Check it Out!: Great Reporters on What It Takes to Tell the Story

Check it Out!: Great Reporters on What It Takes to Tell the Story

Art Athens
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 208
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    Check it Out!: Great Reporters on What It Takes to Tell the Story
    Book Description:

    Stories with no substance. Talking heads without a clue. Teamcoverage that still misses the big picture. Overheated hype. Cute chatter. Film at eleven. Is it any wonder more and more of us count less and less on the news?It used to be that a news story told you who, what, where, when, how, and why,Art Athens writes. Now the story might tell you who, or it might tell you when, but there's a good chance that when it's over (which won't take long), you'll be the one saying What?Here's a legendary journalist's back to the basics guide to the craft of broadcast news. Combining insights from his own award-winning career with in-depth conversations with leading newspeople, Art Athens offers a primer on the best practices in reporting, writing, and delivering the news.And he lets some of the best in the business talk frankly and passionately about what it takes to do the job right: Dan Rather, Charles Osgood, Mike Wallace, Brian Williams, Andy Rooney, Charles Kuralt, Linda Ellerbee, and Don Hewitt.What kind of skills-and spirit-does it take to be a successful, serious broadcast journalist? How are the good stories conceived and written? And in today's cynical age of news as entertainment, what should reporters and editors do to restore confidence in the media? In this funny, sharp, honest book, anyone who cares about the news will find answers on every page.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4755-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 All I Ever Wanted to Be WHAT IT TAKES TO EXCEL
    (pp. 1-17)

    I waited until I was sure no one was home. She kept it in the hall closet, hidden behind a wall of winter coats. I pulled it out from between the coats and excitedly rolled it to a spot in front of a full-length mirror. I got my clippings, culled from that day’sNew York Herald Tribune; stood facing the curved handle of my mother’s upright vacuum cleaner; and intoned in my squeaky nine-year-old voice, “This is Artie Athens with the latest news.” My mother’s Hoover was my first microphone.

    It was 1948, and even then I knew. This was...

  6. 2 “It”: What Ya Gotta Have
    (pp. 18-28)

    Every year, thousands of youngsters pick up a violin for the first time and screech out their very first notes. It’s usually part of some elementary school music program, or it’s because some older sibling or parent once played the violin. Some of these youngsters are suddenly filled with enthusiasm, practice hard, take advanced lessons, and discover that music is their passion. They will spend their lives playing the violin professionally. Many will go on to perform with symphony orchestras, string quartets, or Broadway theater orchestras and in recording studios. Some will appear as soloists, perhaps at Lincoln Center or...

  7. 3 Hankering to Be Anchoring “I WANNA BE A STAR”
    (pp. 29-33)

    It is estimated that two out of three young journalism hopefuls, upon entering broadcast journalism school, want to come out the other end as anchors. And why not? They grew up seeing news anchors—both local and network—marketed and touted as TV stars. They’ve read about the multimillion-dollar deals. They know that anchors make the most money, get the most “face time,” and become the most well known. And they don’t have to stand out in the heat or the rain or the cold of winter to cover a story. They can work on their smile and their hair...

    (pp. 34-48)

    The role of journalism in society today is still being hotly debated. Do you tell the public what itneedsto know, or only what itwantsto know? Fact is, it doesn’t matter which side you agree with. A journalist tells a story. Nothing more; nothing less.

    60 Minutesis the most popular news magazine show ever on television. Don Hewitt, its creator and long-time executive producer, says the popularity of the show is not an accident.

    The secret of60 Minutesis, you know, four words that every kid in the world knows: “Tell me a story.” And...

  9. 5 So What’s News? DON’T ASK!
    (pp. 49-70)

    The crusty old city editor relit his well-chomped cigar and forcefully blew a blue-gray cloud of acrid smoke over his cluttered desk. He was pissed. He had sent his cub reporter to the stadium to cover the big game, which should have been over for some time now. Deadline was approaching, and he hadn’t heard a word from the budding young scribe. The now furious editor had left messages all over town. Finally the phone rang.

    “Where the hell have you been?” steamed the editor. “For chrissake, we’ve only got a few minutes to get that story in the paper!”...

    (pp. 71-77)

    “When news breaks out, we break in.” I always used to chuckle when I heard that station break news promo on a local TV station. I’d get a picture in my mind of news escaping from some place or other, and of reporters trying to jimmy a door open to get to it. I heard Dan Rather say it recently about the Republican convention, as if there would actuallybesome news breaking out at that highly orchestrated event. In fact, there hasn’t been any actualnewsbreaking out of a political convention for decades. But I digress.

    There seems...

  11. 7 Is That Fair? AN OBJECTIVITY TEST
    (pp. 78-95)

    Journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s credo for journalists was simple: “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” I know some tough old newspaper editors who use that quote often, and they mean it.

    Obviously, doing either of those two things would require a reporter to have a point of view, and to express it. But the public in general, over the years, has come to expect that reporters should havenopoint of view—that they should be intellectual, social, and political eunuchs. Of course that very concept is flawed, for if it were implemented we would wind up with...

    (pp. 96-104)

    Ah, the clangor and clamor of a major metropolitan newsroom. The clattering of the wire service machines. The ratcheting sound of typewriter carriages flying back and forth. The squawking of police radio monitors and two-way radios. And the phones. The constant jangle of the phones. All of it masked by a cloud of smoke so thick you could cut it, and the occasional yell of “Who took my ashtray?” Fingers stained by tobacco and carbon paper. How sweet it was. And my, how it has changed.

    Of course, for more than a century, news organizations have depended on news dispatch...

  13. 9 To Act or Not to Act: That Is the Debate
    (pp. 105-121)

    My knees weakened as I pushed through the revolving door under the Art Deco marquee that shouted “NBC STUDIOS” in red neon. I was 26 years old, in the radio news business for several years, and heading for the big time. At least, I hoped I was. No, I was certain of it. It was my dream come true, an audition at NBC Radio News. As I entered the building and took the chrome-and-brass elevators to the second floor, I gasped as I saw the huge windows that looked into the radio studios I had seen so many times before....

    (pp. 122-133)

    In the early 1940s, Edward R. Murrow brought the war in Europe to life in American homes with well-chosen words on the radio. In the mid-1960s, television brought the bloody battlegrounds of the Vietnam War into our living rooms on film and tape. It was graphic reality. Then, in the early 1990s, the coverage of the Persian Gulf War invaded our sensibilities as well as our homes, making for an experience that can only be described as surreal. It was the latter part of 1990, at the height of the Persian Gulf War, dubbed Desert Storm. Sitting in front of...

  15. 11 Get Your News from Us WE’RE NOT TOO BAD!
    (pp. 134-149)

    Andy Rooney and I share an interest in woodworking. I have made a table, some kitchen cabinets, and a few doors, and I’ve even built a building or two in my day, including my well-equipped and spacious workshop. Now I don’t know about Andy, but I come from the woodworking school founded by that famous Russian, Boris Goodenuf. I’m always rushing to get finished, and many times I will look at my project and say, “Good enough.” However, that is myhobby, not my profession. I don’t try to sell my work to anyone, and I have to please only...

  16. 12 It’s the Writing, Stupid! THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE PICTURE
    (pp. 150-157)

    When60 Minutesexecutive producer Don Hewitt watches a piece he is screening for broadcast, he closes his eyes.

    Well, I’ll tell you something—I think the one thing we know that nobody else knows: It is your ear more than your eye that keeps you at the television set. It’s what youhear. The picture may get you there; it’s what youhearthat keeps you there. If you’re watching a space launch, they’re poor pictures—they’re all the same pictures. And there’s Jennings, there’s Brokaw, and there’s Rather; and you like Rather, so you’re watching Rather. If they...

  17. 13 If Your Mother Tells You She Loves You, Check It Out!
    (pp. 158-168)

    When I retired as an investigative reporter in 1994, colleagues marked the occasion with a terrific party at Gracie Mansion. Mayor Giuliani was there, of course, and former mayor David Dinkins. Linda Hall inNew York Magazinewrote that my “peers, bosses, competitors, and friends” were all there. They roasted me with comments like, “Art was lazy, Art was erratic. Art’s major hobbies were smoking and going to lunch.” I loved it.

    Linda Hall wrote that “[in Art] delinquency was synonymous with a disregard for stale propriety—and, as Rich Lamb put it, ‘[he had an] understanding that larceny is...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 169-172)

    Art Athens died finishing this book. He labored three years on it. He was trying to beat what he could not have known would be his final deadline.

    Art’s magnetic personality brought him a universe of friends, colleagues, and listeners. He could tell a stem-winder of a story with a fabric and texture so fascinating you wanted to drop what you were doing to listen—and you often did. You were hooked, trapped, transfixed. His intellect would find “a puzzle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma” explainable—just another entertaining challenge to put into words. He made the...

  19. Contributors
    (pp. 173-188)
  20. Index
    (pp. 189-202)