University of California at Berkeley

Cronkite Tells What Ails Us At First Herb Caen Lecture

 by Fernando Quintero

For veteran television journalist Walter Cronkite, the most under-reported problems facing the world today are overpopulation and the lack of education.

"Most of the problems of today's world come back to education. Public schools ‚‚schools like this ‚‚ are what make a difference," said Cronkite at a sold-out lecture Nov. 12 at Zellerbach Hall.

Known as the "most trusted man in America," Cronkite made his comments during an on-stage conversation with Orville Schell, the incoming dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. The event was the first in a series of Herb Caen/San Francisco Chronicle Lectures that honor the newspaper's Pulitzer-prize winning columnist.

Cronkite, 80, criticized television news today for being more oriented toward ratings than quality. He also blamed the lack of solid journalistic training among modern television reporters.

"In the '50s and '60s, when television news was in its infancy, we came out of a print tradition and brought to television the principles of newspaper reporting, where we had tough city editors," said Cronkite.

"The second generation of TV journalists were brought up with news broadcasting. They only knew television journalism. They learned journalism from a box."

Cronkite said the increased emphasis on "news you can use" and other feature stories has compromised the quality of newscasts.

"You have to present a complicated, diverse nation and world in 22 minutes. It can't be done. People are getting an incomplete picture," he said. "Television news needs to give the headlines so that people can refer to their newspapers."

Cronkite suggested "journalism classes for consumers" and that schools should "educate people on how to watch and listen to news on television and on the radio, and how to read news on the Internet."

Although Cronkite added that the Internet could become a valuable source of information, he said it was also a "frightful danger to us all."

"There are alleged 'sources' of news that are nothing but rumor mills. There is no way to determine the source of a story on the Internet."

Cronkite, described by Schell as having a "generosity of spirit and civility" and providing an "ethical compass," said his ethics were a matter of upbringing. "I had an overly honest mother and father," he said.

Born in St. Joseph, Mo., Cronkite began his journalism career as a correspondent for the Houston Post while still in high school. He joined United Press in 1937, and CBS News in 1950. During his more than 60 years in journalism, Cronkite covered some of the century's most historic events.

The Herb Caen/San Francisco Chronicle lectures will provide an ongoing national forum on the state of communicating in America, and the changing currents in media, culture and politics. Lectures will feature leaders from diverse fields, including the arts, science, business and journalism. Chancellor Tien will be the next featured speaker Jan. 27.


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