A Battle Brewing


By Sam Garfield

Nov. 1, 1956

(Airwaves)—There’s a battle brewing at your own front door…and in your living room, too. And they’re fighting over you. It’s really not a battle yet…more like a skirmish. Americans still rely on newspapers to get their news, so your paperboy –and this columnist– will have jobs for a while, but there’s a new, slick way of delivering the day’s news  –television.

And at NBC-TV, they’ve doubled their efforts. The network’s Huntley-Brinkley Report, a 15-minute evening news program, debuted a few days ago to enthusiastic revues. And it appears to be more than just a new style of giving Americans the news. The Huntley-Brinkley Report airs from two cities –Huntley anchors from New York and Brinkley reports from Washington. I must say their telecast is smooth. The show moves effortlessly from location to location, and Brinkley’s dry, witty delivery fits perfectly with the program’s crisp, concise writing. It is a breath of fresh air compared to other TV nightly news shows. The pair also has credibility. Huntley and Brinkley made their marks on NBC executives –and American viewers– during their top-rated coverage of this summer’s 1956 Republican convention.

But it’s their chemistry that is sure to draw huge audiences. Their roles complement each other, with Huntley delivering much of the report and Brinkley concentrating on Washington topics, including the White House and Congress. They wind up their broadcast like two friends saying goodbye at the end of a pleasant phone conversation: “Good Night, Chet. Good Night, David.” Then, the Huntley-Brinkley Report fades away in style –closing credits enhanced by the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The stylish duo replaces newsreader John Cameron Swayze and the Camel News Caravan, an act just too slow for TV.

So, this new way of delivering the nightly news…is it just a fad? Or is it a forecast of things to come? Remember, TVs sit in two-thirds of American households.

Television news has scored some impressive journalistic triumphs during this decade. Veteran CBS Radio war reporter Edward R. Murrow is a pioneer when it comes to first-rate television reporting. His See It Now program, in its sixth season, uses its own footage and newsreel film, as opposed to relying on Movietone newsreels from neighborhood theaters. Murrow’s journalistic expertise not only delivers the news in a fresh and entertaining way…it also makes news.  Murrow’s commentaries on American and social and political issues have broken new ground for television news. His tough questioning of Joe McCarthy in ’54 proved to be a deathblow for the Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin. Murrow was the first newsman to tell McCarthy he didn’t create the Red Scare but he certainly exploited it.

And don’t forget the drama of Estes Kefauver’s Special Senate Committee on Organized Crime. The nationally televised event focused on mobsters in America, and captured the attention of all of us in ’51. People couldn’t get enough of it, especially when Frank Costello testified. The committee bowed to Costello’s attorney’s request not to show his face. Instead, the TV camera focused on the mobster’s nervous hands, which never stopped moving. We loved it, and in its own way, TV made news by being able to quickly adapt to the situation at-hand. Let’s face it, TV is faster, quicker and more nimble than newspapers.

Does this mean TV will flash past broadsheets and tabloids? Will people stop buying newspapers? I don’t think so. There’s a certain relationship people have with newspapers, one that TV can’t match.

For example, I love the ritual of buying my newspaper (sure, we journalists get ours free, but stay with me here, would ya?) –dropping a few coins in an open cigar box and walking away with a fresh newspaper under your arm. Your newspaper –to be read when and where you desire. Maybe with a cocktail as you wait for your date to arrive; or with a morning cup of coffee at a favorite diner. As a kid, I used to watch my Dad come home from work and devour his paper each evening before dinner, cigar in hand. I feel blessed to be a part of a big city paper. For me, newspapers are magical, where day after day, news is collected, put into words, set in type, and then, while its readers sleep, printed and hand delivered to newsstands, drugstores and doorsteps all across the country.

For now, my money’s on newspapers. But I’m sure down the road someone will come up with a slicker way to deliver the news. Maybe something small…so we’ll be able to take it to the coffee shop…and watch the news.

No…I doubt it.

Copyright © 2012. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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