Edward R. Murrow. Walter Cronkite. Hugh Downs. Barbara Walters. Dan Rather. Charlie Gibson. Tom Brokaw. Diane Sawyer. Katie Couric. Brian Williams. Matt Lauer. Mike Wallace. David Brinkley. Peter Jennings. Chuck Scarborough (WNBC-NY; he’s local but deserves the mention!). And countless others. These are the faces of the news that have brought us stories of the human condition over the past 50+ years. These TV news anchors are just that anchors. They’ve anchored our lives, and they’re part of our family. Why? Because we’ve let them into our homes every night; we¹ve trusted them to give us the facts and present them in a way we can understand and identify with. The personification of humanity, dignity, integrity, honesty and the pursuit of truth have made these anchors icons and living legends. These are the most recognized news people who’ve shaped our lives, who've helped us witness and document history from the landing on the moon to the Nixon-Kennedy Debates and 9/11, from the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King to Watergate and the showdown in Tiananmen Square, from the hostages in Iran and the Vietnam War to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iran-Contra Hearings, and from The Beatles to Elvis and Michael Jackson.
It’s hard to imagine getting the TV news without some of these iconic figures there to tell us “how it is.” These people are reporter's reporters they're objective, fair, sincere, credible, thought-provoking, and accurate truth-seekers who have been non-partisan yet equal opportunity offenders. These extraordinary people often put themselves in harm’s way to get the story and bring it to viewers. These anchors are not only well-connected but are also fearless; they fear no one, no subject. They’ll call out a high-powered politician or anyone committing an injustice, on their BS, not letting them get away with it. And they¹ll praise people and companies when they deserve it. They’re not just talking heads sitting behind a desk reading a script but idols to look up to and revere.
These aren’t the anchors who believe “if it bleeds, it leads,” but rather “how does this story affect the lives of my audience?” Their ethics are beyond reproach and teach us all to be moral individuals, to give back to our communities and help our fellow man. How can you argue with that?
During my 15 years in public relations, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and/or work with some of these icons (Gibson, Sawyer, Walters, Couric, Williams, Scarborough, etc.), but one anchor stands out among them, Hugh Downs. I had the chance to work with Hugh from 2000-2001, when I worked at a streaming media company, and he had left ABC’s “20/20” for this same company to help bring the internet into the future by creating the news and interviewing the newsmakers. Hugh had a weekly (streamed) show, “Conversations in America with Hugh Downs,” and spoke with everyone from Maya Angelou to Geraldo to Joan Jett about their views on America. Since it was my job to set up interviews for Hugh to promote the show, I was able to secure a conference call with a syndicated paper for him to speak with. As the reporter asked her questions, she began touching on Hugh's history in the news business. I sat and listened until she asked Hugh about the Nixon-Kennedy Debates. And suddenly, as I was listening to Hugh relate his perspective, I began to scream silently in the back of my head, “DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?! YOU’RE A LIVING LEGEND! YOU ARE HISTORY!” I was having a moment of pure awe; I was star-struck. And for good reason. Hugh had lived through and reported on some of the events I only heard about in school textbooks. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to work with him and hear his first-hand accounts of events.
While we now live in the age of the 24/7 news cycle, with local news and citizen journalism/social media dominating our lives, it's time we took a moment to look back and salute the great news anchors of the 20th Century who¹ve brought us so far and helped us transition into the 21st Century.
Thank you, be well, and good night.
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