I’m PJ Pronger with the Radio Readers’ Book Club.
So, tell me this: on a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with the coverage provided by today’s news media? If you’re a regular listener of National Public Radio, I can imagine that part of the reason you’re here is you don’t like the way major news outlets present the news, and, in that, you would not be alone.
Bob Edwards also has a beef with the current state of the news media, as he makes clear in the second of our radio readers book club selections for this spring, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism.
The author, Bob Edwards, who is an NPR personality and a former host of Morning Edition, wrote this book partially in reaction to today’s style of news programming. Edwards doesn’t agree with where the industry has evolved, seeing it as divisive and untrustworthy. Edward R Murrow, the subject of the book, had a relatively brief, but spectacular career that first brought radio, and then television, into respectability as providers of serious news. H
e also helped create a sense of public mission around news delivery and helped establish public trust in commercial news organizations. Today, that public trust has eroded to the point of vanishing and Bob Edwards wrote this book, in part, to make a case for reversing that trend.
I don’t think it would be overstating the case to say that Murrow is Bob Edward’s hero. Here is the author describing Murrow’s news style: “His facts were solid, his scope thorough, his analysis on target, and his principals uncompromised.” Given that description, you might be surprised to learn that in his day Murrow, too, was accused of “fake news” by American isolationists who wanted to keep America out of World War II. But many historians believe that his broadcasts helped turn the tide of American sentiment toward the British cause. In this book Bob Edwards presents Edward R Murrow as a shining example of not only what has been, but what could be again in terms of journalistic integrity.
In 1937, Murrow was working for CBS radio and, as the war clouds gathered, he was sent to Europe to set up a network of correspondents for the purpose of providing radio reports on events that were unfolding there. It was groundbreaking work because it had just recently become technologically possible to do the kind of transcontinental live broadcasts that were called for.
Additionally, prior to World War II, radio content comprised mostly game shows, dramas, and comedy routines (Who’s on First?). The serious and established news media of the day was newspapers and magazines. It was Murrow, among others, who recognized the potential for radio to deliver something that newspapers and magazines couldn’t – real-time news.
The work he pioneered helped move radio away from being only a source of entertainment into a credible and authentic source of news that it became. The group of reporters he brought together became household names in wartime America, including William Shirer, Charles Collingwood, and Howard K. Smith. Known collectively as “Murrow’s Boys,” they reported the whole of World War II from the front lines risking their personal safety many times. During the war Murrow flew in more than twenty bombing missions over Berlin and was one of the first Allied correspondents to report from the Nazi death camps.
How do we, as a people, decide what is important in the world and what we think about it? Reading this book, you come to understand the influence Murrow had, not only on journalism, but on how Americans think about the world. He didn’t tell people what to think, but he presented serious topics that people would want to think about, and ultimately, help us decide who we are as Americans.