Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 23, 2007


Host:

Cronkite Awards Luncheon


  • Every year, a journalist is given the Cronkite Award, a prestigious honor given through the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Eight takes you inside the awards luncheon, where Jane Pauley recevied the award from Cronkite himself.


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello, and welcome to a special edition of "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Each year the Arizona State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication honors a leader in journalism with the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence. The honor this year going to the longtime host of NBC's "Today" show, Jane Pauley. She also hosted "Dateline NBC," and before her time there she was the first woman to anchor the evening news in Chicago. The 24th annual awards luncheon was held at the Arizona Biltmore.

Jane Pauley:
Thank you for making me feel right at home. My sister Ann, who you saw when she was a baby too, is here, I'm happy to see the wave of the future. This may be the last free lunch you'll ever get in journalism. The wave of the future is in very good hands here at Arizona State University and the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. There was a time in my life when I would have felt completely out of place among trained credentialed experienced journalists. I still hold the ideals of journalism aloft from the daily practice of it, which as you know can be quick and sometimes dirty. Journalists by nature are oriented between right now and some deadline generally looming in the immediate future. But as one with 30 years or more than that in the business behind me, and the next generation represented in front of me, I hope you'll indulge as I look back. As you've heard, my career began in 1972. It was a week or two, no more than that, before election day. It was at a CBS affiliate in Indianapolis. Our little newsroom was fired up for a long, exciting night of election coverage. Walter Cronkite kicked off the coverage at 7:00 straight up. He got straight to breaking news. According to a CBS log of the night -- I checked -- he said the polls were already closed in Indiana, and he projected the winners. It was only 7:02. It got real quiet in the newsroom, and after that I don't recall much, other than it was a really, really long night. Thanks, Walter. I have a coda to that story, as well. One of my rookie assignments had been a man on the street pre-election feature. I was sent around downtown Indianapolis with a cameraman and a microphone asking everybody the same question: how do you intend to vote on November 9th? A prize to the student or professor who sees the inherent weakness in this question. The second Tuesday of November will never fall on the 9th. I told you, I'm no Walter Cronkite. I got the date wrong over and over again. But I am the answer to a trivia question. Who was the first baby boomer to anchor a major network news program? A hint, it was me. There is a story there, but the challenge of journalism of course is how to tell a long story short. I'll try the five W's version, who, what, when, where, and why. In 1976, a 25-year-old Midwestern girl with very long hair and a very short resume is tapped by NBC news to succeed the number one journalist on America's longest running TV news program. The who, what, when, and where, easy. Why? For many years that was the mystery. And one of the biggest reasons why my memoir was subtitled, "A Life Out of the Blue." A year or so ago when Meredith Viera took over, I stumbled upon one explanation in the New York Times. The reporter made a matter of fact assertion that morning show hosts are supposed to appear normal. That's the quality that got Jane Pauley hired on "Today" in 1976. This is a story for yet another day. But suffice it to say, when the President of NBC news says Jane Pauley has the best mental health in the business, I completely agreed, though it later turned out we were both wrong. But back to 1976. My life went from normal to famous almost overnight. If I had sprouted wings, it could not have seemed weirder. Being the news division, you'd think I'd know the story, but I did not. Now, you may look at 70's television today and see a lot of really bad hair. But dynamic forces were at work. By way of analogy, in this part of the country, you've probably grown accustomed to the topography that draws visitors such as me. I'm no geologist, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were able to find a fish fossil on top of Camelback Mountain, that fish didn't swim to the top of the mountain, it was lifted up by dynamic forces. As it happens, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where I spent 30 years of my life, the address of NBC News in New York, was built out of Indiana limestone. It's full of fish fossils. It took them millions of years to get to New York City. Me, I went from weekend anchor in Indianapolis to co-host of "Today" in one, in one year. I tell you, dynamic forces were at work. Today, when the median age of television anchors looks to be about 25, it might be hard to comprehend how young 25 was, relative to the standard of that day. In 1976, there was actually a premium on maturity. And a lot of other qualities that I lacked in abundance at that time: experience, gravitas, seasoning. But what I had in abundance was hair. My very long and sort of blonde hair must have been remarkable or remarkably bad, because people still remark on it. A young man was preparing to color my hair that long ago -- in those days it wasn't colored but now it is -- he paused to say he used to watch the "Today" show every day with his mom, every day in the kitchen before school. It's touching how often I hear stories like that. He goes on, you know, you were actually the inspiration for my career. I'm warming to this story, as he explains. There was a particular morning when he got up real close to the television screen to study me very closely before saying, out loud, there's something wrong with her hair. Well, you could write the history of the 70's in three broad strokes. Hair, youth, and gender. I hit the trifecta. Women reporters and anchors were sprouting up in newsrooms everywhere. Our growing ubiquity may have hastened the movement of women into every other realm of endeavor. There was no end of features we could do about the first woman this or the first woman that. I reported on the first woman astronaut. She was on your tape. The first woman on a presidential ticket, the first woman to drive in the Indy 500. I had been a first woman myself, the first to anchor a weekday newscast in Chicago at the NBC-owned affiliate in 1975. Now, local news was way ahead of the curve when it came to diversity. But the youth culture that was putting its stamp on everything else was barely evident at the network level until the summer of 1976, when NBC conducted an on-air series of tryouts, of who would be Barbara Walters' replacement on "Today" when she left to be the first woman to anchor a network evening newscast. Now, my sister was pretty surprised to read my name, her little sister's name, on that list of finalists in her Pittsburgh newspaper. She called me to ask why I hadn't mentioned it. I was at the moment in a hotel room in New York City waiting to do the "Today" show next morning, when I told her, that was news to me. The other contenders were broadcast veterans ranging from five to 50 years older than I was. But against all odds, and all logic, I won. Now, one of my beefs about journalism is the florid obsession with dreams. In the news magazine language that dateline helped make so popular: and what happened next, would change her life forever. But it really did. It was a bold new frontier, but I knew I was more passenger than pioneer. Now, I'm not old enough to remember our first TV. It was always there. And I never expected to be on it. I doubt that there were many little girls in the 60's aspiring to be the next Barbara Walters, but I was not one of them, in any event. I was not one of these very directed students of journalism in our midst today. I wasn't even a student of journalism, though I was an avid consumer of current events. As a teenager I had subscriptions to "Time," "Newsweek," and "U.S. News and World Report," all three. I followed the news because my high school had a tremendous speech and debate program. And then there was virtually a nonstop parade of boys ringing the doorbell at the Pauley house, my sister will attest to this. They were paperboys. Our parents subscribed to three local newspapers in Indianapolis. But that news was delivered, either by boys or men, was simply a given. As I saw it, TV was a man's game, from Captain Kangaroo at breakfast, to Walter Cronkite at dinner. But the face of broadcasting changed in 1972. A partial list of the rookie class of that year, Lesley Stahl, Connie Chung, Judy Woodruff, Linda Ellerby, Jessica Savich, and me. We were sometimes referred to as the class of 1972. I was unique in that I had actually graduated from college in the class of 1972. That was the year the FCC added a word to the language, linking affirmative action to station license renewal requirements. That new word was women. Suddenly stations across the country were anxious to hire women. The news director who ultimately hired me clearly had some doubts. He started me as a temporary probationary employee for 90 days. Experience? Nope. Journalism degree? Nope.


Jane Pauley:
Mine was in political science, as Walter reported. What made that man on the street gaff, I told you about earlier, even more peculiar, is that I had recently been working in a political campaign. In fact, one of the TV reporters whose beat was politics and who hung around our headquarters was the one who told me about the opening at his TV station for -- and I quote -- a female-type person. He couldn't say woman with a straight face. I was very much still a girl. That man who had hired me with all those caveats at $125 a week, really did have mixed feelings. Only many, many years later did he confess to me that at the time he'd warned his general manager, if we hire her, we'll never keep her. Now, Indianapolis, like Phoenix, is landlocked. But change was sweeping the nation. And he knew, a girl like me would likely be swept up by it. After three years in Indianapolis, I started getting phone calls in the newsroom. Ms. Pauley, I'm sorry, I don't know your first name, but I hear you're pretty good. Could you send us a reel? I didn't know what a reel was, much less have one. Of the major television markets at the time, Chicago was number two. There was no more dynamic local news market in the nation. There were still three newspapers, each with a TV critic lustily competing for attention in the city famous for front page. Ironically, it was in Chicago where I developed an aversion to reading my own press. The Daily News called me a hood ornament. The Chicago Tribune said I had the I.Q. of a cantaloupe.

Jane Pauley:
Alas, after a surprising start, and before the first snowfall, the ratings went south. By spring the critics were unanimous in predicting the Indianapolis ingénue would soon be history. And sure enough, before I celebrated my first anniversary in Chicago, I was headed for New York. If the name Barbara Hower means anything to you, you are at least as old as I am. Barbara Hower was a Texan, colorful figure from the Johnson era. She told me, in a Texas accent that I would be crazy to try to emulate -- stop telling people how old I was, they're going to remember. As if growing old on TV was something I'd be needing to plan for.

Jane Pauley:
That first morning after Tom Brokaw introduced me, and he was only 35 himself, as you saw it, I did feel compelled to draw attention to the fact that I was only 25. I think it made precious little difference. Bull. I thought it made a lot of difference. And it was important to me that viewers knew that. I did not want to be seen pretending to be anything but what I really was: very young and very inexperienced. I did not then consider myself a journalist. I thought of myself as an aspiring one. Well, lo and behold, I did grow old on TV. Well, I did and I didn't. Like I said, sometimes today a much younger me gets pulled out of the archives from time to time, for example, Princess Diana will be my link to broadcast immortality. A friend of mine at NBC still overheard a couple of interns speculating, do you think they're extensions? Extensions, for the gentlemen, the long pieces of hair that women can clip to their hair, and no, mine were not extensions. Extensions had not been invented yet. 30 years and it's always about the hair. I have a confession. I was looking for a, quote -- and I googled Charles Kuralt and hair. Because he had famously accused TV stations of hiring hair instead of brains back in the 1980s. Well, you find the most amazing things online. I discovered that he had preceded me here. He also had received a Walter Cronkite award from Arizona State. I was surprised to see that Kuralt, who I admired tremendously, had died so young. And Walter had spoken at his funeral. He felt obligated to say, he opened -- backing up -- Walter opened his remarks with a disclaimer. He felt obligated to say that he couldn't honestly claim to have been one of Charles Kuralt's closest friends. It has to do with pretense, he explained, of appearing to be something that one is not. For emphasis, he repeats this. I'm telling you all of this, he says, because I don't want to appear to be something I am not, not here. For among all those attributes of Charles, none perhaps was stronger than his distaste for pretense, for the phony, those who presented themselves as something they were not. Well, I pondered that for a moment, and I thought, no wonder he was the most trusted man in America. And to be completely honest, it occurred to me that I might have that gene, too, but then a little voice said, but you're still no Walter Cronkite. As I said, lacking a degree, I learned journalism as I went along. On the way to my first story, which was a dedication of a new science building at a local college in Indiana, the cameraman gave me a tip. He said, don't let go of the microphone. The first man I ever interviewed was a Nobel Laureate who instinctively grabbed the microphone. But I held on and I never let it go. In this 30 years so much has changed. Those dynamic forces of which I spoke brought diversity. Once upon a time I was news. I used to have an archival news show on MSNBC. One of my favorite things I ever did in television was "Time and Again," with an imaginative tag line I always enjoyed delivered with a little panache: and we're history. Well, now I'm history. Frankly, I'm kind of glad to get out of town before Paris Hilton comes again. I feel blessed to have had 30 years in television, and none of it in high def. Oh, my god. Big face over there on the screen. Journalism, as I knew it -- to think that I would stand here pontificating about journalism after all I've disclaimed to you already, but it's a relic, as I knew it. I watched the future unfolding with awe and some alarm. Some thoughts on technology: the tools of the trade should not intrude on the work. An analogy: I brought my sister to Phoenix with me. If Gary had played golf, he would have come, so she came. We were in Scottsdale shopping at a mall. Okay. She comes away from a makeup counter with a funny smile on her face. While writing the sales check, the clerk had noticed that her bodice had slipped. She gave it a little tug and glanced down to check that her cleavage indeed was once again properly exposed. At that point, Ann noticed, she seemed to forget where they had been in the transaction. Technology offers exciting tools, but don't be distracted by your own cleavage. Information flows both ways now. Well, many more than both, but both ways now. When Walter Cronkite was managing editor of the CBS Evening News, he did not serve up a menu of news: what do you feel like for dinner, Mr. and Mrs.Viewer? Today, to a degree some find almost unholy, the audience is almost literally now running the show. A baseball analogy, for you, Joe. Imagine a meeting of major league baseball owners. Somebody says, I've noticed that every time a runner crosses home base, the stadium levitates with excitement. Why can't we get more runners to cross home base? Why not eliminate third base? There's a lot of talk these days -- Joe, I have two sons, and my youngest has a sports column in the college newspaper. There's a lot of talk about journalists as storytellers these days. And frankly I think of myself as a storyteller, a far better storyteller than reporter. But while all journalists are storytellers, not all storytellers are journalists. Journalism requires news judgment, news gathering, fact-checking. You have to touch all the bases or it's a different ball game. Well, that's pretty much all I got. The chance to reminisce a little and pontificate a little was irresistible, and I thank you for indulging. I'll leave you faculty and supporters and students of the Cronkite School of Journalism with -- those of you especially who will be spending your careers in the future with some thoughts: all of you will be making it up as you go along, because the past no longer applies, and the future hasn't been invented yet. While you're here at Arizona State, get your fundamentals down, study history, learn how to think, master your native tongue. Cultivate an aversion to pretense, respect your audience's intelligence, and earn their trust. And as soon as one of you gets in charge, will you please kill that infernal crawl at the bottom of the screen. [applause]

Announcer:
Walter Cronkite will now present the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism to Jane Pauley.

[applause]

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