And I couldn't get it out of my head: The latest heir to Murrow's legacy at CBS is ... Katie Couric. Shoot me now.
The cult of celebrity in the news business isn't "news" anymore. But can you imagine Jon Stewart as editor of the New York Times? Al Roker taking the helm of USA Today? Oprah Winfrey as the news-decision maker at the Washington Post? Howard Stern as the chief of NPR? Other than newspapers' lingering devotion to covering news and not making it (and sometimes we've slipped there, too) that's what elevating entertainer Katie Couric to "managing editor" of CBS News has done. Although Murrow (and Dan Rather and Mike Wallace) became a celebrity, too, he did it on the strength of his reporting expertise.
Yeah, yeah, I've heard it from every corner of the giddy blogosphere -- where having a computer sometimes is more important than having an education -- that newspapers are dying. I don't buy it. Sure, hard-copy, newsprint newspapers will certainly find a more efficient, more earth-friendly forms in the near future, but the need for responsible messengers will be forever. We have always valued those people in our cultures who could go out and see on our behalf, then report back accurately and honestly, so the best decision could be made. That won't change.
Is that Katie Couric ... or is it the unknown-to-you staff of the New Orleans Times Picayune, my one-time colleague Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, or David Finkel of the Washington Post? Know them? You should: They all won Pulitzer Prizes yesterday.
Former Los Angeles Times writer Bob Baker, at his Web site www.newsthinking.com, wrote something I've pinned up near my computer at work. He said:
"I don't know about you, but I'm tried of listening to our obituaries. I accept death: Everybody dies sometime. If newspapers are going to die, as most 'smart' people seem to think, let's go down swinging. Let's go down like the Texans at the Alamo. Let's publish the best, most interesting, most audacious stories we can, on our own terms. Let's not be businessmen. Let's be artists. Let's put our art -- the stories we love to write, edit and publish -- on the market and see who buys it."
The news business is neither as bad as cynical Americans think, nor as good as our own advertising. It certainly isn't a good sign when celebrities call themselves journalists and readers/viewers believe it. And if you want to rely on messengers such as Katie Couric, Bill O'Reilly, Jon Stewart, Barbara Walters and their ilk, you're a willing dupe.