Veteran TV journalists are dying off

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Column by Jim Clark

Slowly and steadily, the old school of television journalists is dying off, leaving the superficial stars of today, many of whom are chosen for either their ability to out-shout their foes, or because they look pretty on the tube.
Another icon of the television news business left us on Easter Sunday, when Mike Wallace, best known for his “60 Minutes” segments, died at the age of 93.
Wallace was one of those newsmen who bridged the gap between the older, more stodgy performers, and the new breed of TV hosts. He was the first to be really good at “gotcha” journalism, and that’s what made the Sunday evening show so popular. He would confront suspects in various questionable activities and demand answers on behalf of the viewers.
But he also was an expert on doing a sit-down interview with famous people. One of the best tributes I heard over the weekend came from a woman speaking on one of the cable networks, who said, “He was better prepared for every interview than anyone I’ve ever known.”
That’s one of the secrets to being a good interviewer – plan your questions in advance, learn about your subject in advance, and learn how to ask those questions, never proposing a query that takes just a “yes” or “no” answer.
Not everyone liked Wallace or his style, but people in the business respected him for his thoroughness and knowledge.
To be sure, he had some problems, particularly with a story that concerned Gen. William Westmoreland in which Wallace and CBS were sued. They settled out of court and, according to some of the stories Sunday, led to a battle with depression for him.
But he’ll be remembered for many of the good stories he brought us throughout his career.
Contrast that to some of today’s TV performers, especially on the local level, who have one eye on the ratings and the other on the mirror. They should go back and watch some of the tapes of Mike Wallace and see what they could learn.
So even though he hadn’t been active in recent years, television news took a hit over the weekend. You have to hope that somewhere, somehow, someone will step forward to take the place of Mike Wallace as the icon of news hosts.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.