes they’re not, is likely to finance the next 9-11. This is not exactly a well-kept secret among political barons or the punditocracy, but there’s little will to report it because of the political incorrectness of coming out on the side of smokers on anything.

    The “new media” you aggrandize has been flourishing for several years, yet missed the boat on WMD claims, the inevitable corporate scandals of 2001 and 2002, and who knows what else. Far as I can tell, all the new media has managed to is make the old media suck as bad as they do. Would Jennings have been likely to take on a subject like tobacco smuggling financing terrorism at any point in the last decade or so? Probably not. Will anybody in the new media take the reins and pick up that slack? I highly doubt it.

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