Last night I had a 5-minute talk with Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor and managing editor. We covered topics that weren’t covered in the 1.5 hour interview with Orville Schell. Dan Farber of CNET took a picture of us talking.
Of course what I wanted to talk about is Rather becoming a blogger. He said that his employer discourages it. I was surprised, more news organizations are encouraging their reporters to blog, it makes economic sense to do so. I thought that CBS especially would be thinking this way because they were so rocked by bloggers in 2004. He said that large companies like to control what’s said about them, and that CBS is part of a large company (Viacom).
But he added something that was surprising, that I’ve not heard elsewhere — he may leave CBS, and if he does, may start blogging. I offered my help and advice if he goes that route, he said he’d like that.
Rather could be a great blogger
I think Rather could be a great blogger. He’s a thoughtful, considerate person, who thinks about stuff. He has strong opinions about what should be covered by the news, about the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy, and he certainly has experienced the power of blogging personally, and has now had time to reflect. These are qualities of the blogosphere, although the louder and more sensational voices of course tend to be heard more by the MSM than the thoughtful ones. I don’t doubt that Rather would be listened to.
Given his broadcast presence it might make more sense to podcast, and to do interviews with other people. I can tell you for sure, I’d love to do a series of podcasts with him. I kept thinking about that as I listened to the on-stage interview. There are so many challenging ways to approach his story, places to go with the events that don’t lead to the same tired places that mainstream news people always go to. Lessons not only for the old news medium, but for the new. His career has gone from the Vietnam War to Iraq; from the political activism of the 60s, to the activism of the blogosphere. His point of view is an inherently interesting one.
What if CBS News had decided to blog…
…or had sought the diversity of the blogosphere to look at the National Guard story from angles other than the right-wing bloggers (who I have met and have respect for, btw). What if, in addition to being the lightning rod for this event, they had also covered it, brought the blogosphere onto their nightly broadcast in 2004, in the last days of the campaign.
Had they embraced the controversy instead of trying to deflect it, just followed the story like any reporter could have done, it all could have come out very differently. They were in a position to learn the power of the blogosphere in ways that weren’t available to NBC, ABC and CNN.
Understandably, they missed the opportunity. And, equally important, the focus of the story might have included whether or not the President took his national service responsibility seriously at the time of the Vietnam War. This angle, the important one, got lost, as the Republican bloggers took control of the story.
Edward R Murrow
At one point in the interview Rather choked up and was on the verge of tears, talking about Edward R Murrow, the first great television newsman. Rather said that his accomplishments had never been equaled, perhaps so, but the take-down of Rather and CBS News in 2004 seem comparable to the CBS News take-down of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954.
We sympathize with Rather, and despise McCarthy, but the similarity is that both expressed the power of a new medium coming in, and an old one going out. I doubt if Rather would agree with this at first, but I’d like to ask the question again a few years after he started blogging, after he’s seen the power from the other side.
A classic mainstream journalist with the time and perspective to learn blogging could be a real pivotal person, and Dan Rather has shown before that he has the courage to make history; maybe he can do it again.
I blogged as the voice of Harvard Law School for a couple of years. It was nothing like my main blog, Scripting News, where I blog in my own voice. If a venerable and stodgy institution like Harvard can do it, why can’t CBS News? Maybe this is a clue that the downward spiral of MSM isn’t necessary, it may be self-inflicted.